Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender

The PSP version of this hack-and-slasher ends up even more half-baked than its PS2 big brother.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 25, 2006
When it comes to PSP development, there are two options: port the whole of the PS2 experience over and try as best as possible to replicate that experience sans two shoulder buttons, an analog stick and about 100MHz of power, or just rework things entirely and go with something that approximates the bigger cousins on consoles.

For years now, the first choice wasn't really an option; home consoles were too powerful and handhelds too weak, and though the PSP is here, now, and clearly the most powerful handheld on the market, it's still crippled unnecessarily by firmware, leaving it a bit gimped. Maybe that's why THQ's Australian dev house did what they did, breaking the game down into bite-sized chunks and retooling the whole presentation for the PSP rather than leaving the game as the open-streamed world of the PS2 version.

Otherwise, though, the games are more or less the same; you still control Aang, Sokka, Katara and Haru, still have RPG-ish elements mixed with the hack-and-slash gameplay, and still complete the same quests, still upgrade the same way, still have the same items and item drops and still have the same basic combat. The game is simply compartmentalized, so by all means read the PS2 review, it really is the same game, just a different take on it. I'll only spend the last few paragraphs here going over the minor cosmetic differences.

They are minor, limited to a more top-down perspective, a slightly chunkier framerate, and fewer enemy types (you mainly just go up against endless seas of troops). The maps have been trimmed and whittled down a little, making the scope of the game seem a bit smaller -- even beyond what is already limiting about the fact that you'll encounter countless screen transitions. The same gripes I had with the PS2 version stick around here; enemies don't really react to your attacks, they just sort of keel over without absorbing the impact, and when there are a lot of them on the screen -- particularly later on where some environmental effects are introduced, the framerate can chug.

As expected, the audio is more truncated too; the voice acting is skimpy at best, limited to grunts and yelps for the most part, though the effects do seem to be the same as the PS2 version. The music, too, is stripped down, and often I just noticed ambient effects rolling through. I'm trying to recall a single memorable track in the game, and it just ain't happening. This isn't in stark contrast to the music of the console version, as it was relatively forgettable too, but it bears some mentioning.

The biggest problem that I have with the PSP version of Avatar isn't that it's stripped down; that's something that one expects in a PS2 to PSP port. That they kept all the quests in and the world more or less the same (just presented differently and without the same kind of scale or detail) is fine by me, but the combat (and enemies for that matter) seem far more lifeless, and given that there wasn't much life to begin with, it just sort of makes the game feel like a mindless trudge from one screen to the next. Getting lost isn't unheard of, as there are times where it's only a few steps between screen breaks, and again, it doesn't feel like either the source material or the gameplay really reach a level where either could stand on their own.

In the end, both fail, and the PSP version of Avatar ends up being even more bland and unappealing than its console cousin. If you're a psycho fan of the series, the PS2 version will probably sate you for a while, but I can't think of anyone that would actively enjoy the pared down experience of the PSP port.
The Verdict