Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender

THQ Australia cooks up a decent, if rather bland hack-and-slasher.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 25, 2006
page 1 page 2   next
The d-pad is one of those things that a lot of people -- developers included -- just sort of forget is there. Perhaps without thinking you use it to navigate menus, but most characters are controlled with the analog sticks, and have been for the better part of a decade. So maybe that's why it seems so odd that when Raven Software decided to take the basic hack-'n-slash gameplay of Snowblind Studios' stunningly pretty (and fun) Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and added four more characters that could be hot swapped at any time, who knew it would end up being such a big hit? They may not have been the first, but X-Men Legends was easily the biggest example of the control setup, so it's not surprising that another developer would try to duplicate that basic mechanic.


That developer, at least in this case, happens to be THQ's Australian dev house, who essentially borrowed the basic concepts of toggled special attacks and quick character switches, and applied them to the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender one of the most deceptively approachable cartoons Nickelodeon has ever aired. Both kids and adults can enjoy it, thanks to a mature handling of themes like honor and loss and betrayal that doesn't give them that saccharine coating most kids' shows have.

The good news is that, on the most basic level, the Ozzie wing of THQ did a fair job of melding the TV show with the basic gameplay. The problem is that as time goes on, it becomes more obvious that both are just sort of there to prop things up; the characters never really feel deep or nuanced enough, the themes aren't really explored on the same level as the show, and the gameplay is unfortunately rather wooden and lifeless. It's not a bad game, mind you, it's just not a game that could either stand on its own or do the source material justice.

For those that aren't familiar with the show, there are four nations in the Avatar world tuned to specific elements: the Water Tribe, Air Nomads, Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. Some born within each of these nations have the innate ability to "bend" their respective elements, controlling things like fire and water. Once per generation, a child is born that can bend all four elements, and this is the Avatar. Aang, a precocious 12-year-old is that Avatar, though when he learns of the info and an impending battle, he flees his home with the Air Nomads and is accidently frozen with his flying bison Appa for 100 years. When he emerges, the Fire Nation that started the war is nearly on the bring of finishing it, having pressed the other nations to their brink.

See? Not just kids stuff, and at least on the show, it's all handled well. Aang befriends Katara, a Waterbender, and her brother Sokka, who has no powers but still manages to hang with the group. With war coming, Aang must learn all four bending arts and take his place as the Avatar, which sort of what the game is all about, though the process is apparently filled with lots of button mashing and fetch questing. This in and of itself isn't a big deal, since both X-Men Legends and Snowblind's games like BGDA and the Champions series rely heavily on this sort of thing.

It's not even in how the game handles things like items, equipment, and stat boosts (you do have the ability to pour a few points into major skills for things like health, defense, magic and so on), new moves and upgrades to existing ones; all are done on a basic level, but it's in the execution of these things that problems start to pop up. Yes, these are the characters from the show, but they don't feel borrowed from it, plus the combat is rather weak and has no real oomph, though that may be because the visuals as a whole aren't terribly reactive. Just as perplexing is the fact that the game requires the use of the analog stick to move around in menus. It's not a huge deal, but it is a bit clunky compared to that d-pad I mentioned a couple hundred words ago.

page 1 page 2   next