As I write this, there’s a new “How to Train Your Dragon” movie in the cinemas, and as sure as night follows day there obviously needs to be a game released to take advantage of the hype.
Interestingly though, DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders appears to be set between the events of the second and third films in the series, so is not, and should not be thought of as, a direct port of the film. Does this mean that the whole experience is something more than a cynical cash grab? Is it even a good game in its own right? I spent some time with the latest title from Outright Games and Bandai Namco to find out.
First things first, DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders is aimed squarely at the younger end of the market. The difficulty, the puzzles, and even the boss fights are all geared to the younger gamer, so this is something to bear in mind. It does mean however that all the achievements found in the Xbox One version of the game are very easy… something which makes it much more appealing to the more mature player.
You play Dragons Dawn of New Riders as a young man who has lost his memory, coming to when discovered by Hiccup and Astrid, along with their dragons, Stormfly and Toothless. When he awakens, he can’t even remember his name, and so is christened “Scribbles” as he likes writing. He is discovered with a dragon’s egg, which hatches into a Chimeragon, seemingly made up of bits of other dragons and so is named “Patch”. The game opens out here as you take control of Scribbles and Patch, swapping between them on the fly as needed. Scribbles is a melee specialist, whereas Patch is much more happy using elemental breath attacks from a distance.
As you would probably expect, the controls are on the simple side too, with all attacks being mapped to a single button, no matter whether you are playing as Scribbles or the dragon. I can see why the decision has been made to do this, but the end result is that most fights devolve into a button mashing encounter, with no thought of strategy, instead seeing you going toe to toe with the enemies and healing as required. These enemies come in both Dragon Hunter and dragon form, with the dragons being controlled by means of green orbs filled with poison. When you fight one of these controlled beasties, smashing the orbs will see it freed, with freed dragons appearing as support in the later battles, either attacking or dropping supplies as required. Each level also has a boss, controlled by a woman called Eir, who has been driven mad with grief after Drago Bludqvist, the baddy from the second film, killed her parents. She has sworn revenge and has decided to use dragons to attempt to get it, turning them into living weapons.
The story found in DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders is quite a good one, as you learn more about Eir and exactly what she is doing, Scribbles wants to try and help her, but will he be successful? I’m not going into the details of the plot here, but suffice to say that there is one, and the end of the game is surprisingly emotional. There is a bit of character development as well, with Scribbles finding new weapons that can be powered up, and he can also craft potions and armour from raw materials gathered in the levels. Smashing everything is very much the order of the day here, as you never know when the stuff you collect could come in handy. Patch too grows up, gaining new elemental attacks as he matures, and soon he is able to breathe ice, electricity and fire, all of which will come in handy in solving the puzzles that lie ahead of the dynamic duo.
The world you’ll be found exploring is split into a series of islands, with some being story related, and others there just for exploration. On the side islands, new dragons can be recruited, usually after a massive fight with waves of Dragon Hunters, whilst other islands are in effect giant puzzles. These usually give Scribbles the items he needs to power his weapons up to the maximum level with Gobber, back on the hub island. The story related parts of the tale are split into two separate areas; the Campground or start of the level, and The Ruins, the dungeon at the end. Once you have found the ruins, if you have to leave the island for any reason, Patch can land at either location, saving you the trouble of running through the level again.
Graphically, and Dragons Dawn of New Riders looks absolutely fine, and my seven year old son, who I have roped in as co-reviewer on this, had absolutely no complaints. It is viewed from a top down perspective with no camera controls at all, and while it is true that sometimes Scribbles can end up invisible in a tree or behind a rock, I had no issues playing this game through to the end.
That said, the puzzles in the ruins are sometimes quite obscure, but using Patch and his various elemental effects will often see you victorious. As an example, one section has an area covered in ice that requires blocks to be positioned on switches, but they keep sliding past the point where they need to stop. The answer is to have the ever helpful Patch melt the ice, then quickly switch back to Scribbles to whack the block with his hammer before the ground refreezes. As you can tell, this is nothing that is going to particularly stretch the old grey matter, but the difficulty seems to be pitched right for the kids market that the game is aimed at.
All in all and DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders does just enough to lift itself out of the cash-in territory. Having the familiar faces from the franchise appear every now and then (even if Astrid is reduced to a potion peddler) will help fans of the series engage with the story, and while Scribbles is a bit of a personality vacuum, Patch is endearing and will worm his way into even the hardest heart. It’s not a long game, giving up pretty much all of its secrets inside five hours – that’s including hitting all the side islands – but it is fun while it lasts.
Most importantly though, my son has enjoyed it, and swooping around the sky on Patch makes him smile every time, even if the empty skies are a bit of a missed opportunity, as some aerial battles would have been amazing. As an adult, I of course wanted more from this game, but for the target demographic, DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders is pretty much bang on.