Saturday, October 28, 2006
Good: Generally good graphics, surprisingly deep for a kid's game
Bad: Bad AI, no camera control, uninspired missions, lack of immersion
Alternative To: Giving your child Diablo 2.
As far as kid's games are concerned, the console version of Avatar is a pleasant surprise in terms of genre. Instead of settling for a simple action adventure, the game's developers decided to go for a full out hack-and-slash action-RPG, something not often seen in kid's games. The result is an occasionally fun title that might appeal to fans of the show, but a large number of flaws keep it from greatness.
Like the various other versions of the game, the console Avatar picks up shortly after where the show left off. Aang, the hero of the series, is enjoying a little break with the Northern Water Tribe, when his vacation is ruined by a Fire Nation invasion. His friend Katara is kidnapped, leaving things up to Aang and Sokka. Throughout the course of the adventure, Aang and Co. will explore a wide variety of locales, several of which come straight from the show. The story itself ends up being fairly minimal, with a large number of fetch quests keeping the action moving along.
The flow of the game is very similar to other hack-and-slash RPGs such as Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Diablo. The action takes place from a top-down perspective, which is usually adequate, but the lack of a controllable camera is annoying. Players control one member of Aang's party at a time, which grows to include the show's main characters Sokka, Katara, and Haru. Each character has their own unique set of moves, which grows as the characters level up. By using the directional pad, players can select which character to control, and the others will follow along under AI control. Unfortunately, this AI tends to be pretty bad. Often, computer-controlled characters will run mindlessly into walls and get caught on small pieces of terrain.
As you progress through the story and mow down endless waves of enemies, your characters will eventually gain levels and money to buy better equipment. The number of statistics to consider and the wide variety of equipment you can use is surprisingly large for a kid's game, and actually one of the game's biggest draws. The number of bending powers available to the characters is also impressive, and figuring out which to use in any given situation adds a tiny bit of strategy to the otherwise mindless button-mashing. Unfortunately, outside of this, combat tends to be somewhat dull and unresponsive. Hitting your enemy yields little in the way of visual feedback, save for the drop in their health bar. This tends to make combat less than immersive, which is pretty bad considering how much of the game is dominated by fighting.
There are a few minor diversions along the way, but most of these are almost too simple for their own good. Occasionally, players will stumble across a hidden item and the game will prompt the player to enter Focus Mode. In this mode, players must hit a random combination of buttons as the buttons float in towards the middle of the screen. It's an interesting way of finding hidden items, but a little more variety of focus minigames for the different characters would have been nice.
Another small diversion is the Four Nations minigame, a collectible tile game that many of the townsfolk you encounter will want to play. Playing like a simple version of dominos, Four Nations requires you to match up colored tiles in effort to get rid of all the tiles in your hand. Most matches are fairly easy to win, and take less than a minute each. It's a nice addition, but most players will tire of it quickly due to its overly simple nature.
The story itself is pretty short, but a number of unlockables might tempt fans of the show to play through again. Further hurting the replay value is the complete omission of multiplayer. With the game's hack-and-slash gameplay and multiple characters, a multiplayer mode seems like it would have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it's nowhere to be found.
The game's cell-shaded graphics look pretty decent, and are one of the game's strongest suits. The character models animate fluidly and look good, but some minor differences in the art direction from the show might upset purists. Additionally, the environments are repetitive and fairly bland.
The voice-overs are good, but pretty sparse, even during key conversations. Sound effects are actually very minimal, which is especially disappointing during combat. The music is hit-or-miss with a few OK pieces and a lot of not OK pieces. Some of the songs seem to have the same two bars droning on and on to the point of migraines.
The end result is a children's game with a number of interesting elements and a surprisingly deep character development system. Unfortunately, a large number of problems and a relatively short length make it hard to justify this as more than a rental.
First Play: 6.5
Replay Value: 5.0