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How to Train Your Dragon

Score: 76%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Etranges Libellules
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: RPG/ Fighting/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

How to Train Your Dragon is a pleasant surprise, but not a visual feast. The bright, colorful island is quite homely and quaint. There are some nice elements such as the deep blue colors under the bright surface waves on the ocean that don't follow the typical "make everything bright and pastel" theme. The drawback is that it's a tiny island, and there's little to explore.

The dragons also display a nice attention to detail. You can customize every dragon you collect in a pretty wide variety of extra parts, patterns, and limb sets. What's really nice is the continuous color wheel, which allows you to get pretty much any color you want on your dragon.

The music was also a nice surprise, and seems to keep to its movie origins. The village has its own quaint, pleasant theme, while places like the dragon customization menu are appropriately low-key, with a touch of a mysterious air. The dragons get some pretty ferocious roars and sound effects, while Hiccup and Astrid get some pretty lame one-liners for the most part. Village residents all have things to say as well, but it doesn't matter much when they mostly say things like, "I eat bugs" and "I like food." Each tournament victory, however, gets you a nice, original (to the game) CG scene with voice acting that's on-par with the movie.


Gameplay:

How to Train Your Dragon takes place after the events of the movie. It's not much of a spoiler (since it's in the title) to say that now, the village lives with and trains dragons. A tournament of dragons and trainers is being held, and Hiccup is now under pressure from his father to win the tournament.

You'll do so by gathering dragons and making them stronger through combat training or other exercises. Some of these are kind of fun, such as the sheep rescuing mission where you must fly from island to island picking up sheep. Some are just a real chore, such as the fire training exercises where you simply spam a fire attack against a training opponent until they're done. You'll have to repeat them over and over if you want to level your dragons, but at least you have something of a choice.

This game is another case of soulless game production based off a movie, although it's a bit milder than most. Here you're already expected to care about the characters, as very little in the way of character development occurs. You also don't get any real interaction time with your dragon, other than being able to feed it. Strangely, it ravenously eats everything you offer to it in the same manner, whether it be a chicken or a piece of quartz. This game manages to squeeze a few drops of personality from its source material, but that's about it.

How to Train Your Dragon is relatively short (although agonizingly long because of the repetition factor). So it is nice that when you're done, you can take your dragons into the Arcade Mode to fight against another player or the CPU. The combat system is a little on the cheap side, so this may not be a blast for too long. You can, at least, create dragons with custom stats at any time in this mode, so it's possible to have some fun experimenting and attempting to build a better dragon than your opponent.


Difficulty:

Since How to Train Your Dragon has a pretty cheap combat system, there's really not much you can do with an underpowered dragon. Spend some time in the training exercises to level your dragons up, and the tournaments become much easier. You might be able to get by on a low level dragon for a while, but then discover that the last opponent in a tournament wipes the floor with you. It's not something you want to discover after you get to the later stages of the game where you're fighting several opponents, each with 4 dragons to defeat. It gets tedious, fast.

The training exercises themselves have different medals you can obtain, and different amounts of experience and items awarded for each medal level. Again, things don't get too tough until the later stages of the game, when the higher difficulty levels for each exercise unlock. Tournaments, however, don't have difficulty levels explicitly attached to them, but you'd better level your dragons as far as you can go before starting a new tournament.


Game Mechanics:

How to Train Your Dragon performs well for the rather simple game that it is. Most of your time is spent in combat with your dragon, either in tournaments or in training exercises, but some time is spent as Hiccup, as he travels around the small island collecting chickens, plants, and other items. Breathtaking flights performed with the motion controls are, however, not included in this game. The only flight sequences you get are the sheep herding mini-game and a ring flying game, and all controls are performed with the Analog Stick.

Fighting is done only with a few swings of the Wii-mote interspersed with button controls and the Analog Stick, so fights don't turn into a bizarre, limb-twisting operation. It feels a bit sluggish, and you'll soon learn that it doesn't pay to use moves that have a long delay. You can be knocked out of just about any move you're doing by an opponent using swift strikes. So, soon, you'll be spamming one particular combo, maybe throwing in a bit of fire every now and then, and taking advantage of the vulnerabilities that come up when an opponent is getting up off the ground - over and over. Not your most complex fighter, but not the absolute worst, either.

How to Train Your Dragon is repetitive, it is a less than stellar movie adaptation, but somehow it has just enough variety in gameplay, and just enough polish to keep it from being abysmal.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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