The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Review
Back in high school I worked at a local arcade where the days were filled with kids puking on the floors, drunk teenagers crapping on the walls, and parents complaining that the arcade cabinets stole their quarters. Rows upon rows of these mechanical works of art – which seemed to be built to break – brought unending enjoyment and annoyance to a dwindling crowd of customers by letting them relive memories, or create new ones with the next generation of gamers.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters brought back those memories, along with a few good ones, and mixed them with a dim recollection of trying to clean Donkey Kong Jr.’s NES cartridge on the carpet.
This documentary tells a story about a nice guy, Steve Weibe, whose perennial bad luck has finally gotten him laid off, forcing him to reevaluate his life. During this period of rediscovery, Steve buys a Donkey Kong cabinet and attempts to beat a 20 year-old high score set by arcade legend, Billy Mitchell; however, standing between him and the world record are legions of dedicated Mitchell fans who readily discredit him, break into his garage, and demean his victories.
Now a hot sauce magnate, Billy Mitchell conducts long distance warfare with Steve through his protege, Brian Kuh. The Dwight-like gamer keeps careful tabs on his master’s rival, and seems surprised when Steve shows some talent. Throughout it all, though, Steve Weibe remains the everyman: a quiet guy who takes losses with tears, but keeps trudging towards The Win.
Make no mistake, this is a documentary for everyone. Even if you despise video games, or missed the era, this film crafts a hilariously heartbreaking story that will entertain, and get you to cheer for something that the mainstream population has ignored for 20 years. It also takes a 1970s and 80s culture that’s since become a much parodied subculture, and turns the low stakes of arcade competition into a journey of self determination and fulfillment.
I never lived during arcade-mania that these guys did (small part due to being born in ’86), but King of Kong did a wonderful job of making me feel nostalgic about an era I never knew and excited about a game I rarely played.
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NYC, New York, United States