High Score, Netflix’s new documentary series about the early history of video games, is filled with fascinating characters, flickering arcade cabinets, gorgeous pixel animations, flashy graphics, loosely woven yarns, and an aw-shucks sense that video games are just the best. Like another recent hit docuseries, ESPN’s The Last Dance, it delivers hit after hit of 1980s and ’90s nostalgia, a powerful and, lately, especially welcome drug. But also like that documentary, it’s unlikely to transform the viewer’s perception of its central subject. It’s a show obsessed with loving games, not understanding them.
Each of High Score’s six episodes (which all premiere on Netflix on Wednesday) is a rough account of a specific period or genre in early gaming culture, told through a series of interlocking character profiles. Because of this focus on character, each episode is less the story of a particular era in gaming and more a collection of stories of notable personalities associated with that era, strung together with the help of narrator Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario himself, who ties it all up in a cheerful bow.