Man VS Snake film review0 Comments
In 2007, the world was introduced to the notion of grown men from the 1980s still chasing high scores on the games of their youth. The documentary film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters presented us with a look at Twin Galaxies, the 20th Century organization that made waves in 1982 as the place where gamers everywhere could discover the highest scores from around the world.
After the King of Kong became a cult classic, a number of other documentary films attempted to capitalize on the newfound attention for vintage arcade competition. Sadly, even though the history of Twin Galaxies is literally filled with stories involving dozens of early gaming champions, most of these documentaries simply focused on the same stories the public had already become familiar with. While the pioneering spirit of Walter Day and Billy Mitchell cannot be understated, over the years they have seemingly worked their way into more films than Stan Lee and Alfred Hitchcock. Their stories have been told time and again, while the stories of other early Twin Galaxies champions floundered in obscurity.
Thankfully, that is not the case with Man VS Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, which premiered this past Sunday at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. Here, we are introduced to Iowa native Tim McVey, a typical midwestern teenager who, in 1984, became the first video game player in history to score over a billion points on a video game. While McVey's acheivement came on the obscure Rock-Ola title Nibbler, rather than a mega hit such as Pac-Man or Centipede, news of his acheivement spread across the world. McVey was even awarded the key to the city of Ottumwa, Iowa as a civic day was held in his honor, and made a charter member of the U.S. National Video Game Team.
Shortly after the fanfare, the famous Twin Galaxies arcade would go out of business. McVey would move on with his life, safe with the knowledge that he held a world record score which he felt would stand the test of time.
Almost a quarter century later, McVey, now settled into a steady midwestern job and a quiet life with his wife Tina, would learn that he might not have held the Nibbler record for all those years after all. Apparently, a player from the other side of the world claimed to have defeated McVey's score just eight months after his 1984 acheivement. To make matters worse, Canadian bad boy Dwayne Richard, another champ from the glory days of Twin Galaxies, was also taking aim at the Nibbler record.
Keeping his publicly made 1984 promise to defend his Nibbler record, McVey decided to act. Now in his 40s, the first player to ever score 1 billion points on a video game was back in action, on a quest to be the lone and undisputed world record holder on Nibbler.
Man VS Snake was actually in production before the release of The King of Kong, a fact that appears to have served the film well. Rather than trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, this film is able to stand on its own and tell the story without the influence of the Kong movie getting in the way. As a result, Man VS Snake presents a unique tale with legs of its own.
The film manages to paint the personalities of the key characters without overdoing it with the old "talking head" style of documentary. To help tell the tale, Man VS Snake also makes use of well-made and entertaining cartoon cutscenes. While these scenes exist due to the lack of footage from the original Nibbler scoring fever, they enhance the movie greatly and truly paints a picture, setting the stage for the rest of the story. If there's any downside to the animated scenes, it would be that they don't have more of them throughout the film.
McVey is clearly the focus of the film, but the story of Dwayne Richard also adds a great deal of flavor, along with a number of plot twists. While McVey had yet to appear in a video game documentary prior to Man VS Snake, Richard briefly appeared in the King of Kong, only for his story to mostly end up on the cutting room floor. Thanks to this film, Richard's quirks and championship expertise are finally put on display for film audiences that had not been made fully aware of him prior.
King of Kong alumni Walter Day and Billy Mitchell also make appearances, but unlike most of their other documentary appearances, they simply exist here to enhance the story. Tim McVey and his Nibbler quest are never overshadowed by classic arcade gaming's Batman and Robin. Day and Mitchell appear only when it serves to add to Tim's story, and due to that, Man VS Snake succeeds where other classic arcade documentaries have not.
The film does bring up some controversial moments involving both of McVey's apparent Nibbler challengers, but the filmmakers decided not to go down that road. This is to the credit of producers Andy Seklir and Tim Kinzy, who could have done what the King of Kong filmmakers chose to and create a full on good versus evil story in the editiing room. In Man VS Snake, the controversial issues that arose during filming are brought up, but they are also taken to their full conclusions.
Obviously, this review has taken great care not to give away the end result of the film. We all hate spoilers, and there is no reason to provide them here, as Man VS Snake is a must-see film. By not following in the footsteps of the King of Kong, the filmmakers have managed to create the spiritual successor to the older cult classic. Fans of retro arcade games will love the nostalgia, while casual viewers will find themselves amazed at the real-life story, charmed by Tina McVey and invested in Tim McVey's personal journey.
Man VS Snake is not only the best retro arcade/Twin Galaxies related documentary film since the King of Kong, it is far better than Kong in almost every way. Nobody in Man VS Snake comes out looking like the bad guy in the end, nor is the audience ever left to feel like the filmmakers included some people simply to make fun of them. Instead, the audience is left with a feel good story where they can also feel good about every person they just took the time to watch. The arcade champions and personalities in the film are given their proper respect and proper due.
Most of the world may never have heard of Nibbler, but they all need to see this film. Look for more news about how and where to see Man VS Snake as further distribution plans are announced, and follow the film on Twitter @NibblertheSnake.