Perhaps this is why he doesn’t press his interview subjects for follow-ups on curious admissions. For instance, one American exec recalls hating the name “Donkey Kong,” and requesting a different title for the stateside launch. Just as swiftly as he admits he underestimated the power of this peculiar–and now iconic–brand, he says his bid for a name change was rejected. Why did he hate the name? What did he suggest instead? Why was his proposal rejected? Snead doesn’t ask, so any path to tension or even the possibility to imagine a world without the Donkey Kong we know is just lost. Gold coins spilled to the brick floor.
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Instead of a deep dive into the darker realms of Nintendo’s story, Snead is happy to stay on the surface and even warp-whistle through awkward bits about lawsuits and missteps. Thus, he offers a glossing-over that isn’t all that thrilling. Maybe to make up for the professional tensions skirted, Snead stuffs his series with a relentlessly booming score. It’s so loud and persistent that at times I struggled to focus on what was being said by interviewees. The music refused to be background. It’s as if Snead were trying to make up for a lack of any dramatic tension with an orchestral score that screams at you to feel something. Not every scene is approaching Bowser. When music isn’t actually building to a climax, all these crescendos move from diminishing returns of tension to outright irritating. You wait for catharsis, and instead, it’s just another sloppy segment with more yowling orchestrations.
This series is inexplicably paced. The layout is simply linear. Snead locks into a chronological order that robs tension because we know this humble gaming stand in Kyoto will lead to towering success. Beyond that, he structures his chapters like movie trailers, relentlessly employing montages. Here is a montage, slapping together some cultural context of popular TV shows, Oscar mishaps, or music that rocked the radio waves. Here is another, stringing together a bunch of game footage. How about another montage of giddy kids tearing gift wrap away from NES on Christmas day? Is this bone-dry section about cartridge costs per unit boring? (Yes.) How about a sprinkling of sound bites that tease what’s coming up next, moments before an expert just tells us what happened next? Now, another montage of newspaper headlines!
All this makes it impossible to get into the flow of the show because there is no flow. Every section feels like a pop-up ad, blaring, disjointed, and trying to sell us something. This is weird because if you’re watching this show, you’re already sold! Likely you’ve owned a Nintendo system or three. You’ve got a favorite character. You know their best battle move. On some level, you’re Team Nintendo, so why does this whole show feel like a fevered sales pitch?
From a superficial exploration of Nintendo’s Japanese branch to a disjointed pace, and an astoundingly annoying score, Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story makes for a dreadfully dull watch. Sure, in the nearly five hours of screentime, there’s some interesting information unearthed. But Snead has buried it deep in bells, whistles, and Nintendo nostalgia. Amid the morass of montages, the show becomes insufferably one-note. Such a surface treatment of all this history might have played better if it weren’t stretched out across so many episodes. As it is, too much feels like filler. Honestly, watching it was a chore.
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