Games based on movies have earned a reputation over the years of being, well, terrible, and unfortunately for fans of How To Train Your Dragon 2 (HTTYD2) , its videogame adaptation follows in those inglorious footsteps.
That’s because instead of a fun game that uses elements of the movie’s plot as backdrop for exciting story-based missions, developer Little Orbit delivered a stunningly dull open world where the only thing you can really do is play aggravating minigames and hunt for collectibles.
That really is a pity, because when I first fired up the game I had high hopes: I appeared as Hiccup, riding on the back of Toothless with the cliffside viking village of Berk stretched out before me, and I could fly where I wished thanks to what initially appeared to be fairly competent flying controls.
While it wasn’t a particularly nice-looking world – HTTYD2’s graphics look more like they belong to the PS2 era than they do the Xbox 360 – it nevertheless seemed to say ” Come and explore and find cool things to do!” But when I did, all I found was dreary minigame after dreary minigame. And then just for a change, tournament after tournament made up of those same minigames, with nothing else to really do. It was a huge letdown.
A game that uses minigames isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but these are just so mind-numbingly terrible that I really didn’t want to do any of them more than a few times. Yet on I plodded because I hoped things would improve the further into the game I got. They didn’t.
Basically, there are four game types, all loosely based on the “dragon games” seen at the beginning of the film: a leisurely skills-honing mission that challenges players to fly their dragon through rings, a race with other dragons and their riders that give you something to shoot at while flying through rings, a rather silly one that has you blasting fireballs at cardboard cut-outs and a sheep-grabbing event where you must pick sheep up and drop them off at a designated target area.
That doesn’t sound bad, right? And maybe it wouldn’t be if the game’s controls played along. But no, getting Toothless to go where I wanted him to often didn’t work out no matter how hard I tried, particularly when it came to flying near cliffs and flying downwards: the camera would go all wonky as I neared cliffs, resulting in much confusion and sometimes disaster, and Toothless was also nigh-uncontrollable as he went into his signature dive manoeuvre every time I pointed him towards the ground.
I could forgive these foibles if flying wasn’t such a huge component of the little the game has to offer. I struggled mightily flying through the stupid rings and picking up sheep because of the poor controls, exacerbated by the fact that I never knew how much of the race events was left, who was behind or in front of me thanks to the absence of a useful HUD; I also didn’t enjoy that races felt like they ended abruptly and somewhat randomly nine times out of ten.
Adding insult to injury, my final position in the races was often not the same as the one shown on the minimalistic HUD when the race ended. As you can imagine, none of this endeared the game to me.
There are, however, two redeeming qualities to the game. The first is the soundtrack; throughout the game, the movie’s gorgeous orchestral score ebbs and swells in the background; it is really beautiful, and it adds a certain authenticity to the world – you really feel like you’re playing a genuine movie tie-in.
The second is local multiplayer; while the single-player game isn’t particularly gripping, it can be fun playing the three mutliplayer game modes split-screen with a friend, and something I imagine gamer parents can use to bond with their dragon-loving kids.
So while HTTYD2 is definitely yet another disappointing movie tie-in from a gamer’s standpoint, it’s not a complete wash: small children who loved the movie will probably still enjoy it, and parents of those kids should get a kick out of playing split-screen multiplayer with them.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U, for an estimated retail cost of R499.