Remember back when you were a kid and you believed that when you grew up you could do anything? Think back on all the exciting dreams you had. All the things you were going to do once you were finally old enough. Alright, now look around and see how many of those things you’ve actually accomplished. For those of you suddenly overwhelmed with existential dread, The New 8-Bit Heroes is just the salve you need.
Now available on Amazon, this documentary-styled story of self discovery follows filmmaker Joe Granato IV and his team on the nostalgia trip of a lifetime. During a visit to his childhood home, Granato uncovers a veritable treasure trove of his personal “long abandoned aspirations.” His discovery included a collection of pages he and a friend had created. Here they detailed the NES game they wanted to make back when they were 8 years old.
With pages in hand, Granato reached out to some contacts and friends, at first just curious, but then compelled to create the game he’d begun all those years ago. With the assistance of illustrator Austin McKinley, Granato decides that the only way to authentically make a game conceived in the 1980’s is to adhere to the limitations of the time. To say it was more than either had bargained for would be a massive understatement.
Creativity from Limitation
The New 8-Bit Heroes follows Granato and McKinley as they navigate NES homebrew culture. They visit many people and places that have made the NES such a cultural artifact of our time. This includes a brief, but nuanced look at nostalgia as a means of preserving history. These interviews give added perspective to the small, but loyal audience of 8-Bit enthusiasts. The same people who formed the core audience that helped fund the Kickstarter project for the game/documentary back in 2014.
The film itself resonates with any would-be creative who’s ever felt the inexplicable compulsion to make something. The same people who may have had to let go of their childhood dreams and transition into the harsh reality of adulthood. It’s equal parts sobering and inspirational. In fact the final result is so compelling that it can feel a bit scripted in places.
The narrative beats follow a definite structure through the power of artistic editing. Each step forward is immediately followed by a series of frustrating failures and seemingly insurmountable setbacks. Granato is upfront about this in the film’s introduction. The events don’t necessary take place in chronological order and some of the scenes were re-enacted for the benefit of the cameras.
Ultimately, The New 8-Bit Heroes tells a story of self discovery. A story about finding out who you really are through which ambitions you follow and which you leave behind.
Homebrew & Beyond
The film ends on Granato hopefully skipping off towards Nintendo’s headquarters with prototype in hand. Despite this inspirational visual, Mystic Searches, the game at the center of the documentary isn’t quite ready for release. If anything the project has only fueled more work for Granato and company. Currently, they’ve released a vertical slice prequel, Mystic Origins while creating a development tool of their own to simplify the 8-bit game making process for others.
The New 8-Bit Heroes bills itself as a documentary, but it tells such a captivating story that even non-gamers will find something relatable here.