Max Reload and the Nether Blasters review – eager tribute to 1980s gaming culture

A bargain-bin version of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, this Kickstarter-funded feature debut by Scott Conditt and Jeremy Tremp has a similar video game veneration and chirpy tone. But their sci-fi/fantasy action-comedy engages more frontally with gaming culture, specifically the intersection between ye olde pixellated times and the all-streaming, all-dancing, eternally online new generation.

Max Jenkins (Tom Plumley) is a cocky online gaming hotshot who, when not rampaging around in barbarian avatar guise, works as a clerk at local emporium Fallout Games, along with fellow virtual squadmates Liz (Hassie Harrison) and Reggie (Joey Morgan). Left alone on the evening shift, he is flabbergasted when a mysterious stranger leaves a package on the counter containing a cartridge of Nether Dungeon, a legendary 80s title lost to history due to a beef between its two creators. He uploads the game for the internet faithful – unaware that its source code contains an incantation from an ancient sect with designs on enthralling (in both senses) mankind.

Max Reload and the Nether Blasters clings to the lightweight adventure-romp template to perfectly amiable effect. Max and pals flee possessed, red-eyed evil ex-boyfriends and run around town trying to locate the bad-boy designer (Greg Grunberg) and estranged business partner (Joseph D Reitman) who hold the key to defeating these malign gamemasters. Plumley leads from the front with fresh-faced YouTuber zeal and the film’s energy bar never flags, even if the geek-world humour is sometimes clunky and forced.

Conditt and Tremp root their plot in the contrast between the lone-wolf bedroom-coder ethos and the hyper-garrulous internet co-op play era. But the former now has touchstone status for the latter, as the directors’ fetish for 16-bit aesthetics make apparent: we get pixellated inserts of Max BMXing around town and fantasy-cover-art-apeing colour bursts. While its nostalgic bent means it doesn’t dare modify the 1980s film template either, it also means it has a true aficionado’s attention to detail regarding gamer lore – cheerled by a bellowing cameo from the high priest of geek, Kevin Smith, as Fallout Games’ VR-obsessed owner. A slight but eager tribute to the home-computing heyday.

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