Maybe in a different time, How to Train Your Dragon 2 could have been something more then just another movie adaptation game. Buried beneath a pretty standard, yet still wanting mini-game collection is a flying mechanic rivals the swinging of Spider-man 2, as well as a game world chock full of collectibles and secret spots ready to rewards you for exploring. It could have been something more, but in the end, even those two fantastic pieces, working in twain, were not enough to save this from the genre from which it spawned. Taking place before the movie that bears its same name, HtTYD2 is a fairly non-spoilery trek in and around Berk. A small village of Vikings led by Hiccup, the main character, and his father, Stoick, who once were under constant siege by roaming dragons. Through the events of the first movie, they have made piece with the dragons, and the town's now teenaged heroes have become a bunch of dragon riders. As Hiccup, voiced in the movie and TV show by Jay Baruchel and in game by a very competent mimic, explains life is pretty boring now that they are no longer under siege, and so to stay busy, they've come up with a series of Dragon Games.
This series of 4 mini-games is about what you would expect from a game based solely around dragon flight. One involves you blowing fire at armored viking men while trying to avoid the drinking viking women, while another has you practicing tight turns and maneuvers by finding and returning different colored sheep to the matching colored pens. The other two are variations on a standard race, with each requiring you to fly through colored rings. The first time through the games offers an interesting look at how this kind of things may go down, and being from the south, where excellent time wasters like cow tipping were created to deal with boredom, imagining these viking lads playing out these types of friendly competitions seems pretty grounded.
Unfortunately, once you've done those four mini-games, you've experienced everything HtTYD2 has to offer in regards to gameplay systems. Even the tournaments, which follow the completion of each set of the same four mini games, are just variations on a theme, offering the same types of experiences, only with the inclusion of the other riders as competition. In some ways, their inclusion works to break up the monotony, while in others, like races without lap numbers, and kart racer-like projectiles without explanations, just bog things down with needless complexity. Despite even those little issues, I had no problem completing the four sets of tournaments that comprise the main game, but by the end, I had done enough to never want to do them again. With no story to speak of apart from the framing mechanic Hiccup sets up in the beginning, the only other time you'll spend in the game will be in flying the different dragons around Berk. This is by far HtTYD2's greatest strength, as an enormous amount of time went into crafting the island and it's various locales. Berk itself is absolutely stunning, with environments that change from lush forests to snowy mountain tops as you soar through the air. I played this on an XBOX 360, and there was no pop in or screen tearing, even as I dove from the very top of the mountain to the glide across the ocean far below.
While you can't land anywhere, the amount of content the developers managed to pack in to the varied locales is staggering, with tokens for each dragon parsed out all over the island. On top of those, there are ice blocks to shoot fire at, statues to shoot fire at, braziers to light by shooting fire at... look, you're on a dragon, there is only so much you can really do, but they manage to stretch it incredibly far. Given enough time and exploration, you may even find the two secret unlockable dragons and their riders.
As far as licensed products go, you could do a lot worse then How to Train Your Dragon 2. There are good bones here, a nice foundation built on a satisfying flying mechanic, and some excellent work to capture the sights and sounds of the movie and its characters. It, like most other movie games, falls apart where that license meets the tight structure of a modern game under the strictures of a tight turn around. While you apparently can train a dragon, no amount of training can save this game from itself.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!