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September 20, 2013

How To Train Your Dragon (Wii)

I already mentioned that licensed games can be awful. The rush to release something just for an extra cash grab is quite lame, and it results in bad games more than once. It's a major problem, and it's one of the reasons why licensed games are thoroughly avoided by a lot of gamers. Yet, I also mentioned in the same article that some licensed games are surprises hidden among the cheap games.

I don't think I need to tell you that How to Train Your Dragon is a licensed game. Duh. The movie, which came out in 2010, was one of the best examples of 3D films done well, even better than Avatar, the HIGHEST-GROSSING FILM OF ALL TIME. And it's not just a technical success, it was also a success on the aspect of its simple story: Vikings hate dragons. A young viking injures, meet, helps and befriends a dragon. He keeps it secret due to the hatred between vikings and dragons. Then the young viking discovers that the dragons all steal food and stuff from their village because an ENORMOUS dragon will eat them if they don't. The vikings discover the teenager's dragon, force him to lead them to the dragons' island. The boy has to teach his dragon-taming knowledge to the other teens of the village so that they can save the villagers from the giant dragon. And that's the story in a nutshell. I'd explain it in more detail, but go watch it instead. You'll like it.

A problem arises quickly enough. All the teams behind licensed games have seen that problem: How do we turn this into a video game? I also mentioned in my article that you could keep true to the film's story, or you could go with something completely different. Or you could go with the movie's aftermath, which is an original story in its own right, but a story that still needs to keep true to everything that happened in the movie.

Does the Wii version of How to Train Your Dragon accomplish this? We'll see.

Will you pick the nerd or the tomboy? Whichever is your
pick, you still fight the same loser idiots.
As you begin Story Mode, you get to choose between Hiccup and his love interest from the movie, Astrid. You also pick a starting dragon. As it turns out, the game follows the villagers and the teenagers after the movie. The teenagers – there's more teenagers than just the six main from the movie and the TV series, but we still focus on those six – have learned to tame dragons and are now using them for battling. All's fair and good, except for the fact that the dragons aren't used to battle enemies, they are used in tournaments. Of course, if you want to have a chance of winning in the tournaments, you better level up your dragon.

Do you battle natural creatures like sheep, wolves, or untamed dragons to level up? No. Or, well, almost not. You won't spend a lot of time in this game wandering around with your dragon and fighting. You will explore Berk, but that's as far as you go. No, instead you spend all your time leveling up your dragons in an arena, fighting dragons... except all you will actually do is practice your dragon's main attacks, melee attacks and fire attacks. And that's it. You don't actually practice against real opponent, but instead against pre-programmed dragons whose objective is to make you train one attack combo your dragon learns or a fire attack.

Dragon tamers MUST be badass, or else they're fakers.
And that's it! This has got to be one of the worst ways to play a freaking dragon rider. By definition, a guy riding a dragon should be a badass picture. Just imagine Ash Ketchum on his Charizard; even the wimpy trainer looks awesome. Heck, that was the reason Hiccup looked so cool in the movie! But in the case here, sorry, we won't get anything awesome to happen. Just training, training, more training, and then the tournaments. How can you make this sound lame? They are dragon riders! Okay, you will sometimes battle a wild dragon, but this is nothing else but a side-mission to achieve 100% completion. I think it doesn't even award you experience points.

Oh yeah, I'd better talk about the tournaments as well, as they make up most of the Story Mode. So, once you consider your dragon has trained enough (or once the game considers you have trained enough, as you need to beat some of the tournaments in order to unlock the last melee combos and fire attacks), you can enter the first tournament. You fight some weaker opponents, and if you proved good enough you can battle Snotlout. That guy was the strong yet dumb of the clique, the one who always thought himself better than the others, but was still sort of a coward when you got down to it. Since it's the first tournament, it's fairly easy, and you win quickly. Also, it kinda helps that you all have only one dragon, which keeps true to the original movie.

Monstrous Nighmare? That's what I'll give you.

After you win the first tournament, Snotlout is very bitter that you have beaten him, so he devises a plan to stop your winning streak while it's low. He's gonna do that again and again through the game, between each tournament, and your task is to stop his machinations. Being a dumb muscle, Snotlout doesn't really think about the consequences of his actions, but... he's just dumb, so we'll give it a pass.

Training... It isn't training if the opponent is rigged!
Also, to cross to the wilderness in this game, you need to help repair a bridge. A side-mission that is completed quickly. But what do you find when you cross the bridge? A boring zone of wilderness. All you can do there is related to the nature, such as pulling plants out of the ground, pushing rocks, attacking boars (again, not with your dragon!)... there's a few more things you can do, but all those just give you objects for your dragon. Objects... for what?

Well, this game isn't just based around training your dragon and participate in tournaments with it. No, you also must take good care of your dragon. You can use items you gather in the wild – or by stealing from other vikings' gardens – to replenish your dragon's Hit Points or his other statistics: Food, Heal, Mood, Trust and Rest. Each food fills one particular statistic among those four. Also, some dragon species dislike some foods in particular. Wait, like there's more than one dragon in this? No, impossible, they can't be doing this. You can also customize your dragon; you gain additional customizations as your dragon completes training lessons. That's an aspect I overlook in the game itself, but it's a very important one. It's just kind of sad that the whole game is limited to training your dragon's attacks, participating in tournaments, and taking care of it.

