Out of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the mythology (see: abject confusion) of video gaming there is one variable that irks me beyond measure. Anyone reading this has already had moments or situations that have instantly come to mind. While there are a myriad of opinions (including: video glitchingnothing like being trapped behind an invisible wall while sitting at 99% completion -- achievement points.needing an act of God and a shoehorn for the last 10 points no save point, no story, lack of relevance moments..the list goes on and on). For me, the one issue I simply cannot acceptthe foolishness that I, to date, refuse to acknowledge the very concept that threatens to tear a hole in the fabric of time itself is.wait for it.movie tie-in games that arent complete garbage!
Lets face it, from time immortal, movies and their video game tie-ins have had a special place with all of usthe bargain bin at the department store. We have always known that when a great movie came out there would be the inevitable crappy movie tie-in title and we could pick up, cheap, as a gag gift to our buddies. But lo and behold, our reality has, of late, been torn asunder; our very belief system is being brought into question and I for one will not idly stand by as the rug is pulled from beneath our very feet. Most recently we have seen the likes of Batman (its a tie-in, dont kid yourself), Ghostbusters, Chronicles of Riddick, Scarface become, not just enjoyable, but out and out crossover smash hits. One thing is clear, someone has figured out that video game tie-ins should not be a direct retelling of the movies they represent but should be an extension of the wonder and awe experienced on the big screen.
Not only has someone figured it out but word is spreading ladies and gentlemen of the jury I present to you: How to Train Your Dragon; The Video Game. It seems that Dreamworks Animation has enlisted its friends over at Activision to create the movie tie-in (theyre also working together on the next Shrek movie/video game tie-inI sense a conspiracy here folks). While its not unusual for a computer animation studio developer to bring in a video game studio for the console offering, what is unusual is that Activision seems to have created a solid tie-in title.
Why does all this present an issue with me? you ask. Well you see, if all of these studios continue to offer entertaining video game tie-ins then video game reviewers will have to give these titles a fair and unbiased review (now well actually have to play the games before we score them), whereas, in the not so distant past we could immediately knock off 30 points just by being a movie tie-in title.
How to Train Your Dragon (the video game) story follows on the heels of the movie. In fact it picks up immediately following the movies end credits. You play as either Hiccup (the movies hero) or Astrid (the movies love interest) as you endeavor to acquire (and train, duh) more dragons and interact with many of the movies quirky characters. I dont want to give away too many of the plot points (movie or game) so I will try to simply stick to some of the unique game play options.
While I must say that I have enjoyed this title, it is abundantly clear that this game is targeted more toward the, task oriented/card battle playing/character collecting/video game playing 10 to 16 year old age group. The game does play very easily for me and I found some of the repetition somewhat annoying (usually annoying in video game speak is code for skip this section); however, I can easily see where the repetition, especially in the training sequences, can prove very beneficial to younger gamers as they seek to master extensive combination moves. Even my Darling Daughters have enjoyed playing this title from time to time, but being younger than the focus group they enjoyed the collection of various items (I have to admit I still laugh out loud as my character does a face plant when trying to catch chickens or sheep) and the customizing of the dragons (there may be only six different dragons to acquire but there are many different ways to make them unique) over following the actual story.
All of the game play takes place on (a condensed version from the movie) the Viking island of Berk. You have different areas to explore including the village, the training area, the docks, the wild zone and the dragon fighting arena. SPOILER ALERT!!! The story of the game has you utilizing the newly formed friendship among the dragon species to battle other Vikings to become the Dragon Tournament Champion. I know, I was also surprised that the Vikings would use their new friends in such a waybut hey theyre Vikingsso who am I to question their methods. END OF SPOILER ALERT!!!
Found among the single player campaign are a series of mini games that will help you to further gain experience points to upgrade your dragons. You should try to strengthen your dragon as much as possible as the game does offer a family style of multiplayer; you will be doing head to head battle with dragons as the game features an Arcade mode allowing another gamer to plug in a controller for battle. (I was disappointed with the lack of online multiplayer but, in relation to the target audience, I can see the justification).
The controls are straight forward and the repetition will have you up to speed in no time. There were a couple of instances where the camera retreats but this is more an issue with where you are at the time and the game does correct the issue, seamlessly, in very quick fashion. The controller response is slick but keep in mind that the button combos are meant to be utilized with correct timing not just used for button mashing.
Among the games strong points is the outstanding visuals. For a movie title, the developer has gone to great lengths to ensure a cohesive respect for the source material. Many of the movies more iconic characters are included and the surroundings are rich with simple distractions such as islands and, in my opinion, some of the best water graphics Ive encountered. The movements are clean and even the dragon battles have clear collision detection areas within the visuals.
The sound is great. I cannot honestly tell whether or not the actual actors were used for the game as in the movie but the simple fact that Hiccups father Stoick sounds like Gerard Butler says a lot for the sound team. I would have liked to have heard more variations in the sounds when finishing either a training match or a tournament match but this minor issue does not take a lot away from the game.
For me honestly, what I found most interesting is that I wasnt interested in taking my kids to see this movie in theatres. I figured I would pick it up some day on DVD, just before taking the kids on a long roadtrip, and use the movie as a brief distraction (hey Im a father, what can I say). But after playing this game for a few hours, and my kids having tried it out a number of times over a couple of days, we made the trip to the local theatre. Imagine my surprise as, two days later, my princesses are still talking about the movie and are asking to watch as I play the game (in preparation for the review of course).
Although this is an enjoyable game I am unable to give it a great score. I am not its target audience, nor will I be the games greatest heraldthis is a family title. The faulting I can give the title is that its reach is too narrow thereby eliminating and alienating many gaming fans. What I do suggest is that gamers pick this title up and tell everyone its for their kids/nieces and nephews/extended family or whatever works for you because this title is sure to become a gaming guilty pleasure.
It would seem that Dreamworks and Activision have found themselves with a multimedia hit on their hands. If this is any indication of whats to come then we (reviewers) are going to have to change our scheduling to include the time needed to actually play these titles. The saving grace of course, is that when the games are engaging you dont mind spending countless hours playing movie tie-in titles or spending the time watching entertaining movies