I'll admit, I'd never even heard of the show, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia, when the game arrived at my figurative desk. After a quick google, I was excited to see that the concept came from the illustrious Guillermo del Toro, who also does a lot of the writing. His Hollywood pedigree raised my expectations for the show somewhat and I wasn't disappointed. When I dutifully sat down to watch a few episodes before embarking on the review, I thoroughly enjoyed them. It has likeable characters, gorgeous animations and excellent dialogue. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the game.
I've thought in recent years that lazy video game tie-in cash cows are becoming less frequent. I distinctly remember playing a lot of absolute rubbish in my childhood that I'd bought because it had a favourite film or series in the name. Maybe I've got wiser over time, or at least more cynical, but it definitely seems like, with ballooning video game production costs, games based on popular films and shows are increasingly well-executed, high concept games in their own right. Let me tell you, Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia bucks that trend. It's well and truly keeping the flame of crappy game tie-ins burning.
Platform for Failure
Trollhunters is generously described by its publishers as a 2.5D platformer. What this amounts to in practice is a side-scrolling button-basher. The 2.5D platforming elements are minimal. You don't feel or look part of a wider world and basically just jump over pits and swing your sword at enemies. The game is developed by WayForward, who were involved in the excellent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, amongst other quality 2.5D platforming games. I optimistically hoped that meant this would be a solid entry into the genre. Sadly, those hopes were quickly dashed.
The game puts you in control of Jim Lake Jr., the protagonist and eponymous Trollhunter of the show. You and your merry band of Trollhunter pals set out to thwart the generic bad guy, Porgon, picking up companions, collecting coins and improving your gear along the way. The gameplay consists of dropping you into a level, where you hold right on the thumbstick, hammer Y when you see an enemy and press B to jump over a pit until you reach the end. Your supposed reward is being plonked at the beginning of another level and doing more or less the same thing again. Occasionally, you'll get a treat in the form of some impenetrable exposition or a change of scenery but that's about it.
Heartstone Trollmarket, the homeland metropolis of benevolent trollkind, serves as a hub of sorts, allowing you to speak to characters from the show, purchase items and unlock things with the collectibles you've picked up along the way. Other than that, it's level after identical level of tedious button-bashing. The game is clearly aimed at children but I reckon even a five year old would get bored of it pretty quickly.
Dwarfed by Comparison
The visuals of the Netflix show are a real high point. There, the world of Arcadia is rendered with the rich and colourful animation typical of a high budget DreamWorks title. This doesn't translate to the game at all. Aside from Trollmarket and a couple of other locations which look pretty good, the graphics are dull and lifeless. The underground levels are particularly drab. Jim and Claire's dull character models navigate these levels with a janky, disjointed gait that constantly reminds you that you're playing a video game, and a poor one at that. Quite frankly, it looks like it could be a PS2 game. Admittedly, I played it on the Switch, which isn't exactly known for its high-end graphical output. Still, it's hard to believe that the native console for Breath of the Wild has limited the visual end of the game this much.
Whenever there's dialogue, a welcome respite from the turgid gameplay, static sprites for the characters would appear onscreen beside the text. Even these looked like a cheap knock-off of their counterparts on the show.
The plot is also poor. The events of Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia are heavily premised on time travel. I know, I know, the warning bells are deafening. Time travel is a hard conceit to pull off no matter your budget or screenwriting panache. For a game with so little care put into it - and aimed at children to boot - it spells disaster. The plot will be totally incomprehensible for anyone who hasn't already watched the series. Even if you have, you'll struggle to piece together anything meaningful from this mess.
The writers seem like they give up about half way through the game. I wish I could have joined them. Any potentially momentous or comedic moments are spoiled by hackneyed and cliched dialogue. It'd be generous to call the characters two dimensional. Again, those unacquainted with the series will have little idea of who they are or what their personalities are like. The compelling and likeable characters from the show are replaced by saccharine drones. There came a point where I thought if I heard Tobey say “awesomesauce” one more time I’d chuck my Switch out of the window. I’m honestly surprised Guillermo del Toro was happy to put his name to this. If the writing’s anything to go by, he’s had very little involvement, if any.
Gremlins in the System
Trollhunters is also plagued by a number of very significant bugs. At points during my playthrough, certain enemies became invulnerable. At first, I thought this was an odd but deliberate design choice. After a while, though, the level broke down and became completely unplayable. I had to restart the game in order to fix it and this sent me back to the beginning of the level.
There was also a point - after I completed the game, thank the lord - that the client crashed and erased all my data. Luckily, there's absolutely no chance of me wanting to play it ever again so I wasn't too bothered. Still, it's not a sign of a game that’s had a lot of effort put into it.
To be honest, there are signs of that everywhere. Take the minigames, for example. I thought these would be a welcome diversion from the main quest but they’re so lazily executed and tedious that I gave up on them pretty quickly. Similarly, I stopped picking up socks and gnomes, Trollhunters’ collectible items, because the rewards for doing so were absolutely worthless.
Don't Feed the Troll
There are a few glimpses of light in the gloom of Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia. As you gather characters during your quest, they let you call upon their abilities in battle. I'd frequently call upon Tobey, who crashes onto screen with his warhammer to clear debris blocking your path. This varies gameplay somewhat but not enough. One character is added into the game so late on that you barely get a chance to use him. I think I actually only used his ability once.
The soundtrack is pretty good: I suspect they've reused the score from the show. This isn't too much of a problem, as the dramatic orchestral pieces manage to build a decent amount of tension in the game’s final act. Some of the pieces could get a bit repetitive though.
The voice acting is also solid, albeit hampered by the weak writing. The voices are all done by the same actors who appear on the show, lending some star quality to an otherwise dull affair.
Sadly, those limited qualities aren't enough to save a game that's doomed to a life of being passed from one unwitting kid to another via parents on Facebook Marketplace. Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia is the epitome of cashing in on a franchise. It’s rare that I actually feel angry at a game for wasting my time. Well, Trollhunters managed that if nothing else.
TechRaptor reviewed Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Steam.
- The Soundtrack Manages to Build Tension in Later Sections
- The Voice Acting is Decent
- Boring, Unimaginative Gameplay
- Drab Graphics
- Incomprehensible Plot
- Lazy, Cliched Dialogue