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Netflix’s High Score Review – IGN

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Netflix’s new six-part docuseries, High Score, offers a broad-but-captivating look at the 1970s origins of video games along with the various booms and technological milestones of the ’80s and ’90s. For A.P. gamers, there might not be enough surgical precision to entice and ensnare, but High Score’s presentation and genuine love for the product and its history makes for a blissful and beaming look at an emerging medium and its growth into an interactive art form.Though one could criticize High Score for sometimes feeling a bit all over the place, each episode still tackles a specific era and/or theme. It kicks things off with Space Invaders, arcades, and the Atari 2600. We then swiftly move into the dominance of the NES, the “cool factor” of Sega Genesis, the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat (and Night Trap), and the innovation of Doom. Along the way, there’s a pit stop for the RPG, which moved from tabletop to text-only adventures to the early graphics of Mystery House.

Narrated by Mario himself, Charles Martinet, High Score tells the story of dreamers, dropouts, developers, designers, CEOs, and even early eSports champions in its mission to provide an all-encompassing look at the industry. It never gets overly fixated on one aspect or corner of the gaming/gamer story, using interviews and (sometimes animated) reenactments to bounce between stories of Atari’s Nolan Bushnell, Nintendo sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, Nintendo Power’s Gail Tilden, EA’s Trip Hawkins (and his endeavor to create John Madden Football), John Romero and the formation of id Software, and countless other fascinating bibs and bobs from video game history.One of the most rewarding elements of High Score is its occasional look at fans from marginalized communities who found solace and safe spaces within games that allowed them to participate in worlds that were otherwise denied them, or came with limited access. Game designer Rebecca Heineman is the first to be profiled as her love of Space Invaders was born from her ability to use the game, as a child, to play as a female in her mind during a time when she was AMAB. This ultimate affection led to her becoming the first-ever national video game tournament champion.

Also included in the mix is gaming exec Gordon Bellamy, a black and queer man, who fell in love with the Madden games (seeing them as a way to play sports in a welcoming environment) and eventually helped the franchise include black players on the cover and in-game. There’s also the tale of Ryan Best’s LGBTQ RPG, GayBlade, which Best, years ago, lost all copies of (including the source code) due to a shipping mishap.

Netflix Spotlight: August 2020

It’s these stories, blended in with yarns like Ultima’s Richard Garriott having to incorporate morality into Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar because players were such s***heels, the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano that helped create the world of Final Fantasy, and Akira Nishitani’s global trek to create Street Fighter II, that make High Score a great watch.

At some points, High Score feels like it’s addressing viewers who might be overly unfamiliar with the gaming world, but all in all, that’s a very small part of the proceedings. Just because a few seconds might be devoted to explaining what a role-playing game is doesn’t take away from the excellent stories that come with that genre’s legacy. This love letter-style docu-binge is a cool and entertaining watch for all walks.

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