Monday, March 03, 2008

The King Of Kong

Sometime while I was in junior high school a couple of arcades opened up in my hometown. The Electronic Circus and Lunar Landing were polar opposites in atmosphere, and each attracted kids with their distinctive look and vibe. While the Electronic Circus was shiny and bright with lots of bells, whistles and pool tables, Lunar Landing was dark, smoky and mysterious.

I really dug Lunar Landing!

Lunar Landing had a moon-type motif, and dozens of stand-up arcade games. I was partial to Galaga; allowing my spaceship to be captured only to steal it back and use the double-barrel whammy on the bad guys during the challenge round was more than cool. It caught the eyes of girls, too. Girls who seemed attracted to kids with supple wrists and the ability to score lots of points with the first character of each game.

I sometimes played Donkey Kong, too. That game was a killer, though, in that there didn't seem any real way to beat it. Sometimes even if you had the hammer, the flames or the barrels would somehow get through and kill your Mario. Donkey Kong was the ultimate game:

Scoring high caused the chicks to stick around.

Scoring low brought ultimate buzz-kill.

The King Of Kong is a fascinating peek inside the lives of old-school gamers from the 80s who guard their arcade accomplishments with obsessive passion, and who are threatened by a newcomer who brings mad skills and determination to arcade tournaments.

Billy Mitchell set the high score for Donkey Kong back in 1982. He's built a reputation and a lifestyle around that accomplishment, and leads a syndicate of geeks, freaks and nerds bent on protecting Mitchell's record score.

Steve Wiebe, a former Boeing employee turned science teacher, finds focus in the Donkey Kong game after being laid off from his job. He sets his sights on Mitchell's thought-to-be impossible to reach high score.

The result is a compelling, complex documentary that entertains as well as allows the viewer to connect with the people on-screen. Wiebe is impossible not to cheer for. Mitchell is easy to hate.

The King Of Kong (sometimes referred to as The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters) is a must-see for anyone who played arcade games in the 80s and early 90s.

But it'll entertain everyone else as well.

12 comments:

Route 75 said...

Galaga was awesome. Killing all those bumblebee aliens in the challenge round would get you 1000 points. If you killed the guys you had to hit twice, I think it was 1600 points.

Stupid bumblebee aliens.

rebecca said...

I have to check that out!!!

My favorite game was "Moon Patrol." The only thing like an arcade in my hometown was a laundromat with a few games in it. My friends and I used to go to the 7-11 for Slurpees and Nerds and then spend hours at the laundromat playing games.

Laundromats were a lot more fun when I was 10.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever found you to be more of a nerd than I do at this very moment. -Cara

The Film Geek said...

Rt. 75: It rocked. I gotta get me a computer version of that game. Might impress my wife a little. Or not.

Rebecca: After Lunar Landing closed, I spent a whole lotta time at the 7-11, so I understand. And the laundrymats are cooler when you're 10. :)

Cara: Stick around, I'll continue to test the limits. Promise.

Hoyt said...

Great review! King of Kong is one of the more engaging documentaries that I've seen in the last few years.

I wasn't any good at Donkey Kong, but I had pretty mad skillz on the Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man games and Q*Bert. It didn't help with me with the chicks, but it did save me on the quarters.

Route 75 said...

TFG. I've got a computer version of that game somewhere in my house. Holla at your boy!

The Film Geek said...

Hoyt: I loved this movie! Getting to know Billy Mitchell was like watching a slow-motion wreck of the geek train.

Rt. 75: Done.

Bobzim said...

Centipede. For some reason that rollerball controller had a lot to do with it being my favorite.

2nd would be Galaga. A bar I frequented in the 90's had a sit-down version. As brilliantly manipulative as Taco Bell having seats that pitch forward to keep turnover higher.

primalscreamx said...

Oh the games... the millions of quarters I spent. I was a big fan of The Star Wars death star game. I used to play that while a friend of mine shop lifted porn. I was the diversion, evidently.
I was into Dig-Dug, Donkey Kong, Tapper, Galaga and Gyrus which used Bach's Contata and Fugue for a theme. My last arcade game love was Xenophobe or Xenophobia which was kind of a cartoonish version of 'alien.' That I played my first year in college when I was sober and flush with cash.

Hoyt said...

Gyrus rocked! Bach's music was the best part of the game, too. It's a shame more video games don't incorporate more classical music.

While we're on the subject, does anyone remember the video game featuring the band Journey? That was a riot!

Jackie said...

Centipede was my game...until I discovered Street Fighter of course :D

Ima put this in the queue right now! Thanks The :D

The Film Geek said...

Bob: I was never good at Centipede....that damn ball was too slick.

Bill: I flunked a History course my freshman year because of the video games at our student center. I remember starting to leave the place once to go to class, then pulling a $5 from my wallet, cashing it for quarters while thinking "what the fuck..."

Hoyt: I remember that! But I never played it.

Jackie: I know you will love this movie!! Seriously, it's right up your alley. Let me know what you think when you see it.