The arcade experience these days might be a novelty. But in the 80’s and 90’s, as many have stated, arcades were king. Games started off in the arcade on much more powerful hardware, and then eventually made their way to home consoles. Midway and Williams were two of the biggest arcade manufacturers in the world. Insert Coin tells the story of the company and how success eventually destroyed it’s coin-op division. If you think about it, Midway Games made a huge portion of the classic arcade games you think of from that era.

It’s an astounding look into the world of how these games got created and the pressures and self-destructive behavior that went into their demise. All the principle players are here. It’s not formatted like your traditional documentary either. This is a testament to the abilities of director Joshua Tsui.

Insert Coin Doesn’t Pull Punches, But It Also Doesn’t Destroy The People Involved

In a lot of documentaries about the rise and fall of companies, you naturally have to have a villain. There really isn’t one here. The villain would more seem to be the market for arcade video games. All the people who helped bring up Midway like Eugene Jarvis, Mark Turmell, John Tobias, George Petro, and others. Besides the people on the inside of Midway’s coin-op team you have perspective from outsiders like Carly Kocurek, Ernest Cline, and Jeff Gerstman.

No one is portrayed in a really negative light here. At certain points in the latter portion of the documentary, Midway CEO Neil Nicastro is portrayed in a less than thrilling light, but it never goes into defaming the guy. Overall, everyone comes out looking like a good person that worked for an incredible company.

It’s quite amazing the sheer number of classic games that Midway pumped out in the 80’s and 90’s. Sure, we might have companies these days like Nintendo that have long and illustrious careers, but Midway was new on the block. They made: Mortal Kombat (and it’s sequels), Smash TV, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Rampage, Cruisin’ USA, and many more classic and well-loved games.

A Long, But Well-Paced Romp Through Video Game History

The documentary is about an hour and forty minutes long. That seems like a lot, but when you’re going through all the things that made Midway what it was, it really isn’t. I would have liked to see a bit more into the development of the games and the ideas and stories that went into it. There isn’t really room for a part 2, because Midway’s coin-op department didn’t last that long in the grand scheme of video games.

It really comes down to the time spent with the team that we’re looking at. As they got more successful with titles like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, they were under pressure from the higher-ups to make more. They had ideas that worked, and others that didn’t work as well. It caused internal strife amongst the teams, that’s highlighted in the doc. As the pressures of home console gaming catching up got to them, they just couldn’t hang. It’s a shame that they didn’t. The team here was filled with bright people who knew how to make games fun. It just turned out that the arcade business was much different than the home-console market.

The doc is just a pleasure to watch. At no point are you left feeling like the information being presented is biased. This isn’t some puff piece about the company. Midway Studios was just that magical of a place in the era.

If You’re A Fan Of Video Games, Insert Coin Is For You

That’s really what it comes down to. We’ve all played these games before. If you call yourself a gamer and haven’t played a Midway game, then what are you doing? Insert Coin is fantastic. The documentary is such a treat, and it’ll be one that I watch again. It reminds you of that era bygone. Where you could go to an arcade and just be with you and the games. Now, arcades are a novelty. With the COVID-19 pandemic, they might be all but dead. So, this kind of documentary might be the only way to show people what video games once were all about, one quarter at a time.

For more on Insert Coin, video games, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.