Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Video Game Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender

This Saturday, April 14th, marks the series premiere of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first two episodes, "Welcome to Republic City" and "A Leaf In The Wind" have already been put up for free viewing on Nick's website. I've watched them both multiple times and already I'm in love with the series.

In light of this I wanted to do a review related to the series in some way. Unfortunately I can't really review the Korra series based on two episodes and anything I could say about the Aang series would basically boil down to "this sure is a good show, you should watch it" and that wouldn't make for very interesting reading.

So instead, I'll be looking at some of the really BAD things associated with The Last Airbender. No, not Shyamalan's version, I already covered that. No, I'll be looking at something even worse if you can believe it: Avatar: The Last Airbender the video game. Three games, in fact, two for the Gameboy Advance and one for the Nintendo DS.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender, the creatively titled first game in the series, is set just before the first season finale...I think. Honestly, it's not entirely clear. Unlike the other game I'll be looking at, this story is what is called a gaiden or "parallel story," a story that branches off from - but is not actually a part of - an existing story.

The problem is, the story is quite possibly the worst part of this whole mess. It's about an angry Earth Kingdom mechanist who creates her own artificial avatar (basically a giant robot with elemental powers) in order to destroy the imperialist Fire Nation. Trust me when I say that description makes it sound much better than it is. None of this plot means anything, it's mostly just sort of there. Then, there's references to the machines being made of "a metal that's stronger than metal" and also the idea that destroying a statue of the avatar will kill him, both completely asinine concepts the show never would have insulted our intelligence with.

I do have to admit, there was at least a little bit of promise in the basic concept. If the development team had actually been competent then this might have been an awesome bit of extended universe material for the series. As it is, however...

KR Rating: [2] BAD

Avatar: The Burning Earth
Unlike the previous game, The Burning Earth actually takes place at a recognizable point in the show's actual timeline: specifically, it covers (and I use the term very loosely) the events of the second season, although everything after the episode The Drill (for those who haven't seen the show, this episode is about a drill) are "hidden" levels only accessible if you score high enough in all the previous levels. Even then it stops just before the season finale, presumably because developers Halfbrick hate the world.

At least the first game had the decency to try to tell you a story. Sure, you'd be lost if you didn't already watch the show, but at the very least the events of the game itself were coherent if not entirely plausible. Burning Earth, on the other hand, doesn't explain anything, instead relying on your own memory of the show to explain what the Hell's going on.

Here's the really big thing, though. We don't really need all that stuff if the game is at least fun. When I played Shaman King: Master of Spirits, also for the GBA, it didn't matter that I'd never seen the show, or that I had no idea who Yoh was or why he had a samurai ghost following him around. The game was a really fun Castlevania-style platformer and you could get some really cool abilities, and that was enough.

As much as I did enjoy launching baddies sky high as the earthbender Toph in the few levels she appeared in most of this game is just a boring series of switch puzzles. The first game had promise but was killed by a half-ass execution. This game never even cared at all and sucks on just about every conceivable level.

KR Rating: [0] SHOVEL

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Into The Inferno
After the previous two failures they made one last game a year later based off the show's third and final season. There are two notable changes here and both of them made the game somehow even worse than its predecessors.

The first and most obvious change is the switch from sprite-based graphics to 3D-rendered models. Words can not describe how monumental of a mistake this was. The Ember Island Players looked more like the actual characters than these models do.

Above: The GBA graphics. Below: The "improved" graphics, which show the giant sky bison Appa and the tiny lemur Momo as not only being the same size as each other, but the same size as everyone else too.

The second change is to the control system. The endless, tedious switch puzzles and boring combat are still intact, much to the delight of masochists everywhere, but rather than being controlled with the directional pad like a real game, they decided to do absolutely everything with the stylus and the touch pad, an acceptable decision if you're making a puzzle game like Trauma Center but very much less appropriate for an adventure game.

After playing this game I now understand why babies cry when there's nothing wrong with them. This game is everything that's wrong with the world.


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