'Man vs Snake': An Unofficial Sequel to 'King of Kong' Has Arrived

'Man vs Snake': An Unofficial Sequel to 'King of Kong' Has Arrived

Sep 29, 2015

Pac-Man. Donkey Kong. Space Invaders. These are the classics. Retro gaming brands so strong that they continue to have a hip presence decades removed from their arcade debuts. 

And then there’s Nibbler, a game that is at best only vaguely familiar - a derivative cross between Pac-Man and the ancient computer game Snake from jukebox manufacturer Rock-ola. It’s the game at the heart of the crowd-pleasing documentary Man Vs. Snake.

The star of the film is Tim McVey, a small-town machinist whose teenaged glory days as the first billion-point scorer on Nibbler come back to haunt him as an adult. His record score is threatened by an unofficial upsuper from Italy and Dwayne Richard, a ”bad boy” veteran of the competitive gaming world. Like The King of Kong before it, Man Vs. Snake finds humor, heart, and an unlikely underdog “sports” story in the unique world of retro video gaming.

But the similarities don’t end there! Man Vs. Snake also brings us the return of Kong’s “villain” Billy Mitchell, record-keeping zen master Walter Day, and Day’s infamous Twin Galaxies arcade. Directors Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir seem to have made a deliberate choice in capturing the vibe of Seth Gordon’s 2007 cult classic. Instead of finding ways to avoid comparison, they embrace the similarities (a poster for Kong appears on McVey’s living room wall). 

Richard is cast as an ersatz Billy Mitchell, all over-sized personality and mind games, against McVey’s more humble protagonist. There’s even a late moment in the film, like the glitched videotape in Kong, where the integrity of the competition is called into question. As for the formula, why fix what ain’t broke?

Man Vs. Snake has unique touches all its own, most notably animated flashbacks that recreate the 1980s in the style of Bob’s Burgers. Unlike Steve Weibe, the teary-eyed protagonist of King of Kong, there’s much greater doubt created as to whether or not McVey will ever even reach his insane goal. Nibbler was the first game with enough numerical spaces for a user to achieve and flip a billion-point score but the feat typically takes two uninterrupted days worth of play. It’s brutal and McVey hasn’t played a marathon in years.

The Billy Mitchell here is a kinder, gentler version of the haughty bad guy we only know from the 2007 doc. He was present at McVey’s lucky high-score session back in the 1980s, and he remained one of McVey’s friends and cheerleaders over the years. Snake’s antagonist, Dwayne Richard, is perhaps treated more evenly than Mitchell was by Gordon’s film. He’s a manic rocker with ego to spare, but comes across more impish and playfully antagonistic to McVey than brutally dismissive (like Mitchell was with Weibe).

The mind reels with the potential of a universe of films that intersect at Twin Galaxies. A look at IMDb reveals a host of similar docs like Chasing Ghosts and King of Arcades that begin to build a Marvel Universe-style intersection with Walter Day as the “Nick Fury” that binds the players together. It’s a relatable, interesting, unusually immersive world, and one we’ve enjoyed revisiting. Good to see the game ain’t over.

Man vs. Snake is currently screening at Fantastic Fest. For more of our coverage from the fest, head here.

Categories: Features, Film Festivals
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