Nintendo Quest is the latest niche documentary that probably would not exist were it not for Kickstarter. Billing itself as “The Most Unofficial and Unauthorized Nintendo Documentary Ever,” Nintendo Quest follows Jay Bartlett, a Canadian super-fan of Nintendo, Star Wars, and Dave Grohl as he attempts to collect all 678 officially-licensed original Nintendo games within a time limit of 30 days. The big catch is that he has to do this without using the internet to acquire them, meaning he’d have to get nearly 700 Nintendo cartridges the old fashioned way, via face-to-face transactions. Jay also must do this with his own money (the Kickstarter proceeds didn’t go to the game budget, only to the production) and without taking any shortcuts.
Jay’s search begins in Canada but quickly shifts to the United States as he seeks out used game store after used game store. Along the way he interacts with multiple private collectors, and we get to see how cutthroat the collector’s field can really be. Some of the games Jay looks for are extremely rare and fetch thousands of dollars, and we get an insider’s perspective into the competitive and backstabbing world of high-end video game collecting. We also get to see how far some video game enthusiasts have gone to in an effort to create their own little video game paradise. If you’ve ever seen The Rock-afire Explosion, you are familiar with the great lengths people will go to recreate their childhood fantasies, and here we’re treated to glimpses of fully stocked private arcades in suburban basements. Yet somehow, Jay, our protagonist, never seems desperate or out of touch. He’s intensely likable and—frankly—comes across as a bit fragile, so I found myself feeling protective of him and his mission. A good documentary will make you care about people, places, and situations in which you have no personal vested interest, and this one succeeds at doing just that. The filmmakers convey the passion of their subject and make you care, and it’s easy to invest in the human experience regardless of whether or not you dig classic Nintendo games.
I appreciate that McCallum avoids lengthy segments of talking heads and keeps his film moving at a decent pace. I’m sure he could have found numerous willing participants to wax philosophical about beeps and boops, but he keeps the few interview moments of the film brief. The obligatory history of Nintendo is done via animation that simulates retro-game graphics; it only lasts two minutes. Nintendo Quest is also a document of physical media and the importance of having a relationship with the thing that you are consuming. Great importance is placed on the artifacts themselves, but this is all done without derailing the story or detracting from Jay’s mission. McCallum understands that splitting the focus of the film would come at the cost of his narrative, so he keeps the focus on his friend Jay rather than on biographical testimonies about the sanctity of Mario and Luigi. This is also a documentary that understands the place of nostalgia in our society without letting that nostalgia become the story itself. There’s a maturity at work, believe it or not, that I think separates this from other similar films. During one part of the documentary, Jay finds himself having a very difficult time securing one of the rare games he needs, and tells us that “Every game has a story to it. This is the game I want most, but this is not the story I want for it.” There’s a lot we can take from this statement. Physical media enthusiasts will likely relate to where Jay’s coming from.