Napoleon Dynamite Review

It's unlikely that many were begging for a Napoleon Dynamite-themed minigame collection, and those few who were will be disappointed by this shabby effort.

It's difficult to imagine a less needed game than Napoleon Dynamite: The Game, and yet, here it is. This handheld collection assembles a series of less-than-stellar minigames and builds them around a number of wacky characters and situations from the 2004 oddball cult-classic comedy film. This is the sort of game you'd see quickly churned out to coincide with a film's release or at least some kind of DVD release. That's not the case here. The developers at 7 Studios and publisher Crave decided that more than three years past the film's height of popularity was the right time to strike with a game adaptation of Napoleon Dynamite. That error in timing might have been forgivable if the games were even halfway amusing, but sadly, no such luck.

In the parlance of our hero, gosh this game is flippin' stupid.
In the parlance of our hero, gosh this game is flippin' stupid.

For Napoleon Dynamite, the developers cobbled together a collection of minigames that seem like they were cribbed from the most mediocre cell-phone games imaginable. There's the "toss the object farther than someone else" game, the half-baked target shooting game, the idiot-simple bowling game, the occasional attempt at a scrolling shooter, and, of course, the requisite dancing game with PaRappa the Rapper-style mechanics.

The games occasionally break out of the realm of pure mobile-phone-download mediocrity, but these attempts tend to be aggressively unpleasant as opposed to merely boring. The few bouts where Napoleon takes on the role of a Rex-kwan-do master, fighting a lot of hapless ninjas and such, are so bereft of coherency that all you need to do is mash random buttons and most likely you'll end up a winner without even realizing it--though "winner" in this case is definitely relative. Then there are the occasional awful sports games, like the hopelessly dull tetherball game and the world's most awkward dodgeball game not to feature Stephen Root in bondage gear. Dodgeball is especially bad. You're partnered up with your best pal, Pedro, but you can control only one player at a time, and the CPU player is terrible at dodging enemy attacks. The good news is that you can use the same dashing jump attack and hit an opponent square in the face 19 out of 20 times.

Dodgeball is hardly the only game to suffer from problems like these. The PSP version of Napoleon Dynamite offers about 30 minigames, and the DS version includes around 25. Out of these, maybe two or three are enjoyable. That's not exactly a great ratio. It's worth noting that the PSP and DS versions of the game offer essentially identical minigames, though the mechanics tend to differ slightly based on each system's control mechanics. However, the differences are slight, and the problems are almost always the same across the board.

The game tries to tie all these minigames in to a storyline, which involves Napoleon's grandmother's beloved llama, Tina, escaping her pen, Napoleon's uncle Rico and brother Kip going into business selling anti-aging vitamins, and Pedro's sister having her quinceanera. A bunch of memorable gags and lines from the film are brought into the proceedings, but none of it works, largely because there's barely any audio in the game. Seeing a text bubble of Napoleon saying "Gosh!" or, really, any of Pedro's deadpan dialogue is roughly one-eighth as funny as hearing the actors say the lines out loud. There are a few assorted sound samples chucked into the PSP version (with markedly fewer available in the DS version), but they're just lines randomly uttered during competition, and they get repeated way too often.

Never before has dodgeball been so dull.
Never before has dodgeball been so dull.

The PSP and DS games look relatively similar to one another, with a similar style of cut-and-paste animation for the minigames and story sequences. It's not unlike what the Nacho Libre DS game did back in 2006, with photos of the actors cut into pieces and reassembled to create exaggerated cartoon versions of the characters. The PSP version actually looks pretty neat at times, though the DS version lacks a lot of the PSP version's animations, mostly during the story bits, so you tend to get stuck with a lot of still frame shots. The DS version also lacks multiplayer of any kind, whereas the PSP version does have ad hoc and download multiplayer options for up to two players--not that you'd want to play any of these games with a friend, but hey, at least the option's there. The PSP version has its own problems to balance things out a bit--the sheer number of load times in the game is overwhelming. None of the loads on their own are especially long, but those short loads pop up in between every single screen, from a still-framed dialogue bit to an actual game, so you find yourself sitting around waiting a great deal.

Napoleon Dynamite: The Game is, in a word, irrelevant. Hardcore fans of the movie won't find much content here that hasn't been recycled from the film (and in less funny fashion, at that), and the gameplay isn't anywhere near fun enough to hold anyone's attention for long. If you were to ask the eponymous hero what he thought of this game, he'd probably say something along the lines of, "This is pretty much the worst game ever made." Maybe it's not quite that bad, but it's a poor effort all the same.

The Good

  • Cut-and-paste graphical style is amusing

The Bad

  • The bulk of the minigames aren't fun
  • Lack of audio causes a lot of the gags to fall flat
  • Frequent and annoying load times

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