Millennials had it good growing up with fun and carefully-made licensed video game tie-ins for their favourite cartoons and movies—the likes of The Lion King and Aladdin. Then things took a dark turn in the mid-aughts as licensed games became more sloppily made, preferring a cash-in over quality. The advent of mobile gaming didn’t help much either. In modern times, licensed games are often a flimsy experience with a heavy emphasis on buying premium currencies.
However, all is not entirely lost in this genre, as demonstrated by DreamWorks Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms.
As a tie-in to Dreamworks’ latest series in the How To Train Your Dragon enterprise, Dragons: The Nine Realms, this action-adventure title from publisher Outright Games puts you in control of the titular dragons. As Thunder and others from the show, players explore multiple themed realms, fighting off other dragons and dodging environmental hazards along the way.
I almost used the term “solving puzzles” in that last paragraph but unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Most levels in Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms boil down to little more than “get from point A to point B,” except you have a handful of switches to toggle to get there. Sometimes you simply have to smash the gem cluster nearby that acts like a switch, and sometimes you have to blast it with a certain element.
That’s about as complex as it gets. There’s an illusion of depth as your roster of dragons expands, but it’s still a case of “hit the thing with the right type of attack to clear the path.” But hey, this is a kid’s game, and that’s okay.
As a kids’ game, Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms walks some fine lines. The level concepts are simple, but sometimes complicated by awkward camera angles, and getting lost might be common for some young players. Combat is just robust enough for kids who love the franchise but aren’t necessarily accustomed to complicated controls yet. The best aspect may be the level up system, which allows players to trade gems gained from clearing levels for new upgrades and perks.
Still, parents should expect some possible frustration. Healing requires swapping out your character, which isn’t possible at all in the first world, and some glitchy controls made navigating certain environmental set pieces more difficult.
“Ultimately, Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms is a perfectly fine experience for young fans of the series/franchise.”
In terms of presentation, Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms’ graphics are adequate, even if some levels are a little too samey (aggravating those moments where you might get turned around and lost). On Switch, I encountered some instances of over-finnicky controls, getting dragons stuck in strong head-winds when trying to land. The narration from the series’ protagonist got a little wearisome, yet it would be beneficial to the game’s intended audience.
My biggest nitpick in this department, though, is a stylistic choice with combat. Get hit by an attack, and there’s a deliberate slowdown effect to emphasize that you’ve just taken damage. The first few times it was jarring, even making me wonder if there was legitimate slowdown happening, and led to taking more damage. We get it, game, getting hit is bad.
The story itself is very minimal, and not strongly connected to the source material. My kids liked the previous Dragons’ series, both with the original cast and the Netflix spinoff, but haven’t seen the new series yet. This game does very, very little to get newcomers up to speed with the new, radically different status quo—which can be either a pro, a con, or a non-issue, depending on your perspective.
Ultimately, Dragons: Legends of the Nine Realms is a perfectly fine experience for young fans of the series/franchise. The whole experience isn’t over simplified like many mobile games, which I appreciate as a parent; at least there’s something here besides “dodge the obstacles in this auto-runner” and “ask your parents for their credit card number.” However, long-time Dragons fans who might have loved the original movie as kids probably won’t find much stimulation from this title now, as adults.