REVIEW: ‘Console Wars’ Explores People More Than Console

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Console Wars - But Why Tho

Console Wars is a CBS All Acess original documentary that explores the rivalry between Nintendo and Sega in the early 1990s. While many books, documentaries, and YouTube videos have been dedicated to the subject before, Console Wars stands out for how it humanizes the saga, focussing on the individuals at either company rather than merely the meta-narrative.

The stories of how Sega and Nintendo came to sell home consoles are always interesting for enthusiasts of the medium. Console Wars tells the story as well as anybody by weaving interviews together with archival news footage and advertisements, home videos from both the companies and excited children unwrapping their consoles, and animations in the style of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. I especially appreciated the animations. They gave a lot of life to the stories by adding video-game-style humor and a creative edge to the narrative.

Console Wars doesn’t just tell the stories of Nintendo and Sega as they rose from obscurity to powerful forces in the video game industry. It really tells the story of the individuals who made this all possible. The documentary focuses specifically on the American branches of either company. So while there are of course mentions of the brilliant Japanese developers who created Mario and Sonic, or the executives that ran either company, only American staff were interviewed for Console Wars.

The Sega and Nintendo staff get personal, sharing their feelings, fears, and anxieties from the era, as well as their unique living arrangements and discord with their Japanese superiors. Console Wars also displays curtly the way the individuals felt about the folks at their rival company, from Sega’s feelings about Nintendo’s monopolistic practices to Nintendo’s feelings about Sega’s tendency towards the portrayal of violence in their games. Everyone gets blunt throughout.

For those well-versed in the history of the Console Wars, some of the non-personal parts of the documentary may get a tad boring. The footage remains interesting throughout, but when the film veers away from the personal, it does swerve a bit into the mundane. However, if this is somebody’s first exposure to the early 90s, it is as thorough a dive into this history as it gets.

Also unlike most media about the Conole Wars, Console Wars is not exactly a neutral party. It clearly has a slight antagonistic view towards Nintendo, framing Sega as the righteous usurpers against a self-righteous and monopolistic company. While Nintendo isn’t quite painted as a bad guy, the film seems to want to impress upon its viewers that Sega was David to Nintendo’s goliath. And frankly, the video game industry as a whole is better for it.

Console Wars Art - But Why Tho

In ultimately choosing to celebrate Sega’s disruption of the home console industry, Console Wars does gain this thin veneer of pettiness. It’s apparent in the executives at either company that still hold animosity towards one another all these years later. It’s almost as if the entire film takes on the punk attitude that made Sonic successful. It’s not a full-on bashing of Nintendo by any means. They get their fair shake and then some. Something just can’t help but feel a bit dirty about the lopsided way Console Wars paints Sega as the good guys, even when some of the tactics they used were less than squeaky clean.

Ultimately, the ending of the film washes away all of the grime. Its sweet conclusion feels like a celebration of Sega and the people who made its brief time in the home console game. It gets a bit sappy, and somehow everyone finishing the movie by doing their best impression of the Sega scream was heartwarming. It also ends with a “continue?” animation, signaling one of two things: that perhaps a second film is in order to continue telling the story from where it leaves off with the failure of the Sega Saturn and the rise of the Sony Playstation; or, more simply, a sweet homage to the fact that while Sega may have burned out of the Console War, their legacy and company continues on today.

Console Wars isn’t the most enthralling tale of Nintendo and Sega’s fight for home console supremacy in the early 90s, but it is a wonderful exploration of the real people involved. For newcomers to the saga, it is as in-depth an exploration as it gets. For those well-versed in the Console Wars, it’s the personal angle and combination of archival footage and excellent animations that make this film worth the watch.

Console Wars is streaming now on CBS All Acess.


Console Wars
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Console Wars isn’t the most enthralling tale of Nintendo and Sega’s fight for home console supremacy in the early 90s, but it is a wonderful exploration of the real people involved. For newcomers to the saga, it is as in-depth an exploration as it gets. For those well-versed in the Console Wars, it’s the personal angle and combination of archival footage and excellent animations that make this film worth the watch.