I'm starting to notice a growing trend among developers towards mini-game games, especially since Wario Ware's success. These games have so far varied in quality from “meh” to “whoa!” And Napoleon Dynamite falls into the former category. But, the game still has its noteworthiness – while it's only a mediocre game, it reaches mediocrity through an unusual path. This game has no delusions of being good, and instead, fills itself with cheesy plot devices, a campy art style and a variety of game mechanics that keep you playing for no other reason than to see what happens next.
The story follows the title character through the events of his daily life, but as Napoleon has chronicled in his notebook. In other words, characters speak as Napoleon would have them speak, “Wow, you know the bo-staff?” And instead of character sprites and realistic backgrounds, this game uses picture cut-outs for character faces and ink-drawn backgrounds.
Every event of Napoleon's imaginary life becomes a mini-game. These events range from the mundane, like baking a cake, to the outright bizarre, like riding a unicorn to fight jets and flying cows. Beating enough mini-games advances the plot (and I use the term loosely) and unlocks more mini-games – over 30 in all.
The games themselves are very hit-and-miss, but even the ones you like are hardly ever worth playing a second time. Hunting wolverines, for example, is decently fun and simple: A bunch of wolves are charging at you and you tap them with the stylus to shoot them, while trying to avoid hitting your loping cousin. Yeah, not incredibly deep, but fun … for literally five minutes. Thankfully, that's about how long the game lasts. Dodgeball, however, is glitchy and grindingly slow. After losing on my first try (which took over 15 minutes) I didn't want to touch this game again for a week.
The variety of the mini-games should be commended, however. Some are reflex testers, others are rhythm games and there's even a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. Some games break the rules of games altogether. Case in point: One game has you directing an action figure being dragged behind a bus and you have to try to take as much damage as possible by crashing into obstacles.
The graphics match perfectly with this game – everything looks like something you'd find in an 8th grader's notebook (at least my 8th grade notebook). If this was done in any game but this one, I would say the graphics totally sucked. But then again, you get the impression that this game isn't trying to be great – weird and unique is more what the developers were going for here.
The music, on the other hand, doesn't get off as easily. While it's in sync with the graphics in terms of effort invested (or lack thereof), it doesn't pull off the same campy appeal. Some of it sounds like elevator music, the rest sounds like it was made by someone who just learned how to play their keyboard. The real tragedy of this fact is that the one recurring mini-game is dancing – which is a rhythm game. If your going to force me to play a cheap shell of a rhythm game, at least give me some decent music to work with, I mean, wasn't the movie made by MTV? The boring, flat music makes the tedium of the longer games all the more tedious. Otherwise, the sound is par, and surprisingly, Napoleon's catch phrases aren't overused, gosh!
The unlockables are just a joke. You can unlock the ability to watch the “plot” scenes again, and the ability to see Napoleon's head on different bodies, like a ninja or knight. And remember that great music I talked about? Well you can listen to that anytime after you unlock the sound room!
If nothing else, Napoleon Dynamite gives you a unique experience, but it doesn't necessarily give you a consistently fun one. It has its moments however. A lack of multi-player (even though some of the games actually seem like they'd be good for it) further reduces the value of this game. Plus, the comedic value wears off fast unless you are a huge fan of the character. If you have the chance to spend 15 minutes playing this game, I recommend taking it, but that's all you need to get the full experience.