Neil Patrick Harris Gets in the Game for Nintendo’s New Promo (VIDEO)

How’s this for switching things up? Years after giving us the definitive “playa” as skirt-chasing Barney on How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris is giving the love to a different kind of game with a pair of Nintendo-related projects. Not only does the Emmy winner star in and narrate the HBO Max original comedy 8-Bit Christmas about a young boy’s quest to score an NES console in the late ’80s, but he’s also shot a promo for Nintendo Switch’s upcoming “Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain” game.

Featuring his husband David Burtka and their children Harper and Gideon, the spot is spot-on Harris, in that it’s equal parts adorable and irreverent as the actor secretly plots to best his own kids (anyone who has lost at game night to their off-spring can understand!). NPH recently hit the pause button on his own Switch to talk about his new partnership with the iconic brand, which would be smart to start developing the game he comes up with at the end of our chat.

So this is fun for you. I think a lot of people know you as more of a magician fan and this is literally the opposite of magic. This is all tech. How did you get roped into a Nintendo deal?

Neil Patrick Harris: You say that, but Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain feels very much like a magic show and a magic trick to me.

I think a lot of these games are all weirdly in-line with watching a magic show. There was one where everyone’s competing against each other and they cover the bird cages. There’s like six and they’ll show thar two of them have birds in them. Then all the bird cages will swap round and you have to try and remember where the cages were. I don’t know, I found it pretty magical. I’ve been a fan of gaming for, well, since I was able to play them. I think my first game system I ever purchased on my own was an original Nintendo NES and I’ve just always been a fan. I never imagined growing up in Ruidoso, New Mexico, in a mountain town, that I would ever be partnering up with that actual company. Being able to discuss new ventures that they have and to be able to play games with my own children, it’s a very “dream come true” kind of moment.

Nintendo Switch - Big Brain Academy

And I realized when you said that you purchased your own NES system, that was probably with your Doogie money.

True! But it was no different because of that. I had to get in line like everyone else, which I did.

You hosted the 2010 Game Awards for Spike TV. Obviously by then, you’d already been immersed in this world. But what was your game of choice when you were younger.

Wow. I don’t know. I loved old-school Super Mario Brothers. I was fascinated by which tubes had extra bonus levels, I’m always fascinated by bonus levels and secret things in games. So those would be the ones that I would be drawn to more.

So you’re more into the puzzle games and things like that rather than the questing games or first-person shooter stuff?

Very much so. Yes. The questing games, the first-person shooters, they always make me wonder if the weapon that I have acquired should be used immediately or whether I’m supposed to save it for special occasions, and I’m never sure when those special occasions are. [Laughs] And so I overthink the games.

Weirdly, my games of choice are puzzle games, where all you’re supposed to do is think things through. So I guess that’s how my brain works best. Hence the “Brain Vs. Brain” [appreciation].

Your kids dragged you on Instagram on one of your recent posts — your thousandth post, I think — joking about how you spend too much time on your phone. Now, are you also always on the Switch, and do they get on you for that?

I would say they ‘dragged me’ with quotation marks around it, because I would beg to differ in that I probably dragged them into saying lines that I asked them to say. But in turn for saying said lines, they got the reward of playing their Nintendo Switch. So it was a win-win for everyone. [Laughs]

Nice. Which one of the twins are you most afraid to play against? Like which one is really adept at this stuff?

Ooh, that’s a Sophie’s Choice question, my friend. I would say that our son Gideon is probably more constantly focused on gaming and video games. That said, Harper loves them as well. And when we were playing Big Brain Academy: Brain Vs. Brain, which we were allowed to play when we were filming the TV spot—because it doesn’t come out until December 3rd—it was awesome to watch the two of them play against each other. Gideon, who prides himself on the games, was finding himself at times behind his younger sister by one minute and the competitive streak in both of them came out in a rare form. So I’m excited to play it in earnest so that we can really get better.

And that is not a talking point, this is actually me speaking. It’s one of the things I really like about this particular game. I like gaming where it’s actually working on your brain and improving memory, improving logic, improving synapses. For me, that feels like it’s not a time-suck, but it’s actually useful time well spent.

You’re learning something, right? Like almost playing Memory on it.

For real, was super fun. And so as we were playing it all day and filming the spot, which I thought turned out really well, I loved that David and I could play against each other while also playing against the kids because we all could choose our level. I could choose advanced or even higher. David, I think is leaps beyond that. The kids could choose what level they felt most confident or appropriate to their age and their skillset. It’s an educational version of fun, which is what parents I think should be seeking out.

Nintendo - Neil Patrick Harris

And I was going to ask if David got into the gaming as well.

He does, not as much as me. I’m relatively obsessed with tech and technology. I feel like it’s an escalator that is so quickly moving and to see the advancements of all of it, I think is fantastic. This new Nintendo Switch OLED model has the biggest, most amazing screen. It’s seven inches, it feels next-level even from their last level, which felt really cool. So I don’t know, I’m just always amazed. I buy all the new tech and then rarely use it, but I’m glad to pour through it and see what’s new.

You’re that guy who gets the GoPro and never reads how to use it?

No comment. [Laughs]

Got it. You also just launched your Wondercade newsletter and you signed on for this Uncoupled on Netflix, which sounds awesome. Are you even going to have time to play with this thing? Is this Switch just going to end up in the kids’ hands forever?

Well, no, that’s one of the things that makes the Nintendo Switch so great, its portability. I can take it with me and hone my skills on set. That said, I’ll probably be wanting to be focused on the show, but in-between takes or during lunch breaks, it seems like a great way to spend my time.


If Nintendo made a game based on you, what would it be called?

Wow. That’s a great question. It would have to be an escape-the-room game. Nintendo Escape The Game! I am in a constant state of feeling like I’m playing escape-room games. I love figuring out how to piece things together, and if something breaks, I love taking it apart and figuring out what made it work. I love trying to unlock drawers that have locks on them. I don’t know, I was made to escape rooms. And so if Nintendo made a singular game about me, it would be that for sure.

8-Bit Christmas, Movie Premiere, Wednesday, November 24, HBO Max

Uncoupled, TBA, Netflix