Napoleon Dynamite: The Game
Not as bad as you'd think. That's not quite an endorsement.
Though I haven't been in the game-reviewing media for very long, I've been making judgments about games since I first grasped an NES controller in my Ecto Cooler and graham cracker infested little fingers. Frustration swept over me when I couldn't figure out why Mario was wriggling around in the same spot. Perhaps he was having a seizure of some sort? Things got better after my father informed me that the d-pad was four separate buttons, not one big button. My world changed forever. Shortly thereafter I reviewed Super Mario Bros. to my father ("neat"), as well as the clay pigeon shooting in Duck Hunt ("boring").
As the years have increased, so has my ability to adequately pass judgement on video games (and people, too!). At the present, my primary concern is this: how do you find the balance between reviewing what a game is and what it could be? Should a reviewer make his or her judgment for a title based on how well everyone can enjoy it? Probably not, since God of War: Chains of Olympus wouldn't appeal to the mother who plays Blackjack in Clubhouse Games. Should a reviewer rate a title based on how well anyone can enjoy it? Probably not, since everyone is different. Indeed, there's got to be at least one person out there who enjoyed the infamous Superman 64. And believe it or not, there are a few outlying naysayers complaining about minor annoyances in the critically acclaimed Super Smash Bros Brawl, such as the lack of VOIP and the MIA Mewtwo (That second complaint is actually mine, but I digress). The question remains: how does one review a game in a fair and accurate manner?
As of this moment, I feel that although many factors can influence and affect a game's rating, the main objective used in a review should be how much enjoyment can be obtained by a reasonable amount of people, and at what cost. Thus, if many people find a title to be unenjoyable or the title is not worth its cost, then it should receive a low score. Napoleon Dynamite: The Game is a little of the first and a lot of the second.
From the start, Napoleon Dynamite: The Game was doomed to a certain stigma in the gaming world: licensing. Games that are based on the IP of a film or television program have too often been nothing but front-line artillery in a massive advertising assault dedicated to squeezing every single penny out of consumers. A license isn't a death sentence, however. There are exceptions which manage to break through this prejudice. Some of my best gaming memories involve three other friends staying up all night to fight each other to the death in Rare's Nintendo 64 masterpiece, Goldeneye 007. Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the GBA was one of the most refreshingly awesome games I've played in recent memory. And Star Wars video games have had plenty of high points, from the Super Nintendo original trilogy games to the fairly recent Lego versions.
Perhaps we've been unfair to the licensed games of the world. It's possible that our skeptical sides have kept us from enjoying some really great games simply because they are attached to a license. Who knows, maybe Napoleon Dynamite would make Mario and Sonic look like Bubsy and Aero the Acro-Bat.
Not bloody likely.
That's one of the biggest problems of this game: flawed use of a license. As I said before, most gamers were quick to denounce Napoleon Dynamite: The Game in mid-2007 before seeing a single screenshot due solely to its association with the film. More recently, you'll recall the groaning shockwave that was sent throughout the gaming blogs when GameSpot reported (in error) that a video game based on the successful film Juno was being planned. Licensed games are often met coldly, and the same holds true tenfold for non-action related licenses. Yet it doesn't take an over-active imagination to see potential in a Napoleon Dynamite based game. Perhaps a text-based adventure, filled with different options for insulting and interacting with people la Phoenix Wright. Let someone smaller than you win at tether-ball to make them feel confident and become your friend. Refuse to coward in front of the bully to gain respect. Maybe you could try to direct the awkward Napoleon towards a girl's heart in a dating-sim type of game. Or instead, use The Sims and The Political Machine as inspiration for a quest in which you must talk with people and, based on their desires, choose the right words and actions to convince them to vote for Pedro. Granted, it was an impromptu dance performance that won the votes for Pedro in the film, but at least I'm trying.
Presented as a series of mini-game collections, Napoleon Dynamite: The Game never seems to want to achieve anything. Instead, it appears content with unveiling the various minigames through eyeball-rolling use of the characters. In one of minigames, Kip has to hack into the library's computer to reserve a book on cage-fighting. Sigh. It's like they listed each character, put two or three words next their name that they remembered from the film, and had the story writers fill in the large, gaping blanks. There's the obligatory dancing Napoleon mini-game, which is the same watered-down hand-held DDR we've seen enough of before.
Napoleon Dynamite: The Game has the level of polished gameplay you would expect from a Flash game on a promotional website for the film or DVD. In fact, the minigame I enjoyed the most was the Napoleon vs. Uncle Rico long throw, as it reminded me of Yetisports' 2004 Flash game in which you try to launch penguins as far a distance as possible. It's a shame, really, because the individual minigames would be perfectly suited for that environment. As free individual Flash games, they would work fine. Great, even. I could see fans of the movie e-mailing each other links to certain games, thus promoting the film or DVD. However, far less people are likely to lay down 30 bucks to play these games on the go.
It's not an abomination, though. One of the more successful aspects of the game is in its art design. It uses a cut-up-photo-montage type of style to display the characters and backgrounds, and it fits surprisingly well. The bright yet restrained colors and simple scenery used to set the mood in the film transition nicely to the PSP. The music is appropriate and fits the theme well. I feel sympathy for developer 7 Studios. It seems as though they have at least some artistic flair, but something got lost in the way. In the end, Napoleon Dynamite: The Game does little to fight the stereotype of low quality licensed games.
What's Hot: Decent artwork; theme feels appropriate; mini-games aren't terrible
What's Not: Simple rehashes of existing free flash games; not worth your hard earned dollars