October 16, 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.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fairly straightforward affair for game consoles. In the beginning, you control Aang as he sets out to meet up with his friends Sokka and then Katara. The character moves with satisfying speed around top-down 3D environments and uses his staff to battle enemies. You control him with the left analog and block, attack or turn temporarily invisible at the tap of a button. The primary selection of maneuvers is basic, to put it mildly, but a simplified and surprisingly intuitive RPG mechanic enables you the option to equip items and enhance the abilities of your characters. You also unlock new moves as you level up throughout the game. Even so, your heroes will never advance beyond a normal attack and four special moves, thus inevitably the combat will become predictable. This is perhaps a drawback to the genre just as much as it is the game.
Still, THQ's Australia Studio has compensated for this truth by including the ability to control characters beyond Aang, including 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.
|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
Features: Memory Unit