March of the Penguins (Nintendo DS / GBA) – WTF Wednesday

March of the Penguins for Nintendo DS (also on GBA) Confounds Imaginations and Defies Gaming Conventions to Produce a Uniquely Horrible Experience

The Nintendo DS is the home of many amazing games, especially those bearing the Nintendo label. But March of the Penguins, a game based on a documentary movie about penguins, is not one of those games.

In fact, it is so singularly awful that it might just qualify as art in the sense of deconstructing expected norms. Marketed in the guise of a children’s game, March of the Penguins for Nintendo DS is confoundingly stupid in its execution and nearly impossible in its difficulty. The child that could master this game has likely moved on to greater things.

Developed by Skyworks Interactive and published by Destination Software, Inc., March of the Penguins puts the gamer in charge of a lemmings like setup that involves getting penguins to the breeding ground for starters. That’s right, all of this fancy lead up to a Lemmings clone. But wait, not only is the game a Lemmings clone, but is also a difficult as hell Lemmings clone that is obscure and esoteric. The second level, titled mating season, sees the player launching a prone penguin across icy thoroughfares to reach the female penguins so the male penguins can find a mate.

We’re not even kidding with that last line.

Aside from being an absolute shambolic mess in the gameplay department, the game also has a depressing, droning soundtrack that hums along while the player bashes their skull in trying to figure some of the most obscure mini-games-as-full-games ever put to DS cartridge. Again, keep in mind this is a children’s game – but really, it’s pure garbage but entertaining if you like to recycle that kind of thing.

It’s definitely a hilarious game to watch, but it won’t make a gamer happy to receive as a gift. Some of the animation looks like a Sega CD creation and the random factoids between “chapters” do little to illuminate the mysterious lives of these desperate penguins.

Really, in many ways, the movie’s success itself was a bit of a shock to the world but then again the world was different back then.

The critical reception for the movie was overwhelmingly positive, while the game received nearly universal derision. Wonky, complicated, esoteric gameplay combined with an uncompelling package make this one of the more bizarre Nintendo DS titles aimed at children.

Again, the difficulty is unreal, placing it well beyond the purview of children and into the realm of the adult gamer who would most likely rather cleanse their eyes with rubbing alcohol than endure this confused mess of a game.

Occasionally you have to scratch your head and wonder how things get made – this game exemplifies that feeling. Why did this game get made? No one will ever know. Perhaps the publisher sensed there was latent market demand for mini-games starring penguins, or maybe the movie’s producers knew it would be a smash hit all along and knew they needed to tie their blockbuster release in with a bunch of schlocky marketing materials billed as consumer products.

Whatever the inspiration behind the creation of March of the Penguins for the Nintendo DS, the game stands as a testament to the bizarre intersection of movies and video games and how that crossroads can sometimes produce truly bizarre experiences indeed.