Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

Avatar: The Last Airbender is based on the popular cartoon featured on Nickelodeon.  Developed internally, by Studio Oz (THQ Studio Austrailia), Avatar is the story of Aang the Avatar, who is tasked with basically saving the world from the Fire Nation and others, while using his abilities as the last Airbender, which allows him to manipulate air to fly, send wind gusts and his foes, and the like.

As one of the games released on the Xbox in its waning days, will Avatar soar with the eagles, or will it suffer from a terminal case of crash and burn?

One of the first things that you’ll notice about the graphics for Avatar is that they’re cel-shaded, much like those in Zelda: The Wind Waker or One Piece.  It serves for a nice animation style, keeping it close to the roots of the television show.  All of the characters show a good bit of animation, and the characters themselves as well as the environments show a fair amount of detail.

While this game might not be one of the prettiest games on the Xbox console, it’s definitely quite solid graphically.  The cutscenes in the game are presented in wide-screen format, and appear to be done with in-game graphics, which are nice.  While having animated cutscenes similar to the cartoon series might have been better, it’d also detract from the immersion level.

One drawback is that while you’re continuously upgrading your characters’ equipment and armor, none of this shows up on the character itself.  It’s a small thing, but it would definitely help with the game’s immersion level.

The music is the first thing that jumps out at you as you play Avatar.  The music is quite obviously inspired by Middle Eastern sounds, seeming a blend of Arabic and Persian music, with a hint of Indian influence as well.  The music is very striking and sounds very nicely. 

The voices are also well done for all of the characters.  One of the interesting things is that you can almost always hear passing conversations when you approach people, both friendly and foe.  In fact, on enemies, the conversation stops when they see you, which is a nice touch.

The sound effects in the game are well-done, including the cases where the game slows down for a special attack.  The sound effects actually slow down along with the combat, which makes for a nice aural effect. 

The controls in Avatar are pretty simple.  A handles your basic attacks, X blocks, Y searches for items and allows you to talk to other people in the Avatar’s world, while B allows you to enter a timed stealth mode, as well as exit said mode.

The left thumbstick controls your character, while the directional pad allows you to change between one of four characters on the fly, and the right thumbstick allows you a limited amount of camera control.  The white button uses medicine to replenish your health while the black button uses chi medicine which, of course, replenishes your chi. 

The left trigger alone allows you to target an enemy or slide, while pressing it with B allows you to control Momo the lemur.  The right trigger is used primarily in the game’s menus, although when combined with any of the A, B, X or Y buttons, it unleashes one of the character’s special Bending moves.  Finally, start pauses the game while back opens up the game menu.

The controls are pretty solid for what they are, although the right trigger seems to be quite sensitive, and you’re likely to find yourself unleashing a Bending attack when you really meant to just talk to the NPC before you.  It’s more of a minor issue than anything worth avoiding a game over, however.  Also, the block button is rather awkwardly placed on the X instead of on B.  It makes it a bit harder to block in the middle of a frenzied combat, and is more of an issue in boss battles, perhaps, than anywhere else.

Avatar is the story of Aang, a young twelve year old Airbender who is also the Avatar, who has been trapped in an iceberg for over a hundred years.  Returning to a world which has changed significantly from what he recalls, he has to hone his powers and master the four elements in time to save the world from the Fire Nation. 

At its roots, the game is a very simple and straightforward beat ’em up.  You travel from area to area, exploring and fighting wave after wave of enemies that repop off screen after a time, completing quests for various NPCs and advancing the story alone.  You begin the game as Aang, but soon increase the cast of characters, adding Sokka, Katara and Haru to the party as the game progresses. 

The AI for the uncontrolled characters, as with the AI for the game itself, is rather hit or miss.  Sometimes your allies will attack the enemies, sometimes they’ll stand around while you flail away.  It really doesn’t matter, though, as the enemies seem to be similarly lacking in strategic skill.  Enemies rush right in, attacking en masse and rarely pose much of a challenge.  Bosses aren’t much better, either, as there’s a set pattern to each one, and it doesn’t take very long before the pattern is discovered.

The characters are nicely done as far as fleshing them out, and it really feels like each character could have their own game, instead of everything being about Aang, with the other three relegated to secondary roles.  In fact, a number of the hidden items in the game can only be revealed by using one of the other three characters.  You’ll know you found one of these items due to a large question mark above your head, and the vibration of your controller.  When you find the right spot, the screen helpfully tells you to press Y for a focus move.  This will open up a short rhythm-based minigame, where you have to press the correct button at the correct time four times in a row or, if you miss any, enough to counteract the misses. 

Equipment can be found, bought, or crafted from items picked up along the way.  Each item has a different rarity level with more rare items having better bonuses.  You can also easily tell if an item will give you more or less of a bonus in any particular area before putting it on.  Unfortunately, there’s no cosmetic changes to the character for putting on different items, which is sad, but is no different than other similar games (such as X-Men Legends).  You can have up to three items of equipment on at any time, as well as three trinkets.  These are quite necessary to success in the game, as they boost your stats to where you can survive combat for extended periods of time.  There are even set items, which give you increased bonuses if you wear more than one piece of them.  Unlike games such as Diablo 2 and Titan Quest, the set items aren’t randomly found, but are set to be dropped in each particular area.  Still, it’s a nice addition.

The game features a fair amount of extras, including three different art galleries and a trailer for the Avatar cartoon DVD.  The art galleries are locked, and must be unlocked before viewing.  It would have been nice to have a few more, but anything is really good when it comes to bonus content.

It has to be said, however, that this game is strictly a single-player experience.  This is a pity, as the game is primarily aimed at kids.  It would have been nice to allow two or four children the opportunity to play together in this title, but hopefully if there’s a sequel, this can be rectified.

There really isn’t a lot of depth to this title.  It’s basically a straightforward beat ’em up, and unless you have the urge to go through and try to find every little item in every area that the game keeps track of, there’s really no reason to do any more in the game than the storyline requires. 

The game has a solid 15-20 hour story, which seems to be pretty average for this type of game.  There’s really nothing beyond the game to give it any replayability however, and without multiplayer, this is more of a title that’ll be picked up and played through once before collecting dust on the shelf, or traded or sold off to someone else.

This is a good rental title for anyone who likes Avatar or something for the kids to play for a few days.  A sale might be required for a purchase to be made, but fans of the series or someone who just wants a simple action-adventure game would probably be happy with this title.

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect out of this game.  I had never seen the TV series that it’s based on, and as such, I wasn’t really that enthused.  Right out of the gate, however, the game captivated me with the music and the quality of the voice acting, and the gameplay wasn’t half-bad either.  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really have any meat on the bones, so to speak, and it just felt like something that I’ve played before, many times.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the game, it’s more of a feeling of ‘been there, done that, slayed the dragon, got the t-shirt’. 

Still and all, it’s a solid effort, and fans of the series will definitely enjoy it.  The lack of multiplayer is a big hit against it, especially in a game aimed at children and pre-teens.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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