Considering how big the gaming business has become over the last couple of decades, there are remarkably few traditional documentaries that discuss the still booming medium. More recently, it’s fan-supported YouTube channels like Noclip and even developers themselves that have been creating the best documentary content, and most recently a Tony Hawk documentary that focused a little more on Skateboarding as a whole than the series of games. Traditional TV rarely broadcasts anything gaming related as the old guard continue to ignore the medium.
Enter everyone’s favourite disruptors, Netflix, who have produced High Score, a six-part docuseries charting the proclaimed ‘golden age’ of gaming narrated by none other than Mario himself, Charles Martinet. We know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s his regular, smooth, soothing voice and not that of Nintendo’s iconic plumber taking us on this journey through gaming history. Even we probably couldn’t stomach that.
Each of the six forty-plus-minute episodes has a distinct theme and topic; for example, the first episode centres on the boom and bust of arcades and the emergence of home consoles in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
In terms of structure, it’s a mixture of a factual timeline of events inter-spliced with more in-depth and personal interviews with the likes of Tomohiro Nishikado, creator of Space Invaders; Toru Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man; John Kirby, the infamous Nintendo attorney; and SEGA of America CEO Tom Kalinske to name just a few.
Further episodes focus on the rise of Nintendo and its NES system, the origin story of role-playing games, the bruising console war between SEGA and arch-nemesis Nintendo, and finally the rise of PC games such as DOOM and the beginnings of the Internet era in the mid-90s.
If companies were actors, Nintendo takes the lead role across the series, appearing in some form in almost all episodes – which means if you’re reading this on Nintendo Life, it’s probably going to interest you.
Whilst this shouldn’t be considered a definitive history of the period by any stretch, and sure – you’ll probably already know a lot of the facts – it’s the interviews featured in the series that are truly worth your time, revealing fascinating insights into the people behind many iconic games from the era and their individual approaches to game design.
Another thing that shines is the presentation. Wonderfully shot in beautiful 4K, the series oozes style as it mixes real-life footage with augmented reality sprites along with lots of on-point animated pixel art, a real treat for the eyes as well as the ears.
So, whilst we can’t say the series is worth getting a brand new Netflix subscription for, if you already have one (or have access to one) we’d wholeheartedly recommend that the show is worth the 5-6 hours of your time, either to take a trip down memory lane or to see what the fuss was about when all us older gamers were young and impressionable.
High Score is available on Netflix today, 19th August 2020.