Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

When you think of franchises coming from Nickelodeon, the ones that probably come to mind first are Spongebob Squarepants or the Rugrats.  While you might be correct, another series from Nickelodeon is picking up steam.  That series is Avatar: The Last Airbender.

In Avatar, the land is separated into different nations based on the specific element they have the ability of manipulating.  These are Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.  For a long time, these four nations lived in harmony.  Only one man, the Avatar, had the ability to control all four elements.  When the Avatar disappeared, the Fire Nation aggressively launched a war against the other nations.  After 100 years, Aang was found frozen within an iceberg by Sokka and Katara, a brother and sister from the Water Nation.  Aang is the new Avatar.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender for the PSP, you follow Aang, Katara, Sokka, and others in their quest to fight the Fire Nation and stop them from taking over the entire land as Aang learns to master all of the elements.

The best word to use to describe the graphics is “bland.”  Aang, Sokka, Katara, and the other members of the world are recreated in full 3-D close to their cartoon counterparts.  However, the detail in the textures is lacking in the characters.  Aang’s orange and yellow outfit looks flat.  The members of the Fire Nation all have blue and white outfits, but they look flat without any depth to them.  Even the characters don’t look like they have much depth at certain angles. A few graphical glitches exist sometimes causing characters to intersect each other.  Other times you feel like hits should connect, but they don’t register.

The backgrounds do look a little better.  Buildings walls and floors have appropriate textures whether they are made of stone or brick.  Cracks and bumps in ice show how it is molded from the elements. Unfortunately, the graphics of the backgrounds are very blocky with low polygon counts.

The graphics do have a few positives.  The animations are all very well done.  Aang’s orange top sways as he runs.  The strides he takes as he runs look natural and not exaggerated.  Aang is smooth as he attacks enemies with a fluidity missing from many titles.  Also, some nice particle effects are added to the game with the different element-bending moves.  The particles in the fire and air attacks are particularly impressive.

The music in the game has an Oriental feel to it, full of minor chords and high-pitched whistles.  The light percussion instruments add slight accents to the music.  When encountering enemies, the music changes to indicate that a battle is upon you.  The music really fits the look of the game.

The fighting sound effects have an appropriate oomph to them.  However, they all feel very similar to each other.  While moving, the footsteps sound different depending on the surface being run on.  You’ll also be sorely disappointed if you are expecting to hear the voices of any of the characters from the show.  Occasionally you’ll hear someone react to being hit, but other than that the voices are surprisingly silent.

The controls are a bit more complex than what you’d expect from an action game.  Movement is handled with the analog nub.  The X button performs a melee attack while Triangle makes a bending move.  Circle does actions like opening doors or examining chests.  The L button switches characters when you have more than one character in your party, and R brings up a quick menu that allows you to use items that restore your Honor Points (like Hit Points) or you Chi (used for special attacks).

The game controls decently.  The characters move properly, but there are times when you are in the middle of an attack animation and you leave yourself vulnerable.  You also have to increase your stats to increase the power and speed of your melee attacks.  This makes the controls feel unresponsive at first.  It’s also confusing at times which button switches characters and which one opens the menu so that you can heal yourself in the thick of battle.

Avatar: The Last Avatar follows the adventures of Aang and his friends Sokka and Katara.  Most of the game follows Aang, but occasionally you’ll go solo with other characters.  You travel through different areas fighting the Fire Nation, acquiring quests from the local townspeople, and earning experience.

Avatar has a bit of an action RPG feel to it.  When you level up you can increase your Power which increases your fighting effectiveness, Mind which increases your Chi, and Vitality which increases your Honor Points.  As you gain experience, you are able to gain new skills.  You can increase these skills individually when you level up.  There are actually quite a few attacks that each character has.  You really need to increase these skills throughout the game to get better attacks later.

Most of the levels center around a town.  When you enter a town you can chat with the people.  If a person has a quest, you see an exclamation point over their head.  Most of these are the typical FedEx quests.  These go into your journal where you can keep track of all the quests you have.  While some of the quest givers provide a general area to head towards, most of the time you have to do a lot of backtracking to find out where you are supposed to go.  The lack of direction gets frustrating.

In the town there are shopkeepers.  Here you can purchase items that restore your Honor Points or your Chi as well as armor that can give you resistance against certain elemental attacks.  These can go on your body, waist, neck, or finger.  Having these items can really help you survive against attacks.  Still, dying doesn’t have a huge number of drawbacks.  You end up at a save point with all of your Honor Points and Chi restored.  That means that you don’t feel too worried about dying during an attack.

While the fighting has a lot of variety it ultimately feels underwhelming.  Most of the enemies that you fight look the same.  The enemies are all pretty stupid, rarely putting up much of a challenge.  You rarely use anything more than the original melee attack.  You do get some special moves, but those are used sparingly.  The boss battles help to break up the monotony of the game.  Still, they aren’t that much of a challenge with the help of the special attacks and healing potions.

The characters that join you actually are more than just cosmetic.  Sokka is a warrior with strong attacks.  Katara is a natural healer.  They could have just been cardboard cutouts, but having a specific role actually brings them more depth than is normal for this style of game.  They could have developed the game strictly around Aang, but the ability to use other characters is a nice addition.

The game loads specific areas of the environment.  Unfortunately, those areas aren’t very big.  When you move out of an area the game has to load that information from the UMD.  While the load times aren’t bad they are more frequent than they should be.

The game gets boring rather quickly with the monotonous gameplay.  With all of the backtracking and the lack of direction for the quests this makes the game longer than it really should be.  The game has several quests in each level, and there are several levels in the game though.

The ability to change how your character develops through the game is a nice addition.  You can develop the characters however you want.  Most people won’t want to play through it again just to develop their character differently though.

Ultimately, Avatar: The Last Airbender feels a lot like any other licensed game.  The graphics are below average.  The combat is monotonous.  The storyline is uninspired.  Younger kids who enjoy the TV series might enjoy the game, but unless you are an avid fan of Aang then you are probably better off passing on the portable version and sticking with the show.

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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