Review: Avatar (PSP)

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Good: Decent graphics, variety of bending powers

Bad: Slow, sluggish combat, stupid companion AI, mediocre sound

Imagine: Not being able to move your legs and arms at the same time

When it comes to multi-system licensed-product videogame releases, it's inevitable that one of those versions is going to be worse than the others. In the case of Nickelodeon's Avatar, which has just been released on every conceivable system, that worst entry would be the PSP version.

Much like the other versions of Avatar, this one picks up shortly