Oh, but wait, that's not all. You find out that for the next tournaments, the challenge has been increased. You fight against opponents who all have... two... dragons... and thus you are encouraged... to go get... a second... dragon... yourself... to train... and... fight with... in the tournaments... dot dot dot...

Have you ever seen Hiccup on the back of a dragon that is
not Toothless nor doesn't belong to another teenager? NO!

GOSH FREAKING DAMMIT! This breaks all that has been established in the movie! Each teenager of Berk in both the movie AND the TV series can take care of ONLY ONE DRAGON! And that's enough! What, you think this is like a Pokémon game? Take care of up to six Dragon-type creatures and demolish your opponents with them? NO! THIS DOESN'T WORK! NOT IN THIS WORLD, ANYWAY! Limit of one dragon per trainer, EXCEPT IN THE LICENSED GAME! What were the developers thinking? “Let's spice it up with additional dragons for everyone”? No, sorry, I came here to play How To Train Your Dragon, not How To Train Your DragonS! If I need a multiple dragon trainer, I'll go see Lance, thanks.

So yes, you can actually go pick another dragon among those that appeared in the movie. Congrats, you have approximately four different choices. If you don't count the Night Fury, Toothless's species, then yes, you have four different species to choose from. It doesn't change the fact that it shouldn't be this way.

Now that the elephant in the room has been discussed, let's talk about... um... other things about the game. Remember when I said you had to pick up ingredients around Berk and the other island? Well, that's not all. You can also pay for recipes that you'll cook from ingredients you gathered. Many of those recipes are quite expensive, so you might not always want to spend your cash on them. Not to mention you also need to learn how to cook those recipes with the ingredients. Again, the recipes can be used on some dragons, but other dragons might not like the recipes you cook up. Also worthy of notice is that the recipes replenish much more your dragon's statistic bars.

So, the second tournament comes by, and this time the champion is Fishlegs. You know, that obese kid who's an even bigger nerd (no pun intended) than Hiccup? The one who knows absolutely everything about dragons yet is scared to face them? Seems like he's got talent here. Sort of. You breeze through every opponent, even if they all have two dragons this time.

Bam! Paf! Pow! Badaboom!
And back you go so that your dragon can level up. More training, yay... This time, you actually have two dragons to train with. No, wait. You have THREE dragons. No, I'm not kidding. You go get a THIRD dragon at the docks after the second tournament is over. Bullcrap! Also, Snotlout tries another failure of a plan, and you thwart him. He does, however, get the help of the other Berk dragon champions in his lame plans; he recruits Fishlegs after the second tournament.

If you venture at the very end of the second island (the one in the wilderness), you reach a beach that is... very nice-looking. You can see far in the distance, it's a beautiful view. Now that I think of it, I forgot to say, but the 3D work in this game is great. It all looks nice. Not as nice as the movie, but maybe on par with the TV series, which is an impressive feat for a licensed game. But, I'm straying from the point. Where was I getting at? Oh, right, the beach. It looks beautiful, but you find something else at the beach: A cave. Wait, are there other dragons in there? ...Actually, no. But there's something even better: Mini-games!

To be fair, minigames are always a plus when the game is
kinda meh. Unless the minigames are meh too. Pictured:
Flying Shepherd, which is NOT meh.
Mini-games in this game are a lot of fun, and they award both experience, ingredients and recipes for your dragons. The mini-games themselves have a healthy dose of challenge, especially since the rewards get better as you beat your score and win medals. Yep, it's the same old “Bronze, Silver, Gold”. But who cares? In these Dragolympics (sorry for this awful portmanteau word), you participate in four different games: The first one is Ice Sculpture; you must control your dragon's fire breath to obtain nicely-sculpted ice blocks. At first, only this mini-game is unlocked, the others are unlocked when one of your dragons reaches a particular level. Or rather, each minigame is available only to a dragon whose level is higher than the required number. Because yeah, apparently on Berk, you can tell your dragon's level even if it isn't technically an RPG. Whatever. Here are the other minigames.
-Looping Race: Pass through as many rings as possible while you're riding your dragon;
-Flying Shepherd: Grab sheep lost on the islands and bring them back to the fold.
-Memory Torch: Another Simon Says in which you must re-create the series of colors.
-Last but not least, Puzzle Dragon: You take a look at a customized dragon, and after this you must re-create the dragon by selecting the right customizations.

So, more training, and then it's back to the third tournament. Who is the champion this time? It's Tuffnut. You know, the male half of the twin siblings? Yeah, I always forget which is which as well. So, the tournament begins, and... everyone has three dragons, which makes the battles a lot longer. But, luckily, it's still possible to win despite that problem.

