8 BIT ROAD TRIP
The 2007 film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was a surprisingly gripping documentary that followed the life of Steve Wiebe as he attempted to wrest the world record for the highest score in Donkey Kong from the standing champion, Billy Mitchell.
The story is the dramatic tale of down-on-his-luck Wiebe who purchases a Donkey Kong machine and decides to make a challenging run on Mitchell’s longstanding high score by spending his downtime playing in his garage. His persistence pays off, and he eventually nabs a million-plus score, topping the existing world record by over 100,000 points. But his victory turned out to be a hollow one.
Billy Mitchell is established as the clear villain of the film, a fact that Mitchell himself constantly reinforces with his overall demeanor and cocky attitude. Mitchell contests that Wiebe’s Donkey Kong machine may have been tampered with by longtime Mitchell-hater Roy Shildt (whose Centipede high score was similarly contested by Mitchell) and that his score should not be counted. At this point things get serious, and Wiebe is forced to prove his skills in a live performance supervised by Twin Galaxies’ official record keeper, Walter Day.
Wiebe prevails, and manages to break Mitchell’s record again during the live contest… only to have the victory immediately taken away by a videotape submitted by Mitchell with an even higher score, once again putting Mitchell in the top spot. The documentary ends with Wiebe finally claiming the world record for himself.
While some of the drama of the documentary was enhanced with creative editing – and some contested points were left out – the rivalry between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell is quite real. Mitchell holds his numerous video game world records in very high regard, and he clearly revels in toying with his challengers. To that end, he did not let Wiebe rest on his laurels…
Shortly after the film was released, Mitchell retook his high score. Then, a third challenger entered the fray, Hank Chien, taking the record for himself. To create some additional drama, Mitchell challenged Chien’s score in a public performance… but rather than playing the game to the kill screen, he just played until he beat Chien’s score and then walked away from the machine.
Mitchell, Wiebe, and Chien continue to challenge one another and (briefly) take back the #1 spot.
Though Mitchell is known for a number of other video game high scores, the King of Kong documentary brought his name to the forefront and made him a recognizable personality. Not one to pass up an opportunity to let every one know how great Billy Mitchell is, he decided to open up the King of Kong Arcade in the Orlando International Airport on December 9, 2010.
It seems a little odd that the Orlando airport was chosen for Mitchell’s arcade, rather than the Miami airport, which is both larger and closer to Mitchell’s home in Hollywood, FL. But there’s no denying that a great number of people pass through OIA, particularly international travelers, so there’s a lot of exposure in that location.
We decided to check the place out for ourselves, and we took plenty of pictures along the way.
Before we reached the arcade itself, we were greeted with a nice big KOK. Namely, there are a couple of black and white signs depicting Donkey Kong, whose chest is emblazoned with the King of Kong acronym. Here’s hoping that KOK Kong doesn’t make his way into any officially licensed Nintendo games…
Hanging in front of the main entrance is a nicely designed sign depicting a barrel in the background, with a red banner for “King of Kong”, and retro-styled lettering for the word “Arcade”.
To the left of the main entrance is a movie poster for The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters film, with “Now Playing” written underneath… although nowhere in the arcade is the movie playing, nor available for purchase.
At the front entrance is a red theater-style curtain with a banner across the top stating “King of Kong”, with flaming barrels along the sides, making it look like a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet. What’s interesting is that Mitchell chose to include both his face and Steve Wiebe’s face above the entrance – taken from the movie poster – rather than showing just his own, or just showing himself and Walter Day.
But including both pictures does work toward drawing attention to gaming’s most famous rivalry, which is the basis for Mitchell’s capitalization. Hank Chien has no presence, but that could change if the documentary ever receives a follow-up.
The inside of the arcade is covered edge-to-edge in Donkey Kong wall graphics depicting blown-up versions of the classic game’s 4 famous levels, stretching from floor to ceiling against a black background. We get to see Mario (then known as Jumpman) as he makes his way up through girder-laden levels to dethrone an angry gorilla kidnapper – the eponymous Donkey Kong – from his perch, so that he can rescue his special lady.
At the center of the arcade is a showcase displaying T-shirts, collectible cards, and Mitchell’s hot sauce available for sale.
The T-Shirts have the KOK gorilla on the front, with Mitchell’s “Never surrender, never” quote on the back. There’s a limited run of 1,000 shirts signed by Mitchell himself. These are stamped as KOK Authentic (rather than KOK Arcade), hand-numbered and signed, and include text at the bottom reading “Video Game Player of the Century”. The Video Game Player of the Century moniker came from the 1999 Tokyo Game Show, where Billy Mitchell was recognized by Namco Founder Masaya Nakamura for his achieving the first ever perfect score (3,333,360) in a game of Pac-Man.
Billy Mitchell is also the self-proclaimed “Sauce King” of Florida. He is the owner of “Rickey’s World Famous Restaurant”, and has a line of “Rickey’s World Famous Hot Sauces”. And, to capitalize on his King of Kong fame, he has released a King of Kong hot sauce as well, showing his face on the bottle, along with Steve Wiebe’s. The arcade was also selling the official King of Kong hot sauce, along with some of the Rickey’s chicken wing sauce.
And to top it all off, at the opening of the store, Twin Galaxies unveiled the first ever video game trading cards. There are only two cards in the series thus far, one with Billy Mitchell, and another with Walter Day. A limited number of autographed cards are available at the store.
On either side of the showcase is a nicely designed flaming barrel. Above is the same marquee from the front of the store, once again with the red curtain. Interestingly, the red curtain doesn’t actually have all of those neat folds and shadows. It’s actually a print of a red curtain laid on top of an actual curtain. Only the center of the curtain can be opened (the sides are immovable), and it’s a bit weird to see the actual folds of the curtain going against the printed folds on the curtain, but it’s difficult to see any of this without getting up close.
This seems like a prime photo-op location, and the arcade operator was more than happy to let us get in behind the showcase for some posed shots… nothing too crazy, and we managed to keep almost all of our clothes on.
What was probably most surprising about the arcade was that it contained no actual Donkey Kong Machine. One would think that with Mr. Kong’s face splattered all over the walls and T-shirts that you’d at least be able to play the game that made him – and Billy Mitchell – famous. But no such luck. None of Mitchell’s other classic high scoring games are here either, nor are there any classic arcade machines from that era. Instead, the place is filled with more recent game releases, packed into a relatively tight space.
The King of Kong Arcade is tiny compared to most arcades. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel that had its own arcade, then you have a fair idea of the size of this one. The arcade is “L” shaped, with an Avatar pinball machine and Hoop Fever games along the right wall.
A pair of Super Bikes machines sits in the back corner, and you’ll find Aliens Extermination, Terminator Salvation, and a pair of Dead Heat machines. There’s also an air hockey table and several prize-dispensing machines.
We even saw Mr. Spock trapped behind a wall of glass, struggling for life against the plushies that surrounded him. Unfortunately, we could not rescue him, and therefore left him to his fate.
* Photo wizardry performed by Tabitha!