How to Train Your DragonESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Family Fun
Developer: Etranges Libellules
Wii Remote Compatible
Unlike fellow reviewer Trevor H, I have not had as much experience reviewing movie based games as him given that they usually manage to land on his desk. That being said, I have reviewed a few, and the quality has been all over the map from good to quite bad. I have to agree that the rush to get these types of games out in conjunction with a movie's release can hurt a game. Activision seems to have a lot of publishing rights to put out many, many games based on animated movies. Their most recent release, How to Train Your Dragon, based on the Dreamworks 3D animated feature in theaters now, is on store shelves and I had the chance to review the Wii version.
Visually speaking the game looks pretty good on Nintendo's underpowered machine (editor's note: underpowered when compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3). The game's main characters and dragons look pretty good and are pretty reflective of what you'd find in the big screen version but in lower resolution on the Wii. They mange move pretty smoothly as the animations of each one is pretty well done. There is also good use of speical effects (e.g. fire breathing). Trevor H, who reviewed the Xbox 360 version, noted how the game's backgrounds feel 'last' generation and this does carry over to the Wii version, but I don't penalize it too much given the lower processing power of the Wii's graphic chipset. Overall I didn't find too much not to like in this area and I think that I am a little more forgiving then Trevor H. knowing the characteristics of the Wii and my expectations for such.
The sound's characteristics carry over from the Xbox 360 version, which would make sense as this game is a multiplatform title. The character's voices are clear and concise and help to tell the post-movie story. The mouth movements can be out of sync with the dialog which can take a bit away from the experience, but this is definitely not a deal breaker. The game's soundtrack is akin to past movie based kid focused games. It manages to assist in portraying the on-screen action but it really is nothing we haven't heard before. Finally, the game's sound effects are just as strong as the other platforms the game is on. From the sounds of your dragon's roar to that of spewing fire or attacking other dragons, all manage to convey the on-screen action that is occurring at that time and it does so very well. All in all there is not a whole lot to hate here, it is just that it is not over inspiring.
How to Train Your Dragon takes place after the events of the movie, which is a plus given it doesn't ruin the movie's story for those that have not seen it yet. It also gives those that have seen it a post-movie experience adding more to what has already been seen. It was nice to see the game not just take the movie's plot and try to have you play them out in virtual form. For the events of the game you take on the role of either Hiccup or Astrid on the vast island of Berk. As you venture out and about you'll find your main role is to train dragons and eventually fight against other dragons. It is as simple as they come in terms of plot, but believe it or not there is an attempt at a bit more depth in this game as well.
Given that your goal is to raise and train your dragon, there is some simulation and RPG like elements to it. First off, as you raise and train your dragon you must pay close attention to various stats. These are summarized as food, trust, heal, mood, and rest. These attributes allow you to monitor and improve your dragon and are pretty crucial in making him the best dragon he can be in order to be successful at combat and quests. You'll be able to fine tune your dragon with these stats in order to them develop them the way you want.
Furthering this whole Sim/RPG feeling is the fact that you must do side quests in order to assist in upgrading your dragon's abilities. Although the term side quests usually means optional, in How to Train Your Dragon you will find these are more obligatory given that they need to be completed in order to improve your dragon. You will explore the vast island of Berk during these quests which includes expanded locales from the movie. They are fun at first, but as with Trevor H's complaint, they can become quite tedious after awhile. My major issue here is that the quests seem to be much longer then they need to and there is far too much 'collecting' for my liking. If I found it somewhat monotonous then I would imagine that the those the game is aimed at, kids, would probably have issues here as it becomes boring doing these mundane tasks for so long.
Of course there is more to just collecting, raising and monitoring your dragon's stats. You will need to learn how to fight, and this entails learning the ins and outs of controlling your dragon. This is where the fighting mechanic comes to light and there is an attempt to add some vigor to the controls. You'll learn to master the complexities of the combos that can lead to some pretty good looking fighting moves. Some younger one's may struggle with this, but overall it was kind of neat to see the moves that you could pull off. That being said, I found that many of the combos that you learn can be a moot point given that button mashing and Wii Remote waggling can take you a long way into the game. This was somewhat confusing to me given that the game teaches you the combo controls, but you don't necessarily need them. Maybe this was to take into the account really young kids who may play this game, but whatever the reason this was quite strange as you didn't need to use them nearly as much as the game would have you believe.
Along with the single player experience, How to Train Your Dragon offers up a two-player multiplayer mode to change things up somewhat. This can be accessed in the Arcade Mode. You and a friend can compete against each other with dragons from the arcade dragon roster, or you can import custom dragons from another save file. The latter is an ultimate "my dragon is better than your dragon" mode and will settle any dispute amongst friends and family as to who is the better dragon trainer. I found the multiplayer mode rather enjoyable and a nice change of pace from the going-ons of the single player mode.
I found that my time with How to Train Your Dragon was a mixed bag indeed. With so much going on it was really hard to gauge how much fun I really had as I went from one extreme to another. This game is not targeted towards me however, and as I put myself into the shoes of those the game is targeted at, the kids, I believe it would prove to have mixed results for them too. In the end fans of the movie may want to give this game a go, but all others may want to pass it by.