Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia Review

October 8, 2020
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
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You’d think that video games based on TV shows would be a lot more common. Unlike with movies, TV shows are inherently broken into short chapters with cliffhanger endings that are designed to keep you watching for anywhere from four to twenty-four hours, which means that games adapted from serials shouldn’t have to put much work into developing their stories. However, it’s clear that there must be something else at play when developers are deciding what to base their games on, because save for the mixed bag of Walking Dead games, there haven’t been many interactive stories with roots on the stuff that takes up air time. After playing Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia, though, it seems like this is probably for the best.

In Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia, then, you take control of Jim Lake Junior in the Trollhunter universe. Like with many episodes of the game’s source material, a surprisingly well-received Netflix show, you start the game hunting trolls in New Jersey when something goes haywire and you’re tasked with solving whatever the problem is. For some reason, your task sends you into a previous alternate timeline, strips away one dimension of your vision and forces you to jump over a lot of enemies in order to save the world.

This story’s already off to a bad start

Like with that previous paragraph, the biggest sin in Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia is that  its story makes almost no sense. Immediately after booting up the game, you’re given an exposition dump that has more foreign words in it than a Russian dictionary. Then, without any explanation, you’re sent on a quest that requires you to be intimately familiar with the Trollhunter universe if you want to make sense of anything that’s going on. Over the game’s four-hour runtime, you frequently switch both timelines and tone as the game fails to stick to any single theme or idea. At times you’ll listen to not-Gandalf explain why you’re responsible for saving the troll race in the present, while at others the game will randomly have you engage in cutscenes that are set in the past where a fat kid makes fart jokes. 

To say that all of this is dumb is the understatement of the year, and unfortunately this feeling is exasperated by the game’s unenjoyable gameplay. Although it’s technically not terrible, playing Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia is the most mediocre experience that you can possibly have on your console. The game boils down to being Mario without anything that makes that franchise so entertaining. Over the course of the game, you do basic platforming that exclusively either involves sliding under obstacles or jumping between them. When you’re not dodging obstacles, you engage in one-button 2D combat with samey enemies that drop coins which can be spent on useless upgrades in a hub world. You have a limited pool of health, three lives with the ability to buy more with in-game currency if you run out, and occasionally there’s a boss that you need to defeat by dodging easily telegraphed attacks and by smacking the boss’s back.

Everyone say “McGuffin” on three!

None of this is bad, but to say that it’s anything close to enjoyable would be to give the game too much credit, because there’s just no originality to any of it. The levels are all but copy-pasted from better games in the genre, the combat couldn't be more uninspired if it was a 22-year-old stoner and even the game’s boss fights are seemingly just reskinned templates from other platformers. To the game’s credit, the gameplay is mostly bug free and the button layout is fairly intuitive, but that’s not saying much given that anyone with a Unity development kit could make the same game.

Really, the only way that Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia is remotely interesting is with its artstyle. Like with everything else in the game, it’s not exactly unique, but it does look good and the game runs well enough on the platforms Jump Dash Roll tested it on. The game also sounds okay, with some decent music and acceptable voice work. But all of this is hardly of note in an age when almost every game is proficient from a technical perspective. 

More like "when are you?"

Taken as a whole, then, Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia is a perfect example of why there aren’t more games based on TV shows. Although diehard Trollhunter fans may find something to enjoy in the game’s story, for everyone else, the game is little more than an uninspired, jargon-filled snoozefest. With gameplay that has less originality than a 13 year old’s essay based on Romeo and Juliet, graphics that meet the technical definition of passable and a story that’s confusing at best, there’s no reason to play this game over literally anything else.

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Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia’s gameplay is okay, its visuals are fine and its story is either a mess or passively engaging depending on your level of interest in its source material, which all makes for a game that should be skipped unless you’re insanely desperate for another form of media from the Trollhunter universe.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.