Not too long ago I shared my thoughts on Netflix’s new High Score, a limited, six-episode series that delved into the rich history of video games through the last several decades of the 20th century. Now I’m tackling the CBS All Access’ Console Wars.
High Score VS Console Wars
As I watched and as I reviewed High Score, I was aware that there was already another, very similar, production from CBS All Access. It would further dive into what can probably not be disputed as one of the greatest stories, and rivalries, in video game history: Nintendo vs. Sega.
I thought that High Score was a bit too sporadic with its coverage. It did not spend too great an amount of time on any one narrative. I pined to revisit the most epic of corporate rivalries that dominated media and gamer interest long before the “war” between Xbox and Sony fanboys sputtered to an inconsequential start. The fight between Nintendo and Sega was like no other. And boy did Console Wars not disappoint in its recount of it.
Obviously, High Score spent much of a single one-hour episode on the rise of Sega and its surprising challenge of Nintendo, and this led Console Wars to be mostly a retread of the same characters and stories that kicked off Nintendo vs. Sega for about it’s first 30 minutes – but that’s no fault of Console Wars’. Just like Spider-Man, every story needs an origin, and Console Wars did a decent job of setting the stage.
Where Console Wars separates itself from High Score is in the detail. And at run-time of around 1:30, it’s impressive how many interesting facts Console Wars revealed, and how this documentary made you at once laugh at and long for another time.
At the outset, Sega’s US division was getting beaten and battered as bad as any Mortal Kombat character, but the hiring of Tom Kalinske, who interviewed for both documentaries, changed everything.
In the early 90s, Nintendo of America was so powerful that it was able to strongarm retailers like Walmart into not buying competing video game products. Likewise, they prevented third-party developers from creating video games for other systems. Nintendo’s power left Sega in a no-win scenario. An illustrious marketing campaign and a new blue meanie mascot, along with Kalinske’s hire, put Sega on the map faster than a Sonic Dash.
Sega’s attack on the teenage market was another area that skyrocketed them into a legitimate competition with Nintendo. Whose own unwillingness to update its image to counter was equally at fault.
I’ll give High Score some credit though. Console Wars’ pizazz and the soundtrack don’t match up, owing to generic 16-bit reenactments of board room meetings and a lackluster soundtrack, but it’s story more than makes up for it.
Nintendo VS Sega
And another knock on Console Wars maybe its perspective. Only for very brief periods does Console Wars give Nintendo the floor and allow us to hear the story from the “evil empire’s” side, or at least they were portrayed as such. So, don’t let the title of this documentary fool you, this is Sega’s story through and through. And that’s not a terrible thing – just an unexpected one.
But once the stage was set and I understood who’s side I was supposed to be rooting for, Console Wars had me cheerleading for Sega like no other. Bias alert: I’m a big Sonic fan already.
The Sega screams from the high energy Genesis commercials had me cracking up. As much as I imagine I did when I first saw them in the 90s. I learned a lot about Sega of America’s specific influences on the success of Sega in the 90s. As well as its impact on what we know and love about Sonic the Hedgehog as a mascot today. Without the American division, it’s likely we wouldn’t have had a Sonic at all. That is not a world I’d want to live in. He is my favorite Smash character after all.
Console Wars: The Wrap Up
And at the end of the day, it sounds as if Sega of Japan not only tried to ruin Sonic but that they did ruin Sega – at least its console business. But I’ll let you get there on your own as I assure you Console Wars is worth an hour and a half out of your day. I don’t want to spoil all the reveals you’ll likely encounter.
Unlike High Score, Console Wars even stuck the landing. The end is not only satisfying, but it reaches its end at a natural point as upstart Sony comes on the scene as a new contender. At this point, Sega’s story ends. But man oh man the chances they had. What could have been for Sega if a few cards (or partnerships) had fallen a different way.
Go and enjoy!