Directors Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir have been filming Tim McVey and his attempts to break again the billion point record in Nibbler (that’s the original version of Nokia’s Snake, for those less versed in obscure arcade games) for quite a while. Since 2009, the filmmakers have been closely following Tim, his challengers (smooth italian Enrico Zanetti and bad boy Dwayne Richard) and, of course, his friends at arcade Twin Galaxies, Walter Day and Billy Mitchell. And if these two last names sound familiar to you, well, congratulations, you have seen 2007 documentary The King of Kong and you’ll wonder during the whole of Man vs Snake if this was done by the same people (it wasn’t), or if it is some kind of attempt to clean Mitchell’s and Day’s reputation (it looks like it).
Man vs Snake is thus yet another look into the dark world of competitive arcade gaming, only through some slightly rose-tinted glasses. Day and Mitchell are here presented as The Good Guys, and for villain we have now Dwayne, who doesn’t really fit the role, as even the film’s attempt to create some drama digging up some dirt on him (he beat McVey and Zanetti’s record using a corrupt board that ran faster, giving him an unfair advantage of only playing for 35 hours instead of 40 (!!!) to get to the billion) fails miserably short. How Enrico, the lawful holder of the record for 25 years, is treated until the end (when, spoiler alert, McVey gets top of the chart again) recalls the way doomed Donkey Kong contender Steve Wiebe was treated by those same people at Twin Galaxies. The drama here is not as deep, as we feel that not only is Nibbler a more niche arcade game (so there are less contenders present, at least until a new record is held), but Tim McVey, despite being a sympathetic character, lacks the hero vibe.
This poor carbon copy of a previou successful documentary still has its own merits, though. The animated flashbacks and the more surreal environment created by the directors is very well realised, and works wonders in giving some oomph to the story. Still, the lack of information about the game itself and some out of the blue sequences (Walter Day and his India stories, plus the convenient and slightly expository sequence of McVey speaking about his dad, tied conveniently to an unsatisfying ending) makes for just a reasonably good doc instead of a great one, and even then only for those who have not seen anything on this theme before.
Still, as American Dream metaphors go, Man vs Snake gives you a good run for just a quarter, and if stories of men trying to beat their younger better selves is your thing, by all means, don’t miss the chance to watch this.
Man vs Snake will be playing at the Glasgow Film Festival. For more info please check http://visitgff.glasgowfilm.org/