The Quest to Get Every NES Game in 30 Days—Without the Web

THE HOBBY OF collecting classic videogames has gained quite a lot of popularity in recent years, with more and more people (your author included) spending their free time hunting down game cartridges of yesteryear. Of the classic game machines of old, the original Nintendo Entertainment System has become the focus of a great deal of collecting these days, with many attempting to put together a complete set of game releases, sending prices skyrocketing in the process.

Now comes Nintendo Quest, a documentary about a friendly wager: The film’s director challenges his collector friend to acquire every one of the officially licensed games produced for the NES during its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, within 30 days, and without buying anything over the Internet. The crew drives around their native Canada and briefly into the U.S. on a trip funded by a Kickstarter in 2013. Nintendo Quest is now playing in a very limited capacity (there areshows coming up this week in Texas), with a release on DVD and Blu-ray this fall.

I can’t imagine Kickstarter backers being disappointed with the results; Nintendo Quest is a well-edited film that is easy to follow and moves pretty fast. I have a particular interest in collecting Nintendo games, but I think I’d watch this even if it were about Avon bottles, just to experience the excitement of treasure hunting vicariously. Along the way, there’s some rudimentary history of the NES, so it serves as a general introduction to the current retro gaming craze.

The speed collector in question is Jay Bartlett, who is clearly already predisposed to mass acquisition, as he has entire walls covered in Star Wars figures and a massive statue of Jar Jar Binks in his living room. We’re that Jay doesn’t really get out and interact with other people much, which is presented as director Rob McCallum’s impetus for putting his friend at the center of this international challenge to begin with. We want to see grown men become overly emotional at the sight of a rare children’s toy, and Bartlett is there for us.

Along the way, we find out some things about his past (with which certain psychologists of a Freudian bent would have a field day) that purport to give us some insight into why Bartlett is so driven to surround himself with Star Wars and Nintendo in the first place.

nintendo quest stacks

There are quite a few 80s kids out there, now in their mid-thirties, who still have a Nintendo set up to play Super Mario Bros. 3 when the mood strikes them. Some subset of them have huge collections of games, more than they’d ever had as a kid, more than any kid ever had. A much smaller subset of this group decides that it would be cool to acquire a complete library of games. For the NES, that’s 677 different titles, not counting minor variations (Nintendo Quest does, and comes up with 678 as its challenge goal).

Bartlett’s quest is admittedly contrived, as things kick off with a series of pre-arranged visits to friends’ houses, who have a stack of games all ready for him. In some cases, his pals are ready to hand over rare games (some with average prices in the triple digits) for little to no money in return. This is not unheard of in real life; any collector will tell you of games they got as gifts or at highly discounted prices from friends. But when the film crew walks into game retail locations and negotiates fairly unbelievable deals, that’s something you’re less likely to be able to do off-camera.

I say unspecific things like “little to no money” and “unbelievable deals” because of an odd editing decision onNintendo Quest‘s part: It very rarely mentions the price of any of the games that Bartlett acquires. This is strange, because one of the most enticing, lurid details of television shows like American Pickers is knowing the exact amount of money changing hands. This might be out of a desire to give the film a longer shelf life, as prices change all the time. But a story about buying with no prices feels incomplete.

That said, there are a lot of moments that collectors would find to be fairly authentic looks at what it’s like to be a completionist, deadline or no.

Bartlett and McCallum present a list of the “Top 20 Rare NES Games” that gets checked off as the film progresses, but some of the games on the list are actually pretty common and relatively cheap, and some of the rarest, most expensive games aren’t on there, and Bartlett discovers all too late that getting them is going to be a bigger challenge than he initially considered.

nintendo quest top 20

You begin any such process with a set of beliefs about which games in the collection are going to be the rarest, the most expensive, the hardest to track down. The process of actually trying to acquire everything will confirm some of those beliefs, and shatter others: Some of the games you think are rare turn out to be fairly common, and some of the things you think are easy snags are anything but.

There’s also a big game that’s entirely missing off Nintendo Quest‘s list, the absence of which tangentially touches on a debate that is prevalent in all areas of collecting: What “counts?” What games are required for a “complete” collection?

Nintendo Quest doesn’t count the second rarest NES game,The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak. Why? The film doesn’t say or even mention its existence, but when I followed up with McCallum about it, he said that it doesn’t count because it was exclusively available for rental at Blockbuster Video and thus not sold at retail stores. This is a popular claim among certain collectors, for which there is zero evidence (and plenty of evidence otherwise).

A great amount of mental energy is spent by some collectors in attempting to come up with tortured explanations for why things they don’t feel like buying are actually invalid, and therefore don’t need to be acquired for a complete collection. (I don’t think Nintendo Quest‘s makers have any ulterior motive; I think they were just snookered by an urban legend.)

Nintendo Quest can’t help but tangentially touch on this and other controversial aspects of collecting: the dual-edged sword that is eBay, collectors getting angry at those they perceive as their “rivals,” etc. But perhaps because of the closeness between the director and his subject here,Nintendo Quest ends up staying a cloistered, relatively unexamined look at one viewpoint on the subject of collecting, not a dispassionate overview of NES collecting as it is practiced today. Of course, since nothing like this has ever been done before it is still compelling viewing for anyone remotely interested in the subject.


[“source –”]