Make your own inappropriate joke here.
Dreamworks came out with a new movie. It’s about Vikings and dragons, I guess, and the realization that dragons can be tamed and used as mounts. I haven’t seen it. However, it’s clear that the DS game takes place after the conclusion of the film, since all of the Vikings have their own trained dragons. What are these dragons used for? Battling each-other endlessly. This is fun in a mindless sort of way, but doesn’t rise to the challenge set by, say, Pokemon or even (dare I say it) Dino King.
Players choose one of two characters, both heroes from the film: Hiccup and Astrid. This selection determines what kind of dragon you start with. I picked Astrid, which left me with a large blue Deadly Nadder. The second task is to customize your dragon’s look, which is an enjoyable process. Everything from teeth to spikes can be modified, though you cannot alter your dragon’s underlying geometry or switch “parts” to form some kind of stitched-together monstrosity, a la Spore. Yes, the dragons are 3D models, and look pretty good.
Once you’re happy with your dragon’s look, it’s time to start fighting other dragons. The premise of the game is to compete in dragon tournaments, find things for people, and craft better armor for your mount.
Everything except armor creation involves battling. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because very often, the ingredients required to make whatever armor you want involves farming, which is synonymous with fighting other dragons. The game’s overworld “map” is literally a series of dots connected by paths. You just tap a location to make your avatar run over there. In non-city areas, you will be accosted by wild dragons at every turn. This becomes frustrating, because the battles last too long. There’s no “It’s super-effective!” here. Ice does not beat Flying, because those types don’t exist in the first place. Fortunately, you’ll rarely be lost, because the game handily displays a giant star over your next goal.
Battles are inspired by, but differ significantly from, Pokemon. Each dragon has a large moveset that, surprisingly, can be customized during the battle if you so choose. Most attacks involve using your teeth, claws, and spikes for melee strikes, though more powerful attacks bring elemental effects into the equation. Rather than assign an arbitrary number of uses to each attack (PP in Pokemon), battles are controlled by a regenerating bar. Each attack you use drains a certain number of ticks from the bar, and you can’t attack again until the bar regenerates fully. So, in a way, it’s often a race between you and your opponent to see who can get the next hit in quickest, which adds some tension to the matches. Additionally, most attacks feature secondary elements, such as poisoning, wounding, stunning, etc. These effects also stack (unlike Pokemon), so a wounded, poisoned opponent will be taking a lot of damage per round. The most useful ability is probably “slow,” which halves their power bar’s regeneration speed. The game has a solid foundation, but the lack of types leads to overlong battles and become tiring quickly. You can use items to regain HP, recover from status affects, and modify your stats.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot else to the game. Crafting armor is fun, though. After selecting the armor you want, you blow into the microphone (but not too hard!) to heat up the molten metal, then tip the pot containing liquid-hot magma into a mold. After that, you take a hammer to the block and smash it to uncover the piece of armor. You’re still not done: next, you have to polish the armor, and finally, draw a symbol on it. All of this is done under a time limit, of course, and how well you do determines the armor’s quality. Each dragon can have three pieces of armor—head, torso, and tail.
The world map, which I mentioned above, is nothing more than a series of interconnected dots with paths between them. There is no gameplay aside from the dragon battles and armor forging. This is unfortunate, and will make you tire of the formula quickly. You will often be treated to a “cutscene” before certain events, which involves hastily-crafted polygonal models of the characters from the film, jabbering to each-other. This jibber-jabber involves voice acting, so that’s kind of nice, but you’ll want to move on, since the conversation inevitably leads to a battle. “Will you find my lost dragon, Astrid?” “Sure, kid. But first, I’ll kick it’s ass. That’ll learn it.”
Oh, I forgot the overhead shoot ‘em up minigame. It’s atrocious and boring, and the hit detection isn’t clear at all. You move your dragon with the face buttons to move, and the L/R buttons to spit fire. I forget exactly what the point of the game is. I avoided it like the plague after playing it once. If the game does have a silver lining, it’s the fact that you can play with a friend via single-card download play and wireless multicard play. That’s a plus…I guess.
I suppose my question is this: why buy How to Train Your Dragon when you can buy Pokemon games on the DS instead? The Pokemon formula is successful because Pokemon does it very well. Most games that try to copy its success end up looking like sad pretenders out to make a buck. Dino King was an interesting exception, but most imitators—including this one—fail to justify their existence when the original is still the reigning champ.