Dreamworks has made some awesome animated movies — Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Over the Hedge, etc. — and now How to Train Your Dragon is in theaters and getting some good reviews. To accompany the motion picture, Activision is bringing How to Train Your Dragon to consoles around the world, but the results fall far short of the movie playing on the silver screen.
How to Train Your Dragon is lame in just about every way imaginable. It’s this mix of Pokemon, role-playing, and dragons that’s just too simple for its own good.
You’ll play as either Hiccup or Astrid and be dropped into the Viking world where you own dragons and take them into battle — battles that are one on one, fighting game-inspired bouts. By the end of the game, you’ll have a stable of four dragons that you’ll fight with and use in tournaments, but there’s a hefty bit of RPG-ness here. When you take a dragon into the game’s training modes, you earn experience points that go toward the dragon’s individual experience level. Bringing up a dragon’s experience level makes him tougher and more capable of dominating in the one-on-one fights.
All of that might be interesting if it wasn’t for a couple of things. First, training is boring. It’s teaching you a few combos and making you repeat them over and over again on an opponent who rarely fights back. For some reason, there are timing issues with these combos as well. I fudged up these combo lessons a bunch of times because the game wasn’t reading my second button tap in a four-button move. Once I got my first dragon beefed up, I dreaded having to take one of my younger pups back to the dojo to repeat the same brain dead lessons.
Sadly, that lack of interest carries over to the real fights as well. You take your dragon into an arena, there’s another dragon across from you, and you brawl. I found that just mashing one button relentlessly won most fights for me, but it’s a slow and boring process. The opponents block a lot, so there are plenty of times where you’re just wailing on shielded opponents and waiting for them to open up and let your attacks land. When you do knock an opponent down, the opposing dragon cannot be hurt as it struggles back to its feet.
After each one of these tournaments, you’ll be kicked back to the Viking village and you get to wander around as your human character for a while. You can talk to people, but they all say meaningless stuff unless it’s time for a side quest. When you do get a side quest, it’s often times just the next step in getting to the next fight — stuff like finding all of the tools a worker needs to finish the bridge so you can get across to get some stuff for a different dude who lets you fight in the next competition.
You can collect chickens, plants, and more to feed to your dragon before fights to boost the beast’s stats — food, mood, trust and more — that act as its health in battle, and personalize the look of your animal. There are also mini-games such as using your dragon’s fire breath to carve ice sculptures as well as a two-player fighting mode, but they aren’t noteworthy. Well, you can assign attribute points and mess with your dragon’s talents in the local two-player fighting mode, which is kind of cool, but it’s the same ho-hum brawling.
Make him happy.As with many movie games, How to Train Your Dragon does little to explain what the hell is going on in this world and doesn’t really recap the movie. If you haven’t seen the flick, you won’t know what’s happening.
On a technical level, the loads seem to take just a bit too long and your character has a really ugly animation for jogging around the Viking town. Spin the camera, and you can see the framerate drop. When the dragon fights are going on, it’s like there’s this invisible barrier between the competitors. You’ll swing at an opponent and hit it, but there’s never really any contact. With one of the dragons with a really long neck, I was walking into its face without it reacting or even really appearing to touch it.
I know that I’m not the target audience for this game. I know it’s meant for kids, but How to Train Your Dragon is just so “bleh.” You can make a fun game for kids, but this isn’t one of them.
The fights are robotic and lack any impact, the third-person wandering is boring, and so on. It’s rare for a videogame to feel like a chore, but capturing 40 chickens and going through the same training missions again and again did it for me.