Let’s talk High Score– the new six part documentary on Netflix. This one kind of came out of the blue for me. There have been a lot of video game documentaries. Some are great (Once Upon Atari is one I liked) some.. not so much for me (Videogames, the Movie– I’m calling you out!) I’m really going to have to do reviews on them as well.
Once I saw the trailer for High Score- it peaked my interest- a documentary not just about the games, or the players…but focused on the designers and programmers (some of which have never done interviews!) I had to watch. And… I wasn’t disappointed.
Right off the bat, it felt like an episode of The Toys That Made Us- which is a great thing. Also, having Charles Martinet- The voice of Mario- narrating… was genius. Another thing I loved about the series, was the chapters- focusing on an era or genre of gaming, and making the flow seamlessly was fantastic. Which should be no surprise- one of the executive producers, France Costrel- has some experience with this subject: she also directed the seven part series- 8 Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games for Great Big Story (a part of CNN). Which seems to be the case for this series as well.
Let’s talk about the episodes (spoiler free where I can.)
This chapter starts where all good stories start- at the beginning. It has great interviews with people who started the industry that we know today as video game entertainment… leaders, programmers, and even one of the first high score players- some of which have never sat down to tell their stories in a documentary! One is the posthumous interview with the family of one amazing hardware designer who sadly passed in 2011- who invented the video game cartridge. Yeah, the narrative has been told before, but this feels like a very refreshing start.
The 2nd chapter is about the industries’ redemption- from a 100 year old card playing company. Again- done before. But with more amazing interviews from people who have never done a documentary before- it feels brand new! Plus, spending a good amount of time on the 1990 Nintendo world Championships (which I went to- when it was living in Tampa!) was the icing on the cake! All narrated by the guy who IS THEIR MASCOT! It doesn’t get better than this!
This one was my favorite! everything about roleplaying games! I was a HUGE D&D player in high school, so I was totally into this episode! from adventure games on teletype, to the formation of one of the biggest roleplay computer game companies of the 1980s and 90s, I was hooked immediately! lots of great interviews in this one too- plus the story of a lost RPG written for the LBGTQ community that helped a lot of people when they needed it. The best episode of the group, in my opinion. Especially since the RPG game has never been talked about to this degree!
Ahhhhh… the beginning of the 90’s console wars! Do you remember that? And an upstart arcade company named- SEGA? And how they turned the industry on it’s ear with a little blue hedgehog named SONIC? Never heard of him? Sure you have. well, this is his story, and SEGAs. Did you know how he was created? Well, his creator will tell you. Did you know About the SEGA World Championships? Let the people who got that off the ground tell you about it. How about this little company that made computer games in the 80’s… how they joined forces with SEGA to create the biggest sports titles of all time? Well, watch the episode- you’ll find out from the people who did it!
You wanna FIGHT? Well then, this is the episode for you! It’s a battle of the century- as the fighting game brings back a hurting arcade industry! And they talk about the two big ones- Street fighter and Mortal Kombat! From inspiration to finished product- with interviews from the original designers- It’s a head to head competition who’s game is the best! Because of these titles, companies like SNK, Incredible Technologies, and many more would jump on the fighter game bandwagon and create their own. But these two games would beat them all and have sequels even today! Which game is your favorite? Another great episode!
Now, by the early 1990s, there were designers who wanted to push the video game world into another dimension- the third dimension! It’s all about the FIRST PERSON SHOOTER! Learn how a couple of nice blokes from Great Britain- move to Japan to help with a FPS for a certain playing card company, to the formation of a software juggernaut – who were the cornerstone in the FPS game industry and who’s titles STILL get sequels today!!! lots of great interviews throughout from the people who have never told their story like this! Then they end the series with a look back from the father of the industry, Nolan Bushnell!
So- What did I think of High Score? I liked it a lot!!! From the way cool 8-bit graphics intro, and they use it throughout the series, to the great music, including the amazing intro-
Throw in the amazing interviews with the people who were a part of the history of video games, all wrapped up with the voice of Mario, taking us along for the ride, I think you can call the whole series FUN. It makes you happy- every episode. Pulling at those memories of your youth, like you are a kid again. That’s why The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us is great as well. I can’t recommend this enough! A great binge-watch on a rainy day!!! This is one series I will be watching over and over- Netflix… please put this in a Blu Ray box set!!!
Keep Playin’ Like It’s 1981