About a month ago I was in a tattoo shop when I overheard four of the artists discussing a documentary. When I heard one of them say “It’s the best documentary since American Movie. In fact, I think it’s better than American Movie,” I had to ask what they were talking about. It was King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
While I disagree with this assessment, King of Kong is as entertaining as films like Spellbound, Word Wars and even Pumping Iron. And like them, Kong follows a group of people obsessed with one thing, and who are determined to be the crowned “the best.” In this case, it’s the video game Donkey Kong.
It’s also infinitely frustrating. The doc follows Billy Mitchell, the undefeated 1982 champion (who also happens to be the champ of Centipede and played the first perfect game of Pac Man), and Steve Wiebe, a guy who doesn’t play many videogames but is incredibly good at Kong. There’s a definite good guy, bad guy scenario at work throughout this film. Mitchell, a charismatic man who appears to be good at everything he tries his hand at, is a sleaze ball when it comes to the way he handles the competition against Wiebe. Meanwhile Wiebe is the underdog who is treated poorly because he’s not an insider in the world of classic gaming. The injustices in this world of competitive gaming are frustrating, but it’s the unfairness that also brings most of the drama to this film.
One of the most interesting things about this doc is the background on the game itself. Apparently, Donkey Kong is one of the hardest games ever invented because of how random all the obstacles are and the fact that there really is no ending to the game. The DVD has some great special features such as two video game experts comparing Billy and Steve’s Donkey Kong playing screens to discuss their strategies and a Very Very Brief History of Donkey Kong animated featurette created by I am 8-bit.