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How to Train Your Dragon 2

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Little Orbit
Developer: Torus Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Family/ Mini-Games

Graphics & Sound:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesnít pull any surprises out of its hat in the graphics department. If youíve had a chance to look at the trailers, those arenít compression issues, thatís just the way the game looks. Overall, yes, the island, the dragons, and the characters are all recognizable from the movie. However, when it takes a few seconds to recognize little details like trees that have fallen over (I really had no idea what they were until I was on top of them), you know itís not boding well. The edges on everything also look ragged, as if you were scaling up a very low resolution picture. The village is also noticeably void of people and other forms of life. There are a few sheep and some people on boats, but itís quite sparse otherwise. This is supposed to be the Xbox 360 version of the game, but it almost feels like youíre getting the Wii version ported out to the more powerful systems, in a weird change of convention. Furthermore, mobile games based on the same movie are actually nicer looking than this game. Granted, weíre not stretching it out to a widescreen television, but the Android game: Dragons: Rise of Berk is actually more visually appealing and impressive than this game.

That being said, the flight animations do look nice. Toothless shines with many of his signature moves. You can recreate his classic wing flare when you initiate a brake out of a steep descent. It really looks like itís pulled straight from the movies. He looks the most impressive out of all the dragons, but they are all pretty nicely done. The rippling edges of wings as they move through the air are a nice touch as well.

The dragons all make their own recognizable grunts and growls, which adds a bit of authenticity. However, the sounds seem to be on a timer. One growl or grunt every few seconds or so seems to be the rule. This really breaks the connection to the gameplay, as it doesnít feel like youíre in control of what happens. The characters at least chime in at somewhat appropriate times. For example, sometimes Hiccup will congratulate Toothless or yell out in glee after a particularly impressive maneuver.

One thing that is sorely lacking is any kind of audio cue that youíve done something right. You know, when you have a game where you have to drop off sheep, and you can barely see the sheep, it would be nice to have some kind of chime go off when you successfully drop it or pick it up. It would also be nice to have a visual cue that tells you where you need to drop the sheep off. This is because, yes, there are quite a few variations of sheep games in this game.

The background music also seems to be pulled directly from the movie as well. Itís mostly on a loop through several tracks, however. Donít expect the music to match any event or action you might be taking. It certainly doesnít help you connect on any emotional level, unless the soundtrack to HTTYD normally makes you cry uncontrollably. Some sounds are a bit annoying, such as the drone that plays when a token is nearby. It certainly aids your attempts to locate them, but it can be aggravating if youíre selecting a dragon and a token is sitting nearby. It just keeps going and going, even if youíre not moving and unable to retrieve it yet.


Gameplay:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a game based on a movie about incredible dragons of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Their riders are fearless Vikings with a craving for speed and excitement. Thatís just before we get to the main story of the movie. Itís fair, then, to say this game is a disappointment.

Donít get me wrong, you can have fun with the games and challenges. This game is pretty much built only on mini-games like ring races and target shooting. Thereís the claim that there are "open world" elements to this game, but it really doesnít feel like thereís much to discover. Sure, there are hidden caves, and you could spend your time trying to fly all the way to the top of the mountain, but thereís just not much reward for doing that beyond gathering a few extra tokens.

The game is based on separate events such as dragon racing, sheep gathering, and target shooting. You can practice each event separately until you are ready to enter in a tournament which pits you against Berkís other dragons in a number of assorted events.

Itís very difficult to tell any difference between the dragons, functionally. Though their breath weapons look slightly different, thereís not much difference in the way they work. Youíd think at least the Hideous Zippleback would have its famous gas and ignite move, but no. It simply fires what amount to fireballs like all the other dragons. You can unlock hidden characters, but since they all mainly function the same way, so thereís not much point. Youíre never told what you need to do to advance the game, and you could spend quite a bit of time just trying all the mini-games to see what happens.


Difficulty:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a bit of a learning curve, but itís mostly due to the gameís imprecise controls and lack of instructions. This is another area where I donít want to completely rail on this game, but itís bad.

During the races, I had several moments where I didnít know where the next ring should be. Thereís no warning that youíre off the track until itís way too late, though you will notice your speed reduced. Itís a rather subtle queue, and no direction is given to get yourself back on track. Itís only when you are going directly backwards that you will see "X" symbols placed on the rings. Oh, and donít expect to have an indicator of what lap youíre on.

Among a list of other things that will never be indicated to you: how many laps are in a race, what the limits of the playfield are for each mini-game, when another player is about to attack you so you can take evasive maneuvers, whether or not you have picked up a sheep or what color said sheep is. That list of things may not make sense now, but believe me, they make the game infinitely more difficult than it needs to be.

Another example of needless difficulty are the "helpful" items to use during races. When I picked up one item in particular, I was given what I can only describe as mustaches. I donít know what happens when I use a mustache, but I know my number of mustaches decreases.

If thereís anything good to be said about HTTYD2, itís that it doesnít waste time on tutorials. Wow, it doesnít waste time on any kind of instruction at all. There are several controls that youíll have to guess at to discover the function of them, such as the brake. The brake shows up in exactly 0 tutorials, yet itís a maneuver will help you with many of the gameís goals. Granted, these instructions are probably given in the paper manual that accompanies the game, but an in-game manual is expected these days. At least a controller map is expected, which is also notably missing. I wasnít furnished with a manual since I reviewed the digital download version, unfortunately, but it does let me give insight into how much fun this game will be if you ever lose the manual, or if you buy it as a download.


Game Mechanics:

Oh man, this is rough. A game with flight mechanics is always going to be tricky, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not very good in this department either. Itís just not good at all. Though Toothless is rather nicely animated, there are some missed opportunities for making the flight feel real. For example, pulling up results in Toothless simply pointing his body vertically. There isnít a hover animation (Toothless just keeps flapping as if heís flying horizontally), and pulling continuously will not result in a loop as you might expect. You just get planted vertically. Granted, you need this vertical climb to get to certain places on the map, but the overall implementation of the controls feel awkward and unstable. You can also, reliably, dive straight into the water, keep pushing, and flip yourself over. I donít think this is really a feature, per se, since you canít flip yourself back over. Itís just a poor control system.

For another example of sloppy mechanics, you can nudge your dragon into a dive, but if youíre not oriented correctly before you start, the dive can go sideways. Also, if you do anything outside the limits of "acceptable" controlling, the camera will generally flop around as if itís mounted on a fish with a short attention span.

I will say that they did their best to include some of the movements from the movie. For example, flying downward will cause Toothless to pull in his wings tightly and make a dramatic, plummeting dive. Cancelling out of the dive makes his wings flare out and catch the air, and as mentioned before, thatís very recognizable from the movie. Itís just that itís hard to feel connected to any of these movements because of the poor controls.

Iím a huge fan of the movies, so I really wish I could find something good to say about this game. There are so many missed opportunities. Check out this page, for example: How to Train Your Dragon Official Site: Toothless. Thereís a whole system of classes, with Toothless being a Strike Class, and a whole encyclopedia listing abilities unique to each dragon. You may not have known that Toothless actually has echolocation abilities tied to his breath weapon. Thatís just one dragon. None of that rich content shows up in this game as all the dragons are essentially identical in speed, abilities, and maneuverability. Thatís not to say you canít have a bit of fun playing around with dragons in this game, but for fans that devour every bit of information about the series, there is a significant void of content and quality here that is hard to ignore.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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