How awesome was King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters? SO AWESOME. Thinking that someone like Billy Mitchell could exist in the real world and he could spark such a passionate rivalry over something silly like Donkey Kong was truly something to behold. Well, if you were a fan of that documentary that chronicled average people trying to achieve significant challenge within the world of something relatively mundane, then you’ll love Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler! It’s funny, inspiring, hard to believe, and provides more evidence that people love participating in trends more than pursuing their own interests.
Remember that game on early cell phones where you controlled a snake who needed to eat little dots, but each dot made your tail grow longer? Well, that’s what Nibbler is. But long before cell phones, Tim McVey (not, not that one) set the high score on the Nibbler arcade game at the legendary Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa, IA. Nibbler marked the first arcade game with a nine digit high score, meaning it was the first game capable of scoring a billion points on, and McVey did just that. That record stood for over two decades, until challenger Dwayne Richard, the bad boy of gaming, set out to challenge that score. What’s the big deal? Well, getting a score that high takes no less than 35 hours, no matter how well you play the game. Man vs Snake documents the duo’s attempts to become the greatest Nibbler player of all-time, from public arenas to in-home competitions, including technical tinkering, disputed numbers, and over holiday weekends. Man…it’s so awesome that these guys love anything this much.
Tim McVey proves only the biggest badasses get an arcade cabinet in their house.
The story of pursuing the high score on Nibbler, goddamned NIBBLER, is highly entertaining. Since this is a documentary, it’s hard to evaluate the content presented, but watching these two adults pursue greatness in the world of video games will put a smile on anyone’s face. The film knows how silly the premise is, and directors Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir don’t take the subject matter more seriously than it needs to be. For example, in certain sequences set in the ’80s, there is no footage available, so the film opts for animating these sequences in a Bob’s Burgers style of animation. These animated sequences entertained me so much that I could have watched a film of just those, but seeing the real people behind this crazy story helped remind you that yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Ugh. Did I really just say that? Kill me.
Oh, the ’80s, what a time to be alive!
Throughout most of the film, I just sat back and enjoyed the silliness of the stakes of it all. Unfortunately, the end of the film left a bad taste in my mouth, but not because of anything the film did poorly. I don’t want to spoil the specific story of Tim McVey and Dwayne Richard, but I will say that one of them does set the new record. The film ends with a montage of people around the world joining in on the record breaking attempts. When the new record was set, it seems like people who might not have even heard of Nibbler set out to destroy it just because they could. Nibbler didn’t have a legend until Tim McVey and Dwayne Richard helped put it on the map. Is Nibbler a great game? No. Not at all. Even the film’s subjects mention that getting the score has more to do with mental endurance than enjoyment of the game. Man vs Snake inspired me to pursue greatness, but showed me that I could define what greatness meant and I could achieve it in a variety of ways (and I already have achieved greatness in many ways). The film’s ending inadvertently reminded me how many people out there pursue greatness based on someone else’s definition instead of carving their own path. Granted, the people showcased at the end of the film could have been pursuing the record along with McVey and Richard and the film chose not to highlight them, but I think it’s safe to say a lot more people will now know the name “Nibbler” because a highly entertaining film featured the forgotten game as opposed to it being a game of note. In other words, Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler highlights the best in humanity and their pursuit for greatness in heartwarming, hilarious ways, but it is sure to create copycats who are so unoriginal that they have to feign interest in a game that was taken off of cell phones years ago.
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