'How To Train Your Dragon is Dreamworks’ latest box office smash and it’s also receiving some great reviews from the critics. Let’s find out if the portable videogame version can live up to its big screen next of kin.
Busting up the console version with a DS ninja star
Some of you may have already read my Xbox 360/PS3 review of 'How To Train Your Dragon' and know that I wasn’t a real big fan. You can read the review 'here'. Needless to say, I didn’t really have high hopes for the DS version. However, I’m pleased to announce I was pleasantly surprised with this title. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Just like its big console brethren, this game allows you to play as Astrid or Hiccup on the path to becoming the ultimate dragon trainer. Luckily, instead of having to button mash your way to victory, this game is an RPG, which I think is one of the best genres for the DS. It allows you to make use of the stylus to browse through combat menus, and they even threw in some fun mini-games which make great use of the DS’s capabilities. I’ll get to them in a second.
As I mentioned this game uses RPG mechanics and the combat system is actually pretty interesting. Your dragon has six different ability slots which you can fill with your favourite combination of attacks, defensive moves, spells, etc. There are four different ability trees - Flame, Whirl, Wound, and Swift. All of them cater to different play styles. I found myself using a lot of abilities from the Wound tree, which is all about applying debuffs to your opponent which slowly apply damage and also make some of your other standard attack abilites stronger.
The way that combat plays out is also really neat. Each dragon has an energy bar. You can only use an ability when its full, and of course different abilites cost different amounts of energy. After each round the energy bars slowly tick back to being full. This adds an extra element of strategy to the game because you’re simply not going turn for turn like you normally would in a game of this ilk. Instead, you might use one attack that uses almost all of your energy and in the meantime, your opponent could use 2 smaller attacks and add a defense buff to himself in preparation for your next attack. On top of that, you also have the option to switch out some of your abilities for others, if you notice your opponent using a strategy that your current set of moves can’t handle. This costs you a bit of energy, but once again adds another element to this great combat system.
I was really taken a back by how clever the dueling system is and I really have to applaud the developers. The issue is that the game is just far too easy for most of these things to matter. You can simply spam one or two abilities and win almost every fight. If they had upped the difficulty just a little bit more I think this game would appeal to adults in the same way that the Pokemon series does. You can also bring this fighting to multiplayer which is where the combat system really shined. I just wish they had added online multiplayer to this game because if they did, I’d would’ve kept this game in my DS a lot longer than I did.
People look at you funny when you blow into your DS for 20 minutes in public
Along with dueling with your dragon, you also have to spend some time getting him some fashionable dragon-wear. Since armor is in style for 2010, you’ll spend time looking for ore to turn into helmets, breast plates, and tail guards. The ore usually drops after a duel out in the forest, but once you get it, you have to spend time smithing it into a valuable piece of gear. This is another pretty enjoyable aspect of the game. First you have to blow into the DS mic to heat up the ore. Next you need to carefully pour it into the mold using the stylus to balance the bucket just right. After that there’s three more mini-games to cut, polish and finally throw a design on the armor. All of these mini-games are really well done and they add a nice break to the regular gameplay. You can also go on flying missions which turns the game into an old-school 2D shooter and has you shooting fireballs at enemy dragons and collecting coins. Its really simple, but it definitely works.
What happened to all the Hollywood sparkle and shine?
One major beef I have with this game is the overall presentation, especially for a game that’s based on a movie. The graphics are definitely not great for a DS title. The edges of all of the models are pretty jaggy, and the frame-rate just plummets during most of the attack animations. The audio is pretty mediocre, and just like the console version, just doesn’t have enough dialogue. I also really can’t understand why the story for these games didn’t mirror the films. Both of them take place after the film was released. After watching a movie that’s so well liked and has so much great action, and you want to be able to take control of the same characters and take them through the same set of obstacles and challenges. I know there’s the argument that you’re taking away some of the surprise by making a game where everyone already knows the ending, but in this case, it’s replaced with such a lackluster story, that its hard to find motivation to keep on going.
Once again, the curse of the movie game prevails and a game that has so much potential is left just short of being a great game due to a lack of development time. I had a lot of fun playing with the combat system in this game, but only when there was a competent individual controlling the other dragon. Its just too easy and I think most people over the age of 10 will find they don’t ever lose a single match.
The lack of polish is also an issue, but ulitmately I’ll take great gameplay over graphics and good audio, but that’s not the case for everyone. The mini-games are fun, and the game experience lasts long enough to make the purchase worthwhile. If you know someone that wants to continue their 'How To Train Your Dragon' experience in videogame form, than this is the one you want to pick up for them.
Gameplay:7.5, Graphics:7.0, Sound:7.0, Innovation:7.5, Mojo:7.0 Final: 7.2 / 10
Reviewed by Mike Baggley | 05.07.10