Following in the unexpected success of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a small army of video game documentaries have come out in recent years.
The latest, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters debuted Friday night, October 7 as the Austin Film Festival.
Before starting my review, I’d like to disclose that I personally know a number of people in this film. While part of the Twin Galaxies staff from 2008 until early this year I personally verified and entered many of the scores of the Tetris players who appear in this film. I also competed in the Nintendo World Championships 1990, an event that is important over the course of this film. Overall, I will have a unique point of view on this film that others won’t, and may see this film differently than most.
Ecstasy of Order centers around the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championships, an event set up in Los Angeles by NWC 1990 runner-up Robin Mihara. While Tetris had long been one of the most iconic video games in history, there was no one person considered THE Tetris champion, so Mihara rounds up the top ranked players in the Twin Galaxies database and some others, including NWC 1990 Thor Aackerlund, to come to California and compete on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System version of Tetris.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTK6MnPa8Zo[/youtube]
The film spends a great deal of time on the back stories of the various men and women invited to Los Angeles to compete along with some deep looks into the deeper strategies of the top Tetris players. Viewers will get to see some reunions and some first-time meetings as the champs converge on Southern California, with the film wrapping up with the big Classic Tetris World Championship event and some surprise moments.
First of all, I’m thrilled to see a film that features this group of gamers. Those who’ve watched King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, High Score, Doctor Kong and the rest might think that Twin Galaxies is only about arcade video games and the same general group of players. Far from it. Every gaming platform is tracked by Twin Galaxies and the Nintendo Entertainment System crowd is often more competitive than the arcade side of things, from top players such as Tom Votava and Andrew Furrer to the many players included in this film. Something that features them in this manner is long overdue.
It is also very nice to see vintage footage and mention of 1990s gaming contests such as the NWC 1990 and Sega’s Rock the Rock from 1995. These were very large scale events with very big prizes that somehow fell by the wayside in gaming history, despite being bigger than most of the events before them and since.
The comparisons to King of Kong will no doubt come up in most reviews, so they might as well be touched on here. Ecstasy of Order does not have an underdog good guy, a blow-dried bad guy, a conspiracy theory, talk of gummy substances or a guy in a Halloween costume complaining about cherry pit spitters on Jay Leno. If that is what you want to see you won’t find it here.
What you will find, however, is a video game that is at least as iconic as Donkey Kong, a great number of charismatic players showing respect to one another and the thrill of live head-to-head competition. You will get a true view of the camaraderie that exists in many gaming communities as you meet players from all walks of life.
Ecstasy of Order may fire up players to chase down 999,999 scores on the NES Tetris much like competition on Donkey Kong fired up into full swing after The King of Kong. Tetris max-outs and Level 29 could become the “Donkey Kong kill screens” for the NES generation to chase down. I know it made me want to fire up Tetris again, and unlike original Donkey Kong arcade games anyone can obtain a chance at becoming the next Harry Hong or Jonas Neubauer with a quick trip to eBay or Amazon to purchase the classic NES stuff needed to become the next Tetris master.
Overall, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters is a fun trip with an all-time classic video game where the viewer gets to meet some fun new gamers along the way. A relaxing and fun 92 minutes that should appeal to both the hardcore Nintendo Entertainment System fans and the casual viewer who might want to see what exists within Twin Galaxies and classic high score chases away from the arcade scene.
You can learn more about Ecstasy of Order, including upcoming screenings, at www.EcstasyOfOrder.com.