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Reviewed: How to Train Your Dragon
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: May 12th, 2010
Page: 2

To get it out of the way: make no mistake - How to Train Your Dragon is visually beautiful. The models appear to come straight from the movie, both for characters and dragons alike. The voice acting sounds no different from the movie characters, either. And the only area that really looks out of place, or not as "overgrown" as the world from the movie, is what they call the Wild Zone.

The downside to this is: it's a kid's game. A kid's game made by several different groups, each of which either decided their target audience had an attention span of nanoseconds, or else decided that the best way to pad the gameplay of a kids' game was to fill it with make-work and busy work, quite literally having the little tykes run around looking under rocks or pulling up weedy-looking plants from gardens for hours on end. I'd include the smashing barrels part, but quite frankly, at least where little boys are concerned, smashing barrels is probably the most fun of the lot.

So, let's get to it. Game number one is "resource gathering." Essentially, players roam around the single-player world between the viking village and the "wild zone" (which is remarkably small), hunting for things to feed to their dragons. See a chicken? Tackle it, and in a flurry of feathers it's a chicken ready for cooking. A pig? A sheep? Same result. See some poor viking's garden? Raid it for vegetables, pulling them from the ground one at a time - don't worry, every time you reload the zone, it all resets. Push over rocks to get minerals, dig up clearly marked spots in the ground for minerals or bugs, go to the coast and gather seaweed, and smash barrels in the village for more minerals. In no time at all, you'll have an ample supply of stuff - random, weird, confusing stuff - to feed to your dragons. In the storyline mode, this is also where the chosen character (either boy or girl, just to be girl-friendly) runs around and talks to various vikings for quest-related information... and gets nonsensical answers from the rest, along with never seeing them pop up anywhere but their own little circular path. For a busy viking village, it really does seem like all they do is walk around in circles all day.

Game number two is "dragon maintenance." No, this isn't actually working with your dragon. This is selecting the aforementioned stuff to feed to up to four dragons, to raise the various bars (food, healing, mood, trust, and rest) affecting how much health they have for battles or training. In this mode, players also have a relatively limited option to customize the look of their dragon, but don't be too overwhelmed - the customizations are pretty limited, not at all the level of "this is mine" creation that serious RPG players have become accustomed to these days. This is also the section where players assign customization points to their dragon, to increase damage abilities, movement speed, and open up advanced attacks.

Game number three is fighting dragons. This is done either in training modes, which both unlock and "teach" various preordained attack combinations and abilities like charging fire breath power to the dragons. Training modes also raise the dragon's experience level for every finished lesson, adding customization points to further increase the dragon's power. Outside of the training modes, most of the dragon fighting will be had in preorganized tournaments, with a few storyline battles thrown in for good measure, or else in "arcade mode", where the custom dragons can be put up against stock or "legendary" dragons.

Game number four - yep, we're not done yet - is full of minigames. There's a minigame of flying through hoops; this is the only time the dragons get to actually fly. There's a minigame of button mashing, a minigame of memorizing how a certain dragon was made to look in the dragon customization screen, and so on. Completing minigames is one way to get the "rare" materials needed for certain quests and for advanced food recipes. Unfortunately, if you're not five years old, the minigames are going to turn out to be pretty darn boring.

And therein lies the rub for the game. If I were a parent with a screaming kid who loved the movie, would I hand them this game? Quite probably. At the same time, is it going to be a game to give to anyone else? I'm willing to bet quite not. It's a game made of many, many incongruous pieces bolted together, none of which really have anything but a superfluous connection to the other - as if one team decided to make a fighting game or had an engine that could be quickly adapted to the dragons for it, one team wanted to make a quest-based game, one team wanted to make a 5-year-old's version of your average monster-raising type game, and so on down the line.

Ultimate verdict? If your kids are screaming for it, go for it, but just be warned, this isn't a game any adult would want to play... or have any risk of enjoying.

Added:  Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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