If you were a kid of the 1980s and 90s, hearing the words “Nintendo” or “SEGA” likely opens a floodgate of good memories. Begging Santa for the newest game console, saving up your allowance to buy the latest hit cartridge, and hanging out in your best friend’s den to play in front of the t.v. for hours. But have you ever wondered about the insider back story of the video game industry, like whatever happened to the SEGA Genesis? Who invented the Sonic the Hedgehog character? And why did the Sony PlayStation overtake every other gaming device when they finally entered the market?
All of these questions are answered in “Console Wars,” an unfocused and rapidly paced documentary that feels like it’s trying to cram the complete history of video games into a 90 minute story. Directors Blake J. Harris and Jonah Tulis rehash the war between the all-powerful Nintendo (who regularly commanded 95% of the market share throughout the 80s) and the innovative little startup named SEGA that dared take them on.
Using awesome vintage file footage combined with original animation, this documentary explores these two major companies and their effect on the culture of the home gaming market. It seems one-sided against Nintendo, exposing their questionable bullying tactics (like threatening businesses if they didn’t carry their games exclusively), and highlighting the blind arrogance that was ultimately their (temporary) downfall.
The SEGA story fares better, starting with a cool story of how it all came together, and how many of the company’s executives rose to power simply by being good at what they do. It’s interesting how SEGA beat the odds by building a smart, business-savvy team. They also succeeded in what should now be viewed as a master class in business marketing and strategy (including anti-establishment ads, setting up their games alongside their competitor in malls and encouraging kids to play for free, and buying up billboards in front of the Walmart headquarters in Arkansas when they refused to carry their games in their stores). SEGA also kept it simple: they listened to what consumers wanted, and gave it to them.
The film tells a lot of history in (mostly) chronological order, and many of the industry’s top innovators are interviewed for their perspective of the what, why, when, and how. Even if you’ve never picked up a controller, “Console Wars” is interesting and entertaining look at how quickly things can change in the world of technology, and is a compelling history lesson about the conflicts between and the rise and fall of the world’s video game giants.