As you can see, the purple-ish dragon gives a shocking performance.
However, if you defeat Tuffnut at the end of this tournament, you're in for a bad surprise. Snotlout had another idea to force you to lose the tournament: Once you beat Tuffnut, his sister Ruffnut jumps in, with her own three dragons! Isn't it great to find out that your opponents are CHEATING in this? And I thought it was already bad! Still, if you trained a lot (and you HAD to train a lot, since it's the best way to gain a lot of experience), it's not too difficult. Let me guess how it goes: You go get a FOURTH dragon, tame it to high levels, Snotlout recruits the twins in his team, you thwart their lame plans AGAIN, and the next tournament champion is Astrid if you picked Hiccup, or Hiccup if you picked Astrid. Is that right?

I'm getting too good at predicting how video games go... I'm entirely right! There goes your fourth and final tournament. You know what to do. Level up, and then beat those dragons in the tournament! ...Once you win the tournament, Astrid feels very bitter that you defeated her. However, she has an additional chance to beat you back, because it's finally time for Thorsday's Thursday, the FINAL Tournament event in this game! This tournament works a bit differently, however: You have to fight against the five other main teenagers, and of course defeat them all. This is clearly the final lap in this story, right? You go and defeat Fishlegs, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Astrid and Snotlout, and boom the game is over? When you reach Snotlout, you discover that he has found a new dragon species that can be tamed, and those are based on the Japanese long dragons! However, they're still as normal as the other dragons in this game, so you can beat them the same way. Once you defeat Snotlout and his four dragons, you officially win the tournament, and Stoick, Hiccup's father and the village's chief, congratulates you in first-person view. Awesome, right? Oh, you can now play with the new species of dragon, too.

As such, you have now completed Story Mode. What else is there to do? Well, keep increasing your dragons' levels, gain a gold medal in every mini-game, find all the recipes, complete the few side-quests... Keep getting money and speak to a viking near the mini-game cave; this guy frequently finds “legendary” dragons that you can fight against. If you do beat them, they are unlocked in Arcade Mode. Uh, wait a second – ARCADE MODE?

The legendary dragons are just... regular dragons with special appearances.
Except they are unlockables i Arcade Mode? ...Nice.

Well, yes. When you thought this game had nothing more to offer, it surprises you with something more, that can be accessed through your save file's main menu. The Arcade Mode is, to put it shortly, a fighting game. It just takes all the elements of tournament battle and puts them in a side-game. After you select the number of players, you choose one teenage viking between the six teenagers, and then you pick a dragon. You can pick between... let me count... 28 different dragons! ...Okay, actually, not so different dragons, it's just the same four of five species, except every member of that species has different stats and appearance. You must unlock most of those dragons by fighting them in the side-mission near the beach. You know, where the viking tells you he found a legendary dragon and you must battle it? Yeah, you unlock those for the arcade mode. Aside from that, there's also twelve empty circles at the dragon selection screen; in those, you can import dragons from another game to yours, by uploading a dragon to your Wii remote and downloading it into the game afterwards. ...I gotta say, I'm pleasantly surprised, I didn't think the arcade mode would be this good. You choose four dragons for you, four dragons for your opponent, a difficulty mode, and then you can start fighting. It's really fun. It gives a good enough challenge and it should keep you interested.

Also, as you progress through Story Mode, you unlock videos and artworks from the game. That developers' content is always a lot of fun to look at. Also, when you finish Story Mode, you unlock a lot of legendary dragons for the Arcade Mode. Nice.

I gotta admit, dragon customization is a nice thought.
Well, that's pretty much all I can say about this game now. Is it an awesome licensed game? To tell the truth, not really. It takes a really awesome concept, DRAGON RIDERS, and makes it a bit less awesome. I can understand the need to heal your dragon between matches, I can understand the use of recipes, but collecting recipes for your dragon still feels out of place in this game. Also, I think I should express my disappointment once more at my two biggest problems with this game. First, you can have more than one dragon, which breaks one of the movie's main untold rules, and second, you don't level up your dragon with random encounters and matches, but by training, which is like leveling up a wizard while he's reading his spell books and training the spells he's reading. It's... kind of lame. The fights are complex, as you have to learn all the possible combos and the timing. Leveling up your dragon actually becomes a kinda boring and tedious task, as it doesn't have the fun of, say, random battles as there are in Pokémon. The arcade mode is fun, however. So are the mini-games, especially those that are creative and not, well, stuff we've already seen before in many other games. I love the Flying Shepherd game, you have complete control of your dragon in an area and can fly as much as you want. That's how the game should really be: You should be able to fly around with your dragon, battle enemies, and level up with those fights, NOT by training your combos.

I'd say it's an OK licensed game, but not more. It's really an average one. But truth be told, I enjoyed it for a good while before it became boring. Like every game out there, you'll probably stop once you beat Story Mode. That's the problem with licensed games most of the time.

Considering a sequel to the original How to Train Your Dragon movie is coming out soon, let's hope the next licensed game for this will be better. And by this, I mean that I hope we'll participate in fights against real bad guys. Kind of like what Season 2 of the TV show is built up to be. And THAT will bring awesome back to dragon riders.

Both cute and BADASS at the same time. Awesome show.