As a collective, we gamers never really expect much from movie tie-in games.
Let’s face it, they’re typically terrible. I’ve played my fair few of them, and while I do often enjoy the simplicity they bring, there are few – at least in recent years – that can genuinely be called “good”. I didn’t expect much, then, from DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders, the latest game from Climax Studios that ties in with the cinema release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
Despite being set in the same universe with a supporting cast of characters that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever seen any films in the franchise, Dawn of New Riders is a standalone game not based directly on the plot of the latest film (or any of the others). The main character Scribbler and his dragon Patch have been created for this game, so you don’t need to have a deep knowledge of Dragons lore to be able to enjoy it.
I don’t say “enjoy the game” ironically, either. Despite being a loathsome tie-in game, there’s a lot to love about DreamWorks Dragons Dawn of New Riders. I mean, at least there is once you get over how ridiculous that title is. A colon or some punctuation somewhere really wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Obviously, being based on a children’s movie franchise, it’s a game that’s been designed with younger players in mind. I expected a watered-down simple platforming game, but it’s actually so much more. At its core, Dawn of New Riders is an action-adventure with some (very basic) RPG mechanics in there. It’s simple, sure, but it’s more than “just a kid’s game”. With a mixture of engaging puzzles, exploration and combat, there’s something here for everyone.
The main storyline of Dawn of New Riders will see you, as Scribbler, accompanied by your dragon companion Patch, travel to a number of island locations in pursuit of Eir, a troubled villain who is capturing and controlling dragons for her own bidding. On each island you’ll travel to, you’ll make your way through an outside area where you’ll encounter enemies and uncover various treasure chests. Each island also has a dungeon, where you’ll solve puzzles to progress and fight a boss.
There’s something distinctly Legend of Zelda-ish about Dawn of New Riders‘ gameplay, and that’s certainly no bad thing. Both Scribbler and Patch are a pleasure to control, each having their own unique abilities that are helpful in solving puzzles and defeating enemies. In terms of puzzles, you’ll be using switches, solving sliding block puzzles and pushing pressure plates in order to progress through each dungeon. Nothing is difficult, but progression never feels so easy that it’s boring, either.
The combat surprised me. It’s simple in execution but surprisingly challenging, with battles requiring well-executed uses of blocks, dodges and parries to be successful. Attack button-bashing works too – as long as you’ve got a good stock of health potions on hand. Boss battles are a little different, playing out like traditional platform game bosses: dodge a series of incoming attacks, before waiting for the opening to launch your own attack. Rinse and repeat three times. Each one also has some clever uses of the environment woven in.
Adding a little depth to the game is an item and weapon crafting system. As you progress through the game, you’ll gather a myriad of materials – some for crafting potions and healing items, and some for crafting weapons and armour. Don’t expect to be dealing with attack and defence stats, though – it’s of course watered down, with only three different types of weapon, chest armour and helmet available. But it adds a nice sense of progression, and acquiring the best upgrade to your weapons means completing some side activities, adding a nice little diversion to the main story.
Of course, Dawn of New Riders isn’t perfect. I encountered a couple of bugs while I was playing. My dragon fell through the scenery in one level, and on a couple of occasions while engaging in combat I’d inexplicably warp to the other side of the screen. These were rare, and not gamebreaking, but irksome all the same. The game also does that universally-annoying thing where enemies respawn should you revisit an area. The most off-putting thing about Dawn of New Riders, though, is its price. £35 is a very steep asking price for a game that can be completed, including all side content, in under six hours. Clearly we’re paying for the use of DreamWorks’ IP, which arguably doesn’t add anything to the game.
In fact, I’d even argue that using the Dragons IP holds back Dawn of New Riders. Film tie-in games are always looked down upon, and the fact that it’s a franchise aimed at kids means most grown-up gamers are not going to take it seriously. But underneath its licensing, Dawn of New Riders is a sweet adventure game. Stood on its own two feet as a budget release, I can see it being pretty well received. As it is, most people probably won’t give it a chance. Look past the fact that it’s based on a children’s movie series, and you’ll find a solid adventure game filled with engaging combat and enjoyable puzzles, suitable for all ages and experience levels.