07th Oct2015

‘Nintendo Quest’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Featuring: Jay Bartlett, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Patrick Scott Patterson, Warren Davis, Tommy Tallaric | Written by Robert McCallum, Jordan Christopher Morris | Directed by Robert McCallum

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Confession time. Between working a full time job and keeping Nerdly going, I don’t have a lot of downtime. Working all day and well into the night also means I also often struggle to unwind at bedtime. But a few years ago I found a solution for that, YouTube. Whereas a lot of people will read a book in bed for going to sleep, I watch videos. In particular the myriad of retro gamers on YouTube making videos about their collections, their game hunts and their general all-round love for old-school gaming. I’ve even made some videos of that nature myself.

Over the years there has been an explosion of well-produced YouTube “shows” that rival US reality television in terms of editing, production and quality. One in particular, The Game Chasers – originally inspired by the likes of American Pickers, Storage Hunters et al – has really raised the bar for retro-game themed YouTube videos. It was through The Game Chasers and their quest to collect retro games that I, along with many other people (other YouTubers included) realised how fevered the US video game collecting market is; and how insane the market has become. Who the hell pays thousands of dollars for one Nintendo game?

Turns out Jay Bartlett does.

He also spends 30 days tracking down ALL 678 GAMES available for the NES, aka the Nintendo Entertainment System. One man. 30 days, 678 games. No online purchases. Those are the rules of the Nintendo Quest.

A fanatical collector in pursuit of his dream to own a complete official North American NES library, Jay Bartlett is a man with a mission; a mission I wouldn’t mind undertaking myself to be fair. Bartlett is followed on his quest by filmmaker and longtime childhood friend, Rob McCallum. Who, whilst helping his friend acheive an insurmountable goal, along the way examines the enduring legacy of the NES and Nintendo – talking to an enthusiastic community of retro gamers and game collectors alike.

If you read my Documenary Top 10, you’ll know I’ve recently been on something of a pop culture documentary kick. I’ve been eating up documentaries on a wide variety of subjects such as toys, movies and video games. So Nintendo Quest was an obvious watch for me, even before I contemplated reviewing it…

Going into this documentary I did have reservations about how much time they would spend on getting the games, focusing on how rare and expensive the games are. But that not the case. Instead Nintendo Quest focuses more on the man behind the mission, the reasons for his obsession and his passion for the NES. It works in much the same way as my current favourite docu, Slaughter Nick for President, does. It tells the human story, grounding the film in emotion and truth; and showing the impact that this particular journey has on its subject, Jay Bartlett.

Of course the film does touch on the high values of some of the games – Stadium Events in particular – but it does so without any atittude. There’s no grandstanding about how much things cost, no “look at me, look what I have and you don’t.” Bartlett is a very humble protagonist and by allowing the camera to film [almost] everything we see his raw emotions  throughout… and he does get emotional. Very emotional, his nerves getting the better of him on many occassion. But it’s through that, and without any discussion or on-camera exposition, we know – just from Bartlett’s reactions – how much this quest means to him, even beyond completing his NES collection. There’s something greater to his quest, something much more personal. And unlike many documentaries that try to put a spin on their subject, director Robert McCallum doesn’t. He lets things play out in an almost unfiltered manner, leaving the audience to make up their own mind about this quest.

Whether you agree with the outcome, whether you think that this quest is fantastic, infantile, insignificant or amazing, you can’t help but be roused by Bartlett’s passion. It’s the same passion I saw in Rob Stewart, star of Slaughter Nick for President that inspired me to seek out more great documentaries and try and spread the word about them. It’s the same passion that drove the men behind the Atari: Game Over documentary – hell it’s the same passion that drives me to work till gone midnight almost every night on this very website. It’s a drive and passion we all need, and all deserve to have, about something. Anything.

Nintendo Quest is available now from Vision Films via Vimeo On Demand. The film will be released on all other major digital platforms and DVD in North America on December 1st 2015.

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