Review – The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

I know that this comes a bit late, but I’m hoping the extra attention helps another handful of individuals to get out and see what I feel is one of the best gaming-related films ever made. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a documentary that follows two avid gamers as they compete to claim the world record score for Nintendo’s classic arcade title, Donkey Kong. In typical fashion, the documentary chooses their protagonist (Steve Wiebe) and their villain (Billy Mitchell) early on and encourages viewers to pick their pony to cheer for as the plot unfolds.

As each player makes attempts to one up the other, you get peeks into their daily lives and their lifelong struggles. For Billy, it seems that everything has always come easy to him. He’s always been the best at what he’s involved in. You see montages of Billy being handed awards, being praised, and even being named the video game player of the century. On the other hand, Steve is portrayed as the guy that’s always had a rough road ahead of him. Steve’s music career fizzled and failed, he was laid off of work the day he signed the papers for his home loan, and he just can’t seem to quite get to the #1 spot in anything he aims for in life, despite being a very talented and likeable guy. The emotional favorite defintely is Steve, but there’s something about Billy that makes you want to see him stick it to all his critics and envious opponents time and time again.

There comes a point in the film when it ceases to be about a video game or a high score and becomes more about the human spirit and an investigation into what drives us to seek out opportunities to excel in life. The documentary is full of highs, lows, comedy, and genuinely touching moments that you wouldn’t expect to find in a film tied so closely to a simple video game. The people, while certainly portrayed in a way that nearly reduces them to mere characters (possibly the only real flaw in the film), are so genuinely devoted to their hobby that you can’t help get swept up into the excitement of the chase for a new world record.

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I would encourage any gamer to see the film, but I also think non-gamers would get a kick out of The King of Kong as well. My wife, who only casually approaches this hobby was laughing and smiling throughout the showing. And I, as a gamer, haven’t had so much fun watching a documentary in all my life.

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