Reviewed: April 1, 2010
Released: March 23, 2010
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With the summer blockbuster season is just around the corner, the time comes to arm ourselves against the glut of movie-based games – the first of which is Activision’s How To Train Your Dragon, based on Dreamworks Animation’s newest theatrical release.
How To Train Your Dragon is an odd little hybrid of a handful of popular gaming genres, blending equal parts adventure, RPG, pet simulation, and fighting genres – but only the most basic parts of each. The result is a game that offers plenty of variety, but very little substance – which ultimately leads to its own undoing, as the game is a little too deep for the younger set but too shallow for experienced gamers.
The game follows a storyline that loosely-based on the film – gamers take on the role of either Hiccup (the boy) or Astrid (the girl) and take charge of their own personal stable of dragons which they will raise, train, outfit, and use in battle in this unique genre bending title. If dragons were pit bull terriers, Michael Vick would be right at home.
Of course, caring for a stable of fighting dragons requires, well…stuff – mainly food – so the game has you constantly searching for things like chickens, sheep and wild boar to feed your herd. Gamers who long for seemingly endless fetch-quest missions will be pleased with the requirements of How To Train Your Dragon – the rest will quickly be annoyed. It doesn’t help that the game’s instructions tend to be a bit confusing at times – often resulting in senseless wandering around the characters’ home island of Berk in search of the next goal.
Once a dragon has reached a certain level of training, it can be entered into one of the many fighting tournaments on Berk. These tournaments take the form of real-time arena fighting sequences that pit riders and their dragons against other opposition. The fighting is fast and furious – but not so much in the on-screen action as it is in the wild waving of the Wii-remote required to smoke the competition.
The fighting is awkwardly simple and unabashedly unbalanced, and although there are a number of complex combos at the gamer’s disposal it is far too easy to rely on a few basic moves over and over. But while the fighting action may be a bit lacking when it comes to depth and excitement, it did come as a relief that the game took the real-time approach to the battle sequences rather than the typical turn-based schemes – and the frantic gesticulations do seem to sit well with the kids.
Thankfully, the game offers a couple of gameplay options outside of the standard story mode – an arcade mode that eschews the unnecessary fetch-questing of the story mode in lieu of straight-forward fighting action for either one or two players, and a selection of minigames ranging from flying races to ice sculpting. These additions are nice diversions from the monotonous collecting missions of the story mode, and the fact that the help add experience points to the gamer’s stable of dragons is a bonus.
Visually, the game is surprisingly stunning – with excellent lighting, shadowing, and texturing especially during the fighting sequences, which include a really cool glowing-aura effect. This may be one of the best looking titles yet seen on the Wii – something that is not typically expected from a movie tie-in.
The sound quality is solid, with polished voice acting and fairly impressive sound effects. The character quips and comments tend to be a bit overplayed, but we have become accustomed to that in game of this ilk, so it is not that big of a surprise.
In conclusion, How To Train Your Dragon attempts to offer too much variety, but does little to fully develop any particular aspect. The adventure portions offer far too many monotonous fetch-quests and far too few adventure quests, the pet-simulation consists of little more than a feeding meter, and the fighting sequences can be mastered with very little skill. The problem is, the action is far too slow for the action crowd, and far too shallow for the RPG crowd, resulting in a title that seems unsure of its true purpose.