People can't seem to get enough of video games. And with their massive popularity has come a slew of documentaries on what is a fairly recent industry: The Video Game Industry. There was the 2014 documentary "Video Games: The Movie," the 2017 doc "Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari" and just recently, the Netflix docu-series "High Score." It's now time for CBS All Access to throw their hat in the ring with "Console Wars" - their first original documentary film - that focuses in specifically on the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo that played out in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.
If you're a video game enthusiast (re: nerd) like me, documentaries on this subject are inescapable fun. Video game documentaries are surely right up my alley, due in part to the nostalgia of having lived through these specified times and also the vivid memories of having playing all of the games that are shown and discussed. "Console Wars" was familiar but deeply compelling, as it covered a lot of "behind-the-scenes" ground as SEGA desperately tried to unseat the king of the video game console market, Nintendo, who at one point in the late 80s had over 95% market share in this arena.
Some fun facts revealed in "Console Wars": Did you know that Tom Kalinske - the man credited as putting SEGA on the map in America - was also the head marketing genius behind Flintstone vitamins, Barbie and He-Man? That according to this doc, there was a separate "war" going on between SEGA of America and SEGA of Japan? That the highly-controversial, super-violent version of "Mortal Kombat" that was released on the SEGA Genesis outsold the watered-down "PC" version that was made available on the Super Nintendo? That when commercials boasted that the SEGA Genesis had "Boost Acceleration" - something the Super NES did not - that this was complete marketing bullshit?
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"Console Wars" seems to be much more of a SEGA story than a Nintendo story...I guess everyone loves an underdog. There are several insights given from Nintendo's perspective, but not quite as much time is spent on the champion as is on the challenger.
The take-away is an interesting lesson on marketing and market persuasion, and how much public image actually translates into sales. SEGA was the cool kid on the block, Nintendo was for squares (I couldn't help but notice that Apple took the same successful marketing approach almost two decades later, with their "Mac vs. PC" personifications highlighting how cool one is and how uncool their rival is). It's also fun watching the birth of an industry, where it was truly the Wild West and where anything that you could imagine could be done...whether in the game itself, the console that is playing the game, or in how the game/console is marketed to the public.
It's not too often you watch a documentary that teases a sequel, but "Console Wars" does just that. Their focus in this doc was quite limited, so I could definitely see more chapters that look at different eras, or different companies, throughout the history and/or future of video games.
In other words, the replay value of "Console Wars" is high...this is definitely a movie worth plucking a few quarters into to see what the next level has in store.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Directed by Blake J. Harris and Jonah Tulis.
"Console Wars" is available on CBS All Access now.
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