Handheld versions of 3D console games are always a tricky task; most of the successful ones avoid straight-up ports that are inevitably inferior to their home console brethren, and instead build the portable iterations from the ground up with 2D handheld gaming in mind. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate did this recently with a Metroidvania interpretation of the console brawler, and perhaps most famously, the Game Boy Color version of Metal Gear Solid is a brilliant throwback to the old-school Metal Gear titles on NES.
How to Train Your Dragon 2, developed by Torus Games and published by Little Orbit, is not one of those titles; it attempts to faithfully recreate the 3D dragon-flying adventure seen on Wii U and other home consoles, with less success. The core of the game is exactly the same, so most of our review of the Wii U version applies to this one as well – you choose from one of a handful of dragon riders seen in the namesake film, and you fly around the Viking island of Berk participating in minigames, racing other dragons, and exploring to find coins and hidden areas.
None of the minigames are nearly as fun as simply flying around the island on your own; races against other dragons feature lobotomised enemy AI, and there are only so many times one can do a "fly through the floating rings" challenge before it becomes tedious – was there any flying through floating rings in the movie? Although exploring Berk with the well-designed central flying mechanic is fun, the island isn't large enough for the exploration aspect to carry the game on its own. There's no primary story, so ultimately How to Train Your Dragon 2 feels like a collection of side missions without a main quest to hook us in.
Torus Games and Little Orbit were clearly trying to create something on a small budget that could compete with AAA adventures titles, and it's respectable that they were able to fit the cohesive game world all into one package with no slowdown to break the immersion. Yet when you make a single studio responsible for developing five different versions of the same game concurrently on a strict deadline to tie in with the movie release, it makes sense that the 3DS port got the short end of the stick.
On 3DS, the graphics are substantially rougher – this can't be blamed entirely on the less powerful 3DS hardware, as there are plenty of 3DS (and even DS!) titles with better polygonal textures than those on display in How to Train Your Dragon 2. The stereoscopic 3D effect is decent and the dragons are all well-animated, but the landscapes feel completely empty and a tiny draw distance means fog looms over anything more than a few yards away from the player. To be fair, there are no loading screens between areas and the framerate remains consistent, but the sense of wonder in exploring the island in the Wii U version is entirely absent with this lifeless iteration of Berk. In addition, the soaring film soundtrack that stands out as a high point of the home console version is handicapped on 3DS, where it permanently plays at an inexplicably low volume.
The controls are more limited on 3DS, which are still serviceable for the most part with one glaring hiccup: the X button. On Wii U, X is used to land on perches to trigger events, while ZR is used to launch fireballs; 3DS has doesn't have the same trigger buttons, so X is used for both landing and firing. This becomes an irritating issue whenever you want to land somewhere, as there's a frustratingly small window when you're flying over a perch where you're allowed to press the X button to land, so many times you'll accidentally just spew fireballs instead, requiring you to loop around and fly over the same location multiple times to successfully land. This issue could've been resolved easily – the L button is used to make sharp left turns and R is used to make sharp right ones, but the developers could've taken a page from Mario Kart and used a single button for sharp turns in either direction, which would've freed up the R button to be devoted to firing weapons.
The surprise highlight of How to Train Your Dragon 2 on Wii U was its fluidly-integrated multiplayer component, where everything in the game can be played with one player on the GamePad and the other on the TV screen. The 3DS iteration features no multiplayer whatsoever, so you can't rely on real-life humans to make it more fun.
The 3DS edition of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is less expensive than its Wii U counterpart, but it's still a tall retail price to ask for a muddy, repetitive adventure. The home console versions of the game were clearly the priority for the developer with this portable iteration as an afterthought; the terrible graphics and absence of multiplayer place this well below its home console sibling, which isn't a great game to begin with either. The game is still serviceable for big fans of the movie, but for everyone else this is a dragon you won't want to train.