Arts

Games: HBO's 8-Bit Christmas will hit 40-something NES lovers right in the feels

 Neil Patrick Harris stars in 8-Bit Christmas
Neil McGreevy

8-Bit Christmas (HBO)

FOR every Home Alone, there's a Jingle All the Way, and while the latest attempt to bottle festive cheer won't enter the pantheon of Christmas classics, HBO's 8-Bit Christmas is perfect for fortysomething gamers jonesing for a fix of 80s nostalgia.

Adapted from his 2013 novel, Kevin Jakubowski's tale of a middle-aged dad (Neil Patrick Harris) and the Christmas-addled memories of his youth whisks audiences back to a time when Nintendo was king. Like The Goldbergs, "it was 1980-something". In this case, 1987, when all every 11-year-old wanted under the tree was an NES.

The dates check out: all of 11 years then myself, I equally pined for Nintendo's grey box from Portadown's Toymaster (a shop, not some mythical beast). Flashback!

Eleven-year-old Jake lives in the Chicago 'burbs with Mom, Dad and little sister Annie, and since only the rich kid in town has Nintendo's newest, Jake and his rogue's gallery of pals engage in all manner of high school hi-jinx to get their hands on one.

It's mercifully not just an extended ad for Nintendo, with a major scene showcasing the crappiness of the company's ill-fated Power Glove – a motion-sensing mitten unreleased on these shores. Thanks to a benevolent aunt who'd demobbed to Winnipeg, I actually managed to get my hands on (in?) a Power Glove, not realising it wasn't compatible with our tellies. So mine was only marginally less useless than had it actually worked.

Channelling major John Hughes vibes, 8-Bit Christmas is a slice of teen Americana that turns out just the right side of sweet, with a final five minutes that shoehorns in the obligatory 'message'. Anyone who's seen 1983's A Christmas Story – not so popular on these shores but well worth searching out – will recognise the beats.

Both films dive into ghosts of Christmases 30 years past, with 8-Bit Christmas simply swapping out Ralphie's BB gun for an NES. The selling point, of course, is its barrage of 80s toy references, perfect for every kid who braved the checkpoints to queue at Leisure World back in the day.

Anachronisms are rife – its world still has the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, which had long since turned to mulch by the late 80s – though such anachronisms are perhaps explained by Jake's memory fog.

With the upcoming Super Mario Bros movie, starring Chris Pratt as Mario and Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, 8-Bit Christmas is a primer for the upcoming Nintendo cinematic universe. And while those of a certain vintage will call it out as "just A Christmas Story for Gen-X, man", it's certainly a cut above the Aryan Hallmark movies that clutter Channel 5's schedules, where white, straight, middle-class folk find love and business success.

A festive nostalgia blast for my generation, it proves the clamour for Nintendo's NES was very similar on the other side of the pond.

:: 8-Bit Christmas is available to stream from December 4 via Sky and Now Cinema.

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