In this week's MMO Family, I donned my pointy viking helmet and heavy fur cloak to check things out. Read on for my first impressions of the game!
Just as with Jumpstart, getting into the game is quick and easy, which is always important when you have eager children tapping their feet to get into the action. Registration was fast and requires only a few basic pieces of information as well as an email confirmation. Once I was done activating, I was able to make my very own Viking. There are a few choices for character customization, but the in-game store offers many more choices (for a price, of course!).
From there, I hopped a dragon to head to the school and was offered a quiz to see which type of dragon was the best match for me. The quiz is a fun little survey of preferences that children are sure to want to try. The results aren't binding, so players have free rein to choose any type of dragon as their "match." Dragon choices will be familiar to fans of the books and film, like the Monstrous Nightmare and Hideous Zippleback. There were two choices that can be unlocked only if you've purchased the Dragons DVD from Walmart and received access codes, but overall there are enough choices that players will find something they're happy with to start out.
I decided on the Gronkle, which is a bit like a portly pig with a pair of pixie wings and a nasty underbite. When you initially choose your dragon egg, you hatch it and select its color pattern and name. Gronk seemed like the natural choice for a name, and I chose red, white, and blue as its color pattern, although any connection to the popular Patriots tight end is purely coincidental.
Exploring (and learning!)
There is a series of quests around the school grounds that introduce you to many of the popular characters from the film and TV show. The characters talk through both voice-overs and text, which is always a great feature for younger players. The quests get you familiar with the areas of the world and serve as a basic tutorial of what activities players can try out.
As with Jumpstart, School of Dragons does sprinkle in some learning within the fun of dragons and vikings, and the village of Berk is a great setting for several science-themed lessons. One of my first quests sent me out to collect rock samples and test them out to see which one glowed blue when heated to a certain temperature. There's a science lab where players can access their science kit, and as I tested out the rocks (with a little fiery assistance from Toothless), the instructor introduced the principles of the scientific method. And when I completed the task, all of the new information was logged in my journal so I could consult it any time. Other quests taught about viking culture, earth science, and basic scientific tools. As I worked through tasks, I unlocked new sections of my knowledge journal, and each entry introduced new scientific terms and explained some key points in a concise summary. It's hard to make a game that's both fun and educational, but School of Dragons does a good job with both departments.
Along with the quests, there are several minigames that players can sample. There's farming, which is the standard game of buying seeds, tending crops, harvesting plants, and paying to speed the whole thing up if you can't stand waiting. There's also fishing, which is surprisingly complicated. You equip a fishing rod, select your bait, and click on a fishing pond to cast your line. But when a fish takes the bait, you have to slowly reel him in by clicking on the reel gear. If you don't click enough, the fish will get free, but if you click too much, you'll snap your line. You have to make sure to click only when the slider is green and ease up when the fish wriggles. It's a different take on the fishing minigame, but it leaves you feeling as if you've had an epic struggle right out of "River Monsters" by the time you're done.
There are also a couple of games that you can play once your dragon is big enough for you to ride on. Fireball Frenzy is a target practice game where you move through an obstacle course on your dragon and have to aim carefully to hit certain targets (and avoid hitting others). Meanwhile, Thunder Run racing and Flight Club offer several race courses that have you navigating through all sorts of fun and challenging obstacles as you soar through the air. And for those who like to explore, there's a Wilderness zone where you can fish, fly, harvest, and do a little learning along the way.
As I completed tasks, my experience went up and I leveled up, as did my little dragon, Gronk. But pets need to be cared for, just like pretty much any pet in any other MMO. I had to keep him happy by playing games with him, and I particularly liked the game where I shined a beam of candlelight on the ground and he chased it around (just like dogs with a flashlight). I also had to keep his energy up by feeding him, although I was not as attentive to this as I should have been, so Gronk's energy got so low that he wasn't peppy enough to do Fireball Frenzy. From what I could tell, the only fix was to either buy food from the in-game store (which costs real life cash) or spend some time catching some fish, so I guess I'll have to plunk down with my fishing rod for a bit next time I'm on.
Overall, School of Dragons is nicely done and has many of the features that fans of Jumpstart will appreciate. The game is still pushing out new features as well, with the recent addition of clans (in-game guilds). There are also plans to add mobile versions of the game down the road so fans can sync their accounts with a variety of mobile devices and play the game on multiple platforms. Whether or not you're a fan of How to Train Your Dragon, the game is enjoyable enough to stand on its own and does a solid job in combining adventure in a kid-friendly MMO.
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to email@example.com.