Starring: Tim McVey, Dwayne Richard, Walter Day
Directed by: Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir (debut)
Walter Day and Billy Mitchell are like Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury of the classic video game documentary universe. Ever since their debut in “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” as self-appointed authority figure and enigmatic villain, respectively, nary a movie about old arcade games goes by without Walter’s seen-it-all swami or Billy’s glorious pseudo-mullet weighing in on whatever is going on. Their presence is never more welcome, though, than when fighting to hold onto their very specific past in their very insular present day like in “Kong” or “Chasing Ghosts,” and the duo slides right into their roles comfortably in the latest guy-must-conquer-arcade-game-from-his-youth-as-an-adult doc “Man Vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler,” which premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin.
This time the man chasing an old high score is Tim McVey, a regular at Day’s Twin Galaxies arcade in the early ’80s, and the game is Nibbler, a somewhat-forgotten cabinet that can best be described as a take on the Snake game on your old Nokia cell phone that takes place inside a Pac-Man maze. While its more well-known peers like Donkey Kong can be dominated in a matter of hours, Nibbler is a different beast. As one of the few games of the era that features a 9-digit scoreboard, a Nibbler player can theoretically score over a billion points—a feat that takes nearly 40 hours on non-stop play. As a teen, McVey conquered Nibbler, setting the record—and winning his own Nibbler arcade cabinet in the process. McVey’s score stood unbeaten (according to Twin Galaxies, anyway) for more than 20 years…until an Italian man named Enrico Zanetti, who saw McVey’s picture and high score in an Italian video game magazine as a kid, claims he bested Tim’s record as a teenager in the ’80s. With inspiration from Walter and Billy, McVey sets out to retake his Nibbler record once and for all.
As the title implies, “Man Vs. Snake” concerns itself with the battle between a man and the extremely hard video game he’s trying to re-master (that most people don’t even know exists) and not so much another opponent, making it a much gentler companion piece to “The King of Kong,” complete with a nicer spin on the bad boy classic gamer made mildly famous by “Kong’s” Roy Shildt, a.k.a. Mr. Awesome. With no clear heroes and villains (there aren’t even any bad guys in Nibbler!), the film isn’t quite as riveting as previous adventures in the Twin Galaxies world have been, but “Man Vs. Snake” is still worth a week’s worth of your allowance in quarters.