reviews\ Mar 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm

How to Train Your Dragon Review - Wii


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: People love dragons. They hold a special appeal for children, who are less likely to be scolded for their preoccupation with supernatural monsters. Dreamworks makes no apologies for capitalizing on draconian popularity with their newest feature film, “How to Train Your Dragon.” Having not seen the film myself, it is difficult to say whether its underlying themes are properly conveyed in the video-game adaptation. However, there’s no denying the allure of dragon-based combat, and the title should attract a large number of children – if only holding the interest of a few.

To its credit, the game is built around a separate narrative from the film, so hardcore enthusiasts at least have no need to fear spoilers. Simple though the story may be, the developers were able to embrace the opportunity to craft something new and exciting. As the title implies, “How to Train Your Dragon” sees the player embarking on a number of quests to train and strengthen their dragon for one-on-one combat. Stepping into the sheepskin shoes of either Astrid or Hiccup, you must monitor your dragon’s vital statistics in order to optimize his performance in combat and quests. This lends something of a pet-simulation quality to the game, though the building of trust might have been better conveyed through actual bonding activities. At least you don’t have to scoop up your dragon’s droppings.

The gameplay is further diversified through the many side quests, though their utility in upgrading your dragon’s abilities makes them mandatory. This is one of the game’s biggest drawbacks, as many of the quests become tedious and are stretched out beyond what most players would consider fun. Collecting five sheep might be manageable, but hundreds of livestock seems a bit excessive, especially when children are the primary intended audience. Since you don’t have much choice in the matter, these elements feel like less of a pleasant RPG-platformer diversion and more like a tiresome chore. Some of the mini-games, such as breathing fire to create ice sculptures, are conceptually clever but still fail to offer richness or depth.

Closer to home, you’ll be making your way through the proving grounds to give your dragon the skills it needs to succeed in battle. There is a genuine attempt to implement deeper combat mechanics here, with the predictable assortment of fire-spewing attacks complemented by a surprisingly complex combo system. Why many of these combos are so difficult to execute, particularly in a children’s game, is somewhat befuddling. Equally strange is the fact that you can get pretty far in the fights without much combo knowledge; whether this was an intentional design to prevent alienation of young players, or a major design oversight, I cannot say for certain. It is disappointing to realize just how far constant wiggling of the Wii-mote will get you.

The upgrade system is nearly as intricate as a typical Western role-playing game (at least, the more recent ones) and this might further reduce the game’s compatibility with younger, more casual demographics. Pretty as it is, it gets too bogged down in trying to be too many different things at once. It seems How to Train Your Dragon was an ambitious concept – perhaps too ambitious – that simply wasn’t able to fully commit to a specific audience or identity. Had the focus been on honing just one or two important gameplay elements, such as fighting and training, the overall experience might have been far more coherent and enjoyable.

Above Average

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