'The King of Kong' pushes the right buttons

Kingofkong1_240 I spent many of my formative years — like much of G4’s viewership, I suspect — pumping quarters into arcade games. Everything from Space Invaders and Pac-Man to Heavy Barrel, Cyberball, Dragon’s Lair… Oh, and Donkey Kong, whether it was the greasy machine at a local pizza place or the knock-off Crazy Kong in my dentist’s office. There were days I longed for a way to spend the rest of my life playing those games.

Enter Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Mitchell has it all: a successful hot sauce business, a list of world-record high scores on classic arcade games and a surprising amount of fame. Wiebe, on the other hand, is recently laid off, a failed baseball pitcher and musician whose wife insists he only game at night… in the garage.

Go figure, Wiebe destroys Mitchell’s record, but thanks to some shenanigans (possibly on both sides), his score is invalidated. What’s a contendor to do?

Fly out to Funspot, which is touted as basically the Switzerland of worldwide classic arcade gaming, but which is staffed with Mitchell’s supporters. Can young buck Wiebe take down the master in his own virtual house? Watch to find out.

Kingofkong2_240 The King of Kong is funny in an excruciating way. While Wiebe is far more neutral Everyman than rebel hero, Mitchell is unabashedly devious. Wiebe goes about setting records with almost zero expression on his face, while Mitchell stalks about his home turf in Florida with furrowed brow and an ego the size of, well, an 800-pound gorilla. It’s clear Mitchell has based his entire self-image around this, the last of his high scores to remaining standing, and his attempts to retain his teenage glory scream of arrested development.

Seriously, you have to see some of Mitchell’s "dirty tricks" to believe them.

The King of Kong will make any of us relatively casual gamers feel much less guilty about whiling away a teenage year or three staring into flickering video screens. Conversely, it made me squirm to realize how close many of us mallrats came to growing into the people shown. Either way, it’s a must-see.

The King of Kong premieres at 5 p.m. ET/PT June 1 on G4.

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