"Jake Doyle, Nintendo master."

Taking an instruction manual page from all children of the ’80s, 8-BIT CHRISTMAS is an easy crowd-pleaser.

The loading screen for 8-BIT CHRISTMAS is Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) telling his daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), about obtaining a Nintendo Entertainment System. For the most part, the film centers around the 1980s flashback, where a child version of Jake (Winslow Fegley) learns a lesson or two on the meaning of Christmas. The plot is wholesome enough and semi-resembles THE SANDLOT due to several small vignettes involving likable characters.

Despite the predictable plot, I related to these characters a lot. I remember how I first unlocked the ability to play with power on my N.E.S. It was at a poker game in 1985… no, 1988… never mind. It was a poker game in the late 80s when I used numerous weeks’ worth of hard-earned allowance to go all-in. In the 80s, my dad had some of the best poker games, and sometimes, they let the kids play. That lucky night, I had an extra set of P-Wings and got first place. One of my dad’s buddies had an N.E.S. with not just one game, but twenty! I gave him my cash and took home my first video game set. Heck, I even got the failed Power Glove like in 8-BIT CHRISTMAS. However, I didn’t harm anyone while using it 😂.

Now back to the movie. For a film about video games, there isn’t that much screen time spent playing games. Yet, 8-BIT CHRISTMAS more often than not focuses on Doyle’s family, and within that family dynamic, the movie becomes a hit. The sentimental message of Doyle’s dad (Steve Zahan) being his hero is enough to make anyone cry. And yes, I did shed a tear at the end 😢 .

Where the film fails is in the slapstick comedy. Most of the comedy bits and dialogue feel forced and tonally off at times. Like why would Doyle’s dad throw a kid over an escalator?

In my life and Jack Doyle’s life, “There is no second place when it comes to Nintendo.” So it’s just a shame that 8-BIT CHRISTMAS is not entirely as leveled up as the first placed N.E.S. at its center.

It’s available on HBO Max.

Aaron "Dobler" Goldstein

Aaron Goldstein is a Product Manager by day, ludicrous speed content consumer by night. He’s a LA Film School Alumni and TV Academy / Producers Guild of America member. Aaron is a proud parent and dad joke enthusiast.

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