Form and content merge unappealingly in “Console Wars,” a herky-jerky documentary about the battle between Nintendo and Sega for control of the early ’90s video game market. The directors Jonah Tulis and Blake J. Harris, working from Harris’s 2014 book, try to mimic the sugar-rush aesthetic that made Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog the first legitimate challenger to Nintendo’s Mario, but the effect is as enervating as a marathon gaming session.
Then again, the canned reminiscences of retired executives probably called for an energy boost. Tulis and Harris set up a David vs. Goliath struggle between the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which had virtually monopolized the retail space, and Sega Genesis, an upstart ready to deploy some creative guerrilla tactics. After recruiting Tom Kalinske, an executive who’d revived the Barbie line at Mattel, Sega opted to pitch itself as an edgy platform for teens and young adults while conceding Nintendo to the thumb-sucking crowd.
“Console Wars” delights in the acts of subterfuge that took place between the two companies, like Sega blitzing Walmart’s corporate headquarters with billboards until it conceded store displays or reps turning a Senate hearing on video-game violence into a symphony of disingenuousness.
Tulis and Harris try to goose up murky footage of video game conferences and vintage commercials with original animations, like inserting business combatants into classics like Mortal Kombat. But the nostalgia rush of revisiting the industry’s 16-bit golden age is checked by an unwillingness to reflect on any part of it.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. Watch on CBS All Access.