Wednesday 12 October 2016


In 1984 Tim McVey achieved what was thought to be impossible. He scored the first ever billion point game on Nibbler, armed with no more than a quarter and two days in which to do it. Receiving notoriety, fame and even a day named in his honour by the city, McVey returned to his life as a casual gamer until, 25 years later, he was forced to come out of retirement to protect his record against a number of new challengers.

Man Vs Snake assumes you've already seen 2007's highly successful documentary King of Kong, which let's be honest, if you're taking the time to read a review of a film that revolves around an arcade game called Nibbler, is probably true. Undoubtedly made to capitalise upon and continue the legacy of that film, Man Vs Snake fleshes out the world and community these guys live in, in particular the Twin Galaxies arcade owned by Walter Day, a man who seemingly spends half his life dressed as a sports referee despite the majority of arcade game achievements being a one man triumph against the odds with no real reason for a mediator.

"The Dodge City of video games where people would come for a showdown", it just so happened that the mild mannered Tim McVey lived on Twin Galaxies' doorstep and so was able to spend his youth honing his skills at the arcade, alongside the often shameless self-promoter (and by most accounts the villain of King of Kong) Billy Mitchell. Mitchell returns here, but is a secondary character in McVey's story who, although not quite as sympathetic a person as Kong's Steve Wiebe, appears to be a thoroughly likeable average gamer who once achieved something impressive.

Much like the arcade games itself, the film is able to be alluring and addictive, despite the game carrying no way near the same cultural cache as Donkey Kong did for King of Kong. Essentially the same game as Snake from Nokia phones from the early 2000s but played in a Pac-Man maze, Nibbler is a relatively obscure game that was all but rendered obsolete through advancements in games in the mid-80s. However, for retro gaming fans there is an obvious charm to it, and watching the aforementioned Nibbler dart around the screen at an ever increasing pace does become hypnotic to watch.

This covers a lot of similar ground to King of Kong, but without that central clash of characters, focuses more on McVey's family life and the support of his wife through his pursuit of regaining his title. The film tries to emulate the sense of competition that drove King of Kong, and although there is potentially foul-play gaming bad-boy Dwayne Richard and an Italian Kickboxer to contend with, it's clear that regaining his record is an endurance contest that McVey has to achieve by himself. It may be a strange world where the records are verified by the philosophy spouting Walter and his Twin Galaxies scoreboard, but be in no doubts that this is a sports comeback story on a par with Rocky Balboa.

Shot over a number of years and using some well realised animated sequences to fill in the gaps, Man Vs Snake is an affectionate look at an often bizarre sub-culture that is able to raise a number of laughs, but crucially not at the gamers or their pastime pursuits. A charming and enjoyable tale.


No comments:

Post a Comment