Video Game Review: Repetitive, Disappointing ‘How to Train Your Dragon’

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CHICAGO – DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon” is one of the best movies of the year to date; a remarkably enjoyable experience that works for children and adults and deserves to be doing even better at the box office. Don’t miss it while you still have the chance. The game that ties in with it? You can miss that. Video Game Rating: 1.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 1.5/5.0

It’s as much a part of the video game landscape as Mario and Zelda - movie tie-ins are rarely worth the time. And yet there is the occasional exception that proves the rule. There have been a few entertaining James Bond movie tie-in games (I enjoyed “Quantum of Solace” front to back) and summer action movies can sometimes produce an enjoyable companion (the game based on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” certainly wasn’t perfect, but neither was the movie).

How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon
Photo credit: Activision

But there seems to be an even deeper level of laziness that goes into tie-ins with movies aimed at children. What’s most remarkable is that while animation seems to be in its golden age, the games that go with animated features are undeniably not. The tie-in with “Monsters vs. Aliens” was a decent button masher but frustratingly repetitive as was the “Up” tie-in and I still suffer a little gamer’s PTSD when I think about the awful game that went with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”.

How to Train Your Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon
Photo credit: Activision

Which brings us to “How to Train Your Dragon” from Activision. It’s certainly not a disaster of the caliber of some already mentioned in this review but the massive difference in quality between the film itself and the game based on it has arguably never been wider. “Dragon” is going to be one of the best animated films of the entire year. Its game isn’t even one of the best releases of the last month.

The biggest problem with “How to Train Your Dragon” is a common one in both movie tie-ins and kid’s game - repetition. The player takes on the role of Hiccup (the lead voiced by Jay Baruchel in the film) or Astrid (America Ferrera) as he travels around his Viking village and mostly collects items to take care of the dragon(s) living in his basement. Hiccup is keeping dragons for fights in an arena against other dragon riders. Yes, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll realize how ill-conceived the game is almost immediately as a movie about taking a violent situation and approaching it with peace and reason has been turned into a fighting experience. It makes you wonder if they’ve even seen the movie or read the script.

Movie tie-in games that feel only very loosely related to the film are common, but it wouldn’t be that bad if the title was at least entertaining. It’s not. Visually, “How to Train Your Dragon” is somewhat interesting but doesn’t capture nearly the beauty of the movie. Much more damaging is the awkward, boring gameplay, which alternates a collectible/mission structure with uninspired, hard-to-control fights. Your dragon responds to a series of combo commands which you’ll learn through training but they hardly ever work right. So, you upgrade your dragon through training, gaining experience needed for the fighting scenes, but then the actual fights don’t seem worth the build-up. Training is boring and fighting is frustrating. Repeat.

There are role-playing elements in how you upgrade and select your dragon but, like the rest of the game, they’re not fleshed out or well-designed. “How to Train Your Dragon” is a game with an identity crisis - a little RPG, a little fighting, a little mission-based game - and none of its personalities work. If you’re thinking about spending the money on this game, just go see the movie again and save some dough. Heck, see it twice before wasting your time with a game that still falls well below the low bar usually expected for movie tie-in games.

‘How to Train Your Dragon’ was released by Activision and developed by Etranges Libellules. It is rated E (Everyone 10+). The version reviewed was for the PS3, but the title is also available for the XBox 360, Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii. It was released on March 23rd, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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