Infendo Newsletter editor, Chris, reviews the recent documentary The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
I live in a fairly unknown town in the Midwest. When a movie, such as The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, gets such a limited release, it would probably not be showing anywhere near my town. So surprised I was to find that for one weekend only, a theater nearby would be showing this movie. I jumped at the chance to see it. I drove downtown to the oldest theater in my town (it only has one screen). At 1:45 pm, the red curtain was drawn and the movie started to an audience of only three people, myself included.
The movie starts out profiling the history of classing video games, the competition of high scores, and the champion of it all – Billy Mitchell. From a young age, Mitchell has set many classic gaming records, including the first ever perfect Pac-Man game. At the beginning of the movie, he held the record for the highest score in Donkey Kong. Mitchell, who owns his own brand of hot sauce, is considered the best gamer of our time.
Enter Steve Weibe, an average science teacher in Redmond, Virginia. After being laid off from a job, he sets off to beat the high score in Donkey Kong using his own machine in his garage. Even with his two kids and a somewhat unsupportive wife, he improves so much that he decides to go for the record.
With a video camera over his shoulder pointing at the screen, Steve begins the game. Around the 500,000 point mark, you can hear his young son yelling at him to stop playing Donkey Kong and to come wipe his bottom. Even with these distractions, he beats Mitchell’s score. He submits the tapes to Twin Galaxies, the official score keepers of classic gaming. They come to his house to investigate the Donkey Kong machine that the record game was played on. They conclude that the machine’s board had been altered and due to ties between Steve and an “enemy” of Twin Galaxies (the guy who donated the Donkey Kong machine to Steve), the score is not accepted. You can tell that Twin Galaxies doesn’t want to lose their poster boy Billy Mitchell.
Twin Galaxies invites Steve to redeem himself by coming to a classic gaming tournament to try and beat the score in public. He flies down and beats the record in front of an official Twin Galaxies referee. He also achieves the third ever recorded “kill screen” (the final level of Donkey Kong, where you can play for only five seconds and then Mario inexplicably dies).
After hearing of this, Mitchell submits a new tape the very next day which shows him beating Steve’s score, also becoming the first to break one million points in Donkey Kong. Mitchell comes across as a master manipulator, always having something up his sleeve. He offers the challenge that if anyone could beat his score by 4:00 that day, then he would give them $10,000. No one beats it.
Steve wants to go one-on-one with Billy to prove who is the best Donkey Kong player. Billy keeps snubbing Steve, which frustrates him. It is pretty evident that Billy is afraid of losing. Billy eventually does show up to a tournament as Steve is playing, but only stays for about 10 minutes before leaving, a rather disappointing encounter. At the end of the movie, Steve submits a video of him beating Billy’s score in his basement, giving him the highest score in both live and taped playings of Donkey Kong. But since the movie has come out, Billy has reclaimed his high score. Just don’t expect it to stay like that for too long.
This movie was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Although I consider myself a gamer, there were a lot of things that caught me by surprise, such as just how competitive classic gaming can be. Did you know that at some points, you can actually control how the barrels behave in Donkey Kong? I didn’t. And can you believe that someone actually has to sit and watch hours of gameplay on tape just to determine a high score? I guess someone has to do it.
I really enjoyed this movie. From the arrogant Billy Mitchell to the frustrated Steve Wiebe, the movie pulls you in and delivers with such a twisting and turning story. Why can’t more video game movies be this good? (I’m asking you, Ewe Boll.) I highly recommend that you go see this movie, if you can find it. Or at least watch the DVD when that comes out. Whatever you have to do, if you want to consider yourself a true gamer, then you have got to check this one out.