There’s no way Napoleon Dynamite the Game could’ve gone wrong. It’s only been four years since the film garnered ten times its initial budget from theatrical earnings alone. Considering the movies slighted budget and the fact that most films never even break even these days – that’s a hell of a lot of money! Since 04, Napoleon’s array of colorful sayings progressively infiltrated pop culture. The world may never recover.
Due to the redundant title, one might think Napoleon Dynamite the Game is just another god-awful title following its subject matter exactly. Not so! That would’ve been boring, as films and video games do not move forward at quiet the same pace (EA, please take note.) Instead of opting for the easy way out, 7 Studios brings out the character of Napoleon Dynamite through 19 unpredictable minigames (and five dancing-related ones).
Imagine playing DDR on your DS. Got the picture? Good, only instead of jumping on the Touch Screen as directional icons pass by on the top, you’ll be using three directional buttons and three face buttons to match their on screen indicators, which move horizontally to the right along three lines. With a miniature window of time to hit each note, this would seem rather difficult for the rhythmically challenged. Add in a ‘special move’ on the touch screen to boot and you have one of the most poorly conceived minigames this side of WTF Work Time Fun.
When Napoleon Dynamite the Game branches from its source material, things begin to seem much more promising. There’s a revamped take on the arcade classic Defender called “Save Nessie”, which has you tapping away at the Touch Screen diligently as boats and submarines drop hazards in the water. It’s your job to re-direct the hazards upwards and destroy a set number of the boats/subs. The most functional of the mini games is likely a side-scrolling shoot-em-up in which Napoleon’s bound to a Pegasus and a wolverine hunting game in the vein of Point Blank DS. Albeit the allowance of playing out “Wolverine Hunt” and “Save Nessie” in Survivor, having some of the other functional games tacked on alongside them would’ve been nice. The hit and miss Bow-Hunting and Trampoline Jumping minigames aren’t much to look at and just aren’t worth playing more than once.
Haven’t we done the math on comedies? Critics hate them. They are justified in that. When was the last time you played a great video game based on a comedy? And how about one which revolves around a “cult comedy”, such as this one?
Richard Hess also directed another iffy film spawning a similarly off-color DS game in Nacho Libre. Although the game was in far worse shape than the film, it still got released within the year. For whatever reason, Napoleon Dynamite the Game tries to reenact the visual styling of Nacho Libre. The characters are bobble heads, with their large craniums’ being greatly disproportionate to their bodies. Looking good on paper always looks good on paper.
It doesn’t look so good on the Nintendo DS however. On several levels befitting of the beat-em-up genre, an over-developed control scheme mixes with the most lousy hit detection and enemy AI possible. Even when you’re facing away from an enemy, the over/under on making contact goes in your favor. Get knocked down and Napoleon automatically springs all the enemies off of him in different directions. Since these levels are 2-dimensional, platforms with health and other related items are almost always on hand. But there’s no need for those – the ninja foot soldiers will strut against an invisible wall until you come down and kill them. Other than a couple ninjas programmed to jump on the platforms, they’ll never try to get you. Same goes with the over-sized boss, who also stomps in place. Somehow I defeated him by repeating a trip attack up on a platform on the left side of the screen. Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but if I’m using a trip attack on a higher level than the enemy, faced away from him, never actually coming in contact with him, it probably shouldn’t kill them.
Napoleon Dynamite the Game is ultimately Studio 7’s literal interpretation of the main character’s wildly farfetched storytelling. Suspending your disbelief in a theatre is one thing, but engaging in a socially inept character’s seemingly redundant flights of fancy via overtly over-exaggerated mini games is all kinds of messy. If a company tried to rework several arcade standbys (in terms of general gameplay), and then stuck a random film license on their game, the bastard child would look an awful lot like Napoleon Dynamite the Game.