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.