Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story – The BRWC Review

Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story - The BRWC Review

This five part documentary series from Crackle chronicles the story of The Nintendo company, from its beginnings as a playing card producer to its present day position as a dominant figure in the video game industry. Spanning decades and covering many landmark moments in gaming history including: the early days of arcade games, the video game “crash” of the early 80’s, to the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) a then revolutionary home console video game system, lawsuits, feuds with SEGA, Atari, PlayStation, and both the successes and failures of various product launches and technical advancements Nintendo has made over various decades from Donkey Kong all the way up to The Switch. This series tells the tale of a company that became not only an industry giant, but a cultural icon.

It is apparent from his filmography that writer and director Jeremy Snead has a deep passion for video games and the history and culture that surrounds them. Snead has helmed such projects as Unlocked: The World of Games Revealed and Video Games: The Movie. In fact, there are many moments in the documentary where someone off-camera will make comments such as, “I remember being really frustrated by this part of a game.” It is evident when watching the series that Snead’s affinity and knowledge makes his interviewees comfortable and excited to share their knowledge as well. One former Nintendo employee even remarks that this is only the second project of its kind that she has felt comfortable speaking about Nintendo with. This evident preexisting knowledge comes through in his and his production team’s ability to assemble a series that essentially covers a company’s entire history, while also being judicious in how much time is spent on an individual time period or product so as not to hinder the pacing of the series.

The main device that Snead and the production team use to deliver information to the audience and keep the momentum of the series going is the anecdotes and testimonials of the interviewees. The remarkable aspect of the interviewees is how diverse they are, authors and historians of Nintendo who have published books on the company and gaming industry, actors, former Nintendo employees, even corporate rivals such as the co-founder of Atari, and a former president at SEGA appear in the series. As a result of their various ages, genders, and professions, each individual has a different story when it comes to the nature of their relationship and history with Nintendo. When they became aware of them, what systems and games they first played and so on. The thread that ties all of these individuals together is that they all have an appreciation and respect for the impact that Nintendo and its properties have had on not only video game fans, but the world at large. By having such a diverse interviewee pool, Snead and the production team are able to create well-rounded pictures of how and why Nintendo did what they did and why they had the impact they did. 

For instance when multiple interviewees talk about the mediocre reception the Wii U received upon release compared to the massive success of the original Wii console, the film cuts to former Nintendo employees talking about what the company was thinking and planning at the time, and why they think certain things both did and did not work over the company’s history. The film is able to cut between multiple interviewees to compare and contrast the explanation and perception of people within the company with those of people outside the company in order to provide a wide spectrum of opinions.

Viewers coming into the series expecting a deep exploration into the creation and development of games may be disappointed that there are few interviews with game designers. Most Nintendo employees interviewed are former marketing and corporate heads. The central focus of the documentary is relatively restricted to Nintendo’s beginnings, its ascension to prominence in the gaming industry, corporate feuds, and the reception of Nintendo products at various times by the public rather than details on how certain games came to be. 

The production team effectively uses archival footage in this series in order to highlight aspects of Nintendo’s impact that testimony alone can not fully encapsulate. This includes the use of home videos of kids opening Nintendo systems as gifts and the pure excitement and mania it inspired, clips from news reports covering the shortage of Nintendo gaming systems as consumers made runs on stores, commercials both by Nintendo and by their rivals showing how strong the rivalry to have dominance in the video game market was, and finally gameplay footage that helps demonstrate the evolution of video games over time, both by Nintendo and their competitors.

Perhaps the most surprising element of this documentary is that while it is largely a tribute to what Nintendo has accomplished, the legacy of its systems, games and characters, the series also in part serves as a meditation on what it takes to succeed in corporate America. The early portion of the series is dedicated to Nintendo’s rise to dominance in the gaming industry which is colored somewhat by controversy, as there is talk about how Nintendo controlled production of cartridges and limited developers in order to maintain desired prices and gain its position of prominence amongst a relatively small amount of competition. As the series progresses however, the conversation changes when the period of rival’s such as SEGA, PlayStation, and Xbox come onto the scene. During this portion of the documentary, there are repeated references to the fact that at various points in history, other companies had better hardware and graphics than Nintendo. This resulted in occasional periods in Nintendo’s history where they were not the prominent name in video games. However, inevitably Nintendo would eventually come back into a position of domination. The interviewees and archival footage attribute these comebacks in part to the company’s strong foothold in pop culture due to the popularity of characters like Mario and Zelda, as well as the company’s emphasis on consumer experience. 

For example, the series spends a fair amount of time on the early 2000s when competitors had consoles with better hardware, and were outselling Nintendo. However, Nintendo then introduced The Wii. The console’s simple, easy to learn and active gameplay not only helped Nintendo beat the competition in sales, but its success with whole households and elderly consumers meant Nintendo tapped into a portion of the market that video games rarely  had been able to sell to before. The interviewees and the series itself draw from stories such as these to illustrate that for companies to succeed, one must always pay mind not just to the technology available, but the experiences consumers want in  order to stay successful in a corporate environment where competition, technology and innovation are always in play. This added examination of marketing and corporate strategy may attract viewers into watching the series who otherwise may not have a strong affinity or familiarity  for  video games and their history. 

This documentary series offers a great reflection on the history and impact of one of the world’s most influential companies. Viewers who already have a deep understanding of Nintendo’s history may not find new insights in this series, but anyone looking for a deep dive into a company that was not only successful but defined an industry and helped define modern pop culture should definitely seek this series out.

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Trent loves watching and discussing films. Trent is a fan of character dramas and blockbusters. Some of his favorites include: The Breakfast Club, A Few Good Men and The Martian.


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