Falling without style
Here we are again: another blockbuster film arrives with an accompanying game, so the natural reaction is to question the motivation behind that game. We did rather hope that How To Train Your Dragon 2 might have been a labour of love rather than a cynical marketing cash-in: after all, it is published by the obscure outfit Little Orbit, rather than one of the major players, with their inevitable tie-ups with the big movie companies. But all such hopes were dashed when we actually had a play.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 does, at least, put you into the world evoked by the film onto the isle of Berk, to be precise. And it lets you play as one of five dragon-trainers, each with their own dragon. The best version on the Wii U even makes cursory use of the GamePads touch-screen, but as a videogame, it is hopelessly basic and, at times, downright amateurish.
Admittedly, storylines always present a knotty issue in games-of-films: do you rehash the story from the film or go off at a tangent? But most such games at least make some attempt at a story mode. How To Train Your Dragon 2 doesnt. After a very cursory tutorial (which neglects to tell you perhaps the most important aspect of the games controls how to make your dragon accelerate), youre dropped into a series of mini-games, which you trigger by landing on perches dotted around the island. These mostly consist of piloting your dragon through hoops, with different time-constraints, although variation is offered by some which encourage you to pick up sheep and drop them in pens. There are also shooting mini-games, in which you target pop-up wooden Vikings, while ignoring the female-Viking decoys. And as you progress, you get to take part in multi-game competitions against other AI-controlled players, which often combine elements of the mini-games, such as racing through hoops plus picking up sheep.
Theres a mechanism for battling other dragon-riders you can lock onto them and breathe fire or knock them off with a special move if you get alongside them. And you can go online to battle your friends. But the competitions which mash up various mini-games seem contrived (and often the instructions youre given about the main point of the races are just plain misleading) and more than a little pointless. Worse than that, precious few of the mini-games offer anything that youd identify as fun. Whichever way you look at it, piloting a dragon through 100 hoops, only to miss one and have to start all over again, is surely more of a chore than anything else. You can, at least, explore the island, picking up tokens which let you upgrade your stable of dragons, but even that palls after a while.
So, we would advise that you approach How To Train Your Dragon 2 with caution. Its the sort of game that offspring obsessed with the film will demand that you buy. And if you cave in, youll have to be prepared not just for disappointment, but for a certain amount of bafflement and maybe a touch of rage when someone gets stuck on a certain task. Sadly, another game-of-a-film which would have left everyone better off if it simply hadnt been made.