Movie tie-in games aren’t exactly known for their quality, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 won’t be the game to change that reputation. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot of potential tied up in this open-world flight game, enough that those with either a lot of patience or a lot of reverence for the franchise can still have a good time with the game. Unfortunately, imprecise controls and poor documentation distract from the gameplay. Most shameful of all, the game seems to forget the style and humor that made the source material so enjoyable.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 lets you take control of Hiccup, Astrid, Fishlegs and other riders with their respective dragons, flying the skies of Berk to train and enter dragon rider tournaments. From the onset you can roam the whole world of Berk, complete with snowy peaks, rocky cliffs, and plenty of ocean. With the 3D enabled the world feels expansive and beautiful; coupled with the game’s great sound effects and soundtrack, it’s easy to get sucked in while diving hundreds of feet down to the water. 50 tokens float around Berk for each rider to collect outside of missions, and most can be obtained without much difficulty. But expect to watch your rider fly off the back of your dragon at almost random intervals, adding headache to an otherwise peaceful experience.
That headache cranks up a few notches when performing missions, though. While racing or doing a time attack, you’ll fly through orange rings spread around the course while trying to reach the goal. Surprisingly, Dragon 2 offers some challenge; those looking for gold medals at the end of a mission need to fly skillfully and precisely… but whether racing other riders, grabbing sheep and dumping them in pens, or flying through rings in a time attack, you’ll inevitably watch helplessly as your rider careens off of the dragon into the sky, crash limp into the rocks, or skid along the face of the water. This happens most often in races with other riders; just bumping into them, getting hit by an attack, or bouncing off of another dragon and glancing the ground, can irrevocably spoil a lead. Fighting back isn’t easy, either; you can grab objects Mario Kart-style by flying through special blue rings, but most of the objects simply disappear when used at the wrong time, and there’s no documentation that explains what items are meant to do. With any sort of explanation of either of these systems they might be more tolerable, but instead they’re just a nuisance.
These traits combined create a middle-of-the-road title in general, but its disappointing they borrowed the How to Train Your Dragon franchise to do so. This is a stripped-down version of the console game (which may be better), but the skies and landscapes feel exceptionally vacant. There’s no real story progression, appearance from side characters anywhere, and even the main characters only contribute a canned line here and there. I understand working towards simplicity for young kids who would play, but there’s so much story to sample from that it feels like a waste to not feature any.
With a little more ambition, How to Train Your Dragon 2 might’ve surprised me the way the original movie did. I walked into it thinking I’d see a shallow rip-off of a Pixar flick, and instead I watched a deep, engaging, funny movie that I still enjoy today. If only I could have gotten any of those traits in the game for Dragon 2, I’d enjoy it much more. Instead, it’s best to just stick to the movie.