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How To Train Your Dragon (Xbox 360) artwork

How To Train Your Dragon (Xbox 360) review


"As you spend time outside of the arena with your dragon, whether that be training in the cave or playing mini-games that you have unlocked at a distant cave, your over-sized pet will grow weary. That can quickly impact its performance, so you have to scrounge up grub to feed the beast so that he will trust you and fight his best on your behalf. There's no real challenge to the process; you simply need to have the patience to wander the islands in circles as you hack apart the chickens, sheep and boars. You have to be ready to stop and dig under every rock, to slowly pull up one vegetable or flower at a time and then to wander back to your home to stuff your dragons full of goodies."



There are good license-based games, there are mediocre ones and then there are bad ones. Of those three, How To Train Your Dragon manages to claw its way up from 'bad' to 'mediocre' with only a hair's breadth to spare. No matter how much you or a potential gift recipient like the film on which it is based, there are some things you need to know before you seriously consider a purchase or even a rental.

The first of those things is that the game isn't the cute platformer that you might expect. Though it was developed by Etranges Libellules, the team behind the recent Spyro the Dragon efforts, How to Train Your Dragon presents a different take on dragon adventuring. You play not as a powerful dragon but as one of the youths who train them. Your job is to capture dragons, to turn them into fighting behemoths and to embarrass your competition in the dragon fighting arena. There's some simple exploration in between all of that, but for the most part this is a glorified fighting game.

There are four basic dragon types that you can choose to capture and train, though there are a total of six varieties in the game and a slew of customization options that can make that number feel more substantial than it actually is. Individual breeds of dragon possess different fundamental attributes that can in turn be improved in the manner of your choosing. Some of the beasts are short and fat, some are long and lean and some are a mix of the two. You'll become familiar with each of the variations as you work through the game's main Story mode.

The phrase "Story mode" feels somewhat misleading, though. How To Train Your Dragon doesn't offer much in the way of personality, especially compared to recent Activision-published fare such as the Kung Fu Panda game. You'll begin by choosing between Hiccup and Astrid, two viking youths who each ride a separate but similar dragon. Then you'll meet up with some of the local viking villagers who will offer you tedious fetch quests and will provide general scraps of information about the area around you. Occasional cutscenes propel the story onward from there and introduce the necessary villains and dilemmas, but they don't do a good job of imbuing the video game with the personality that moviegoers will fondly recall experiencing in front of the big screen.

Though your obvious goal in the game is to win a series of battle championships, you can't even make much headway with that when you first begin playing. First, you have to find the training cave where you can learn how to fight. This involves a long walk through a village with a rather confusing layout and no map. You're expected to memorize the appropriate paths to take. Along the way, you can kick up rocks to find insects, pick flowers and even attack an endless supply of sheep and chickens for meat. Inane though they may be, those activities play an integral role in the game's overall progression. You'll learn why that is in the very near future.

Upon your arrival at the cave on the far edge of the village, you'll have the opportunity to choose from among several tutorials. Those tutorials handily explain the extremely simple combat system, which for the most part consists of left and right movement, dodges, weak hits, strong hits and fiery dragon breath. Then you'll be able to practice combo attacks specific to your chosen dragon as you play through an extended series of test battles. Test battles are ridiculously boring because they force you to perform the same few actions repeatedly with only minor variations. They also grant experience points upon completion and they help you to grow accustomed to the moves you will be able to use at the arena, but only at a cost: dragon fatigue.

As you spend time outside of the arena with your dragon, whether that be training in the cave or playing mini-games that you have unlocked at a distant cave, your over-sized pet will grow weary. That can quickly impact its performance, so you have to scrounge up grub to feed the beast so that he will trust you and fight his best on your behalf. There's no real challenge to the process; you simply need to have the patience to wander the islands in circles as you hack apart the chickens, sheep and boars. You have to be ready to stop and dig under every rock, to slowly pull up one vegetable or flower at a time and then to wander back to your home to stuff your dragons full of goodies. Since each dragon type will only eat certain scraps of food, and since you'll soon find yourself forced to constantly monitor multiple dragons, you'll spend a lot of time wandering around the island on the same repetitive few errands.

The natural temptation is to just avoid the training cave, particularly when it comes time to train each new dragon from scratch, just so that you can skip right to the good stuff. Unfortunately, it's not easy to find what "the good stuff" in this game is supposed to be. Certainly it's not the mini-games, which provide you with mountains of experience but lack the polish that would make them an engaging use of your time. We've all flown through inconveniently placed rings before, we've all mashed buttons to move meters into 'sweet spots' and we've all played puzzle games. Chances are good that we've all had more fun doing each of those things than we ever will when we try them here. As simple diversions they'd still almost work, except that they also tire out your dragons and force you to refill meters by digging for more roots and butchering more hapless sheep and boars.

One of the game's potential saving graces could have been its Arcade mode, wherein you can select four dragons and pit them against a computer-controlled opponent (boring) or a buddy who may have come over for the day. Two kids who have just come back from the theater and now want to act out some of the combat that they saw there will perhaps be mildly amused for a few rounds, except that many of the selectable critters aren't even available until someone has made the effort to slog through much of the single-player game. Fights can be won just by moving up close to your competitor and mashing buttons for awhile, as well, so it's unlikely that anyone will want to play for more than a half-hour or so at a time. Nothing presented here provides much temptation to pick up the game and try it again at a later date, either. Your initial play session with the game may be the only one that you ever care to have.

That's unfortunate, because How To Train Your Dragon could easily have wound up being a very good game. It simply didn't. Rent it for your kids if they want something new over the weekend and you can't find something better, but don't make the mistake of buying it unless you can find it for a steal. License-based games don't have to be as tedious and thoroughly forgettable as what you'll find here, and often they aren't. Perhaps the developers just need some training.

Rating: 4/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 23, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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randxian posted May 02, 2010:

Wow. Hard to imagine how a game about riding various breeds of dragon could suck so much. I guess they pulled it off here.

I really like how this review is presented. You explain how most of the game is sheer monotony and even come out and say there is no way to skip to the good stuff because the game doesn't really have any good stuff.

I also agree that we need some more creative mini-games beyond the mundane flying through rings and annoying meters.

Amazing how the same team that made Spyro could screw this up so badly.

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