Article first published as Xbox 360 Review: ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ on Blogcritics.
The first "How To Train Your Dragon" movie, based on the fantasy book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, was huge hit. The film raked in nearly half a billion dollars and had plenty of crossover appeal that included both kids and their parents. It is actually my personal favorite of the Dreamworks animated films. The just released sequel is also off to a promising start. Unfortunately for a number of reasons, the tie-in video game for "How To Train Your Dragon 2" probably won’t end up as successful.
The first obstacle "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is actually its predecessor. Published by Activision, the first "How To Train Your Dragon" video game borrowed just enough from the iconic Nintendo franchise "Pokémon" to make playing with dragons almost no fun at all. This time around, the game is in the hands of the license focused developer, Little Orbit. Though "How To Train Your Dragon 2" isn’t likely to break any sales records or win a “Game of the Year” award, it does capture the spirit of the movie franchise more accurately than Activision’s attempt.
The entirety of "How To Train Your Dragon 2" is spent on the back of a dragon. The game opens up putting the player in control of Toothless, and his rider, Hiccup. It puts you through a short tutorial that covers a few of the controls, but leaves about half of the stuff for the player to figure out on their own. What is covered is the basic movement with the analog stick, the tighter turning with the bumper, a spin move, and how to shoot fireballs with the right trigger. What isn’t covered is which button makes the dragon fly faster and which button puts on the brakes, though it’s not that hard to figure out. It is worth noting that I did freeze my Xbox 360 during the tutorial, when I completed a task at the same time the game wanted to reset my position.
Once you get the hang of flying around in "How To Train Your Dragon 2," you can switch over to flying around as Astrid and Stormfly, Fishlegs and Meatlug, Snotlout and Hookfang, and finally, the twins, Ruffnut and Tuffnut with the two-headed Belch and Barf. There is no switching up riders and dragons, however, and honestly, there’s not much difference between them all. The most noticeable change is the fireballs that each dragon shoots. I couldn’t find a noticeable advantage with a different set throughout the challenges, though each pair does have their own coins to find, traits, and abilities.
As you’re flying around in "How To Train Your Dragon 2," you can find perches that once you land on them will begin various challenges. A few of the early challenges include flying through rings, collecting sheep, and sharpshooting. The game does also allow for two player local co-op play and splits the screen horizontally. That is actually my least favorite split screen option for a game that requires looking ahead, though younger kids, that just want to fly around on dragons, probably won’t mind as much. The game does also offer three competitive multiplayer modes that will offer some additional challenges for a pair. Though they’re fairly simple, they’re probably the most engaging aspect of the game.
"How To Train Your Dragon 2" isn’t going to wow many people with its presentation level. The graphics are fairly low poly, but kids will be able to identify their favorite characters. One of the most entertaining aspects of the game to the younger kids in my house, is the ragdoll effect applied to the riders whenever the dragon crashes. While really young kids can fly and crash the dragons, the challenges are probably a bit difficult for them. Unlike the movies there is little adult crossover appeal in this game. Though, the ESRB rating of this game is E-10, the optimal audience for this game is probably children under eight years old, with the local multi-player being the relative star for older portion of that limited demographic.