November 29, 2006 - Nickelodeon has with Avatar: The Last Airbender created an anime-style show that appeals to both kids and adults. We know because we're probably not the cartoon's target audience, and yet we watch it religiously - even as we are mocked by family and friends. The show follows the exploits of a whimsical hero named Aang - the Avatar - who has been tasked with the lofty challenge of battling an entire nation of enemies and restoring piece to a war-torn land. Aang is an Airbender, which means that he can manipulate air itself to fly, send wind tunnels at foes, and so on. But the young warrior will only be able to best the menacing threat of the Fire Nation once he has also learned the intricacies of Fire, Water and Earthbending, too. For only the Avatar is able to harness the power of all four elements.
The show runs with this premise and is complemented by a cast of likeable characters, including Aang's friends Katara (who is herself a young Waterbender) and Sokka, a loud-mouthed teenager whose primary ability is his conviction. Between regularly funny wise-cracks, the series dishes out enough well-choreographed action sequences to satisfy Jackie Chan and Jet Li fans combined. It is, to be short, good entertainment that can be enjoyed on multiple levels by multiple demographics.
The game, developed by THQ's Australia Studio, is designed largely for kids and it does succeed as an entertaining, but slightly shallow beat-'em-up set in the Avatar universe. That noted, as a playable entity, Avatar oftentimes lacks the color, wit and the high-flying action of its television predecessor, which is sure to be a disappointment for any diehard fans.
The Wii version of the title is a direct port of the GameCube one with predictably updated controls. Some of these additions are welcomed. For instance, to perform some bending feats, you will be taken to a special screen where you will use the Wii remote to draw a line or two of calligraphy. This simple process is nevertheless fun and it makes us wonder why games that put greater emphasis on such mechanics - like Okami - have yet to see the light of day on Nintendo's system.
However, other Wii controls feel tacked on, if not altogether forced. For instance, the motion accelerometer in the nunchuk is now utilized to pan the camera forward or backward when necessary. Gamers simply hold the C button and tilt forward or backward respectively, but it doesn't feel right and, indeed, borders on the mechanically clunky. Meanwhile, special bending maneuvers that were unleashed with the tap of a button in previous iterations of Avatar are now executed by holding down the B trigger and motioning up, down, left or right with the Wii remote. On the one hand, using gestures to perform these combat feats is slightly more immersive than mashing a button. On the other, the timing is more difficult and as a result there is a greater chance that Aang won't always deal out the menacing move being gestured, which is a disappointment.
THQ's Australia Studio has included the ability to control characters beyond Aang, such as the aforementioned heroes Katara and Sokka, as well as Haru and, in some cases, even Momo, a cuddly lemur who usually rests on the Avatar's shoulder. A simple tap on any side of the D-Pad switches between the characters, each of whom has unique powers. For instance, Katara is the Waterbender and natural healer and as such she is the one to use to navigate fire-based obstructions and when a party member needs to be revitalized. The developer could have easily included these heroes as cosmetic additions, but there is some substance to each of them, which is welcomed.
Avatar includes just enough of the right spice to keep the gameplay interesting, although it never aspires to be riveting. Character control is impressively responsive, but collision detection on combat feels flimsy at best. When you slam a Fire Nation guard with Aang's staff, you never really feel as though you've dealt this foe a deadly blow. The connection is muddled. There are a wide variety of recognizable and new locations, just as there are old and new faces to behold. Unfortunately, the software house has used voice work and facial animation sparingly so most of these inhabitants lack the color of their television counterparts. And while the game succeeds as a decent beat-'em-up, it captures very little of the show's intense action sequences. To give you an idea of this, in the Nickelodeon cartoon, Aang soars into the air and flips about acrobatically, but in the game the character can't even jump, let alone fly.
Despite these omissions, we believe that kids - especially those who watch and like the television show - will probably still find some good fun in this game. The story is coherent, the characters look and talk more or less like their television originals, there are a few solid jokes, and the overall control mechanics and level designs are passable. That all being said, the game has one glaring, nearly inexcusable omission, which is the lack of a multiplayer mode. Just about every beat-'em-up of the last decade has included - at the very least - a two-player mode, but Avatar is solely a single-player affair. Tsk, tsk - surely kids would have enjoyed the option to play with their friends.
Avatar: The Last Airbender gets a passing grade, but unlike the fun and entertaining television show, the game falls well short of greatness. As a straightforward beat-'em-up, the title seems to have the right formula, including solid control and a surprisingly intuitive character upgrade system. It even includes a strong selection of levels and characters. But the game rarely represents the Nickelodeon show well, sometimes lacking satisfying collision detection during combat, featuring sparse voice work and facial animation, and omitting a multiplayer mode altogether. In the show, the Avatar's primary power is that he can fly. He's an Airbender and he can take to the skies. In the game, he rarely leaves the ground.
The Last Airbender flies to Wii as a direct port of the previous iterations with updated controls. For the most part, the control enhancements are beneficial to the experience. I especially like the challenges where you must use the Wii-mote to draw calligraphy. Meanwhile, I could honestly take or leave the amendments introduced to combat control – specifically, instead of tapping buttons to execute special bending moves, you now hold the B trigger and motion up, down, left or right with the pointer. Sure, it can be more immersive, but it's also a little clunkier than simply mashing a button.
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
Features characters and locations from the show and capitalizes on the general storyline. But comes up way short where color and action are concerned.
Passable, but nothing exceptional. Some environments come to life with foreground particles. Characters animate speedily. Lacking collision detection. The heroes aren't identical to the TV originals.
Good, but not great. Some funny one-liners and solid ambient music.
A solid beat-'em-up, but again not exceptional. Kids may like it. However, we question why, in a game about a flying hero, can't the hero fly?
Decent fun while it lasts, but it's short -- and amazingly there's no multiplayer mode.
(out of 10 / not an average)
Clips: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book 2: Earth / Volume 1
Two mind-bending clips from the upcoming DVD set.
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ESRB Content Descriptors: Realistic Violence