System: Wii U
Developer: Torus Games
Release date:June 10, 2014
Pros: Clever multiplayer mode; exploration is fun while it lasts
Cons: Boring, buggy mini-games; muddy, outdated graphics; not nearly enough variety
Video game players have been trained, by experience or by reputation, to treat games based on other forms of entertainment, most famously movies, with a healthy dose of skepticism. More often than not, these tie-in games, content with simply leveraging the popularity of their source material, demonstrate a disappointing lack of creative energy. Such is the case with How to Train Your Dragon 2, a relatively inoffensive game that believes, wrongly, that a licensed property is enough to keep a mediocre game afloat.
Those wary of spoilers need not worry. Although How to Train Your Dragon 2 shares the title and characters of the DreamWorks' animated movie, it's largely plotless. Instead of tracking the plot lines of the movie, which, by the way, could have resulted in some terrific on-rails shooting segments, the developers at Torus Games opted for a fixed location -- the Viking island of Berk -- and a series of mini-games.
|Racing in a circle through floating rings is as fun as it sounds.|
Unfortunately, these mini-games, which make up the main gaming experience of How to Train Your Dragon 2, aren't very interesting or much fun. They consist mainly of Superman 64-style fly-through-the-floating ring races, shooting galleries, and sheep collecting challenges. The shooting gallery mini-game, which functions like a simplified version of Virtua Cop, is a nice diversion, but in general the mini-games are boring, buggy, and lacking in variety.
Luckily, players can avoid the mini-games entirely, opting instead to explore Berk at their own leisure. It's here where How to Train Your Dragon 2 moves toward achieving something special. Hidden around the island are 50 tokens for each dragon; collecting them all will unlock special abilities. There's also plenty of dragon perches, mountains, and caves to explore, and even some beautiful vistas to view, despite the game's muddy, GameCube-era graphics.
|The dragon Toothless zeroes in on a dragon token, one of 50.|
The best part of How to Train Your Dragon 2 on Wii U, sadly, has been completely unadvertised by Torus Games. It's a slick multi-player mode that allows a second player to join in at any point during the game. This second player, riding a different dragon, can explore Berk, participate in races and challenges, and partake in three multiplayer-specific mini-games. Since the game doesn't support the Pro Controller, the second player is required to use a Wii Remote with limited controls, but, impressively, there is no split screen -- one player gets the TV to him or herself and the other uses the GamePad.
Despite this neat multi-player mode, How to Train Your Dragon 2 never breaks free from Torus' lack of ambition. The mini-games are tedious and prone to bugs; Berk, while fun to explore, is too small to sustain investigation for long; and the game's graphics and physics seem generations old. There's some fun to be had, but not for long, and not in large quantities.