I really, really enjoyed the Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon. Critics did, too - it's actually one of the highest rated feature films of 2010. Because of this, and because of my girlfriend's love for dragons, I figured reviewing Activision's video game adaptation of the film would be a harmless endeavor. Boy, was I wrong. Instead of reliving some of the film's action-packed segments, Etranges Libellules came to the table with a soulless shell that will send even the movie's biggest fans running for the hills. Moviegoers will likely be confused right away by the premise. Instead of living in a world where dragons and vikings wage constant war, it's based on an alternate reality where they live in peace. If anything, it feels sort of like a sequel, with the characters living hand-in-hand with their former foes. This could have worked in the game's favor, since it's not a "play the movie" styled game, but, in reality, it's an excuse to push forward an essentially plot-less game.
Instead, it's more along the lines of Pokemon, where players choose between two characters (Hiccup or Astrid), jump on a dragon, customize it, and wage battles in arenas against other dragon-riders. This might sound like fun, but, in practice, it's anything but. Tedious is a better word, since the combat is comprised mostly of mashing on buttons. Even with the addition of combos, the battles don't seem to deepen as the game goes on. Later bouts against more powerful adversaries result in simply longer button mashing sessions. Being able to have up to four dragons, each with a number of customizable abilities, almost helps to make things better. Almost isn't enough, however, as it's simply not that fun to fight dragons in a game based around fighting dragons.
Outside of hitting the same buttons over and over again and watching two poorly animated mythical creatures butt heads, players can explore the game's town and complete other missions to unlock new tournaments. Interacting with needy townsfolk boils down to basic collection quests, drawing inspiration from the most tedious of MMORPG missions. I'm not sure who thought it would be a good idea to force players to collect meat or vegetables in a game that should be spent fighting dragons, but I'd like it if he was removed from whatever position he is in. Items not used in missions can be fed to dragons, enhancing their abilities, which, again, would only mean something if the combat wasn't utter nonsense.
There's very little to like in this package. With a backbone as strong as How to Train Your Dragon, there shouldn't have been much of a problem creating a fun game for children with the license. The film had enough moments of action that playing the events of the movie would have actually worked, though. If the developers insisted on doing it this way, it could have been awesome. It isn't, and while some kids might find some entertainment in a stripped down Pokemon, odds are even the biggest fans of the film will find themselves bored before long, looking for something more where there simply isn't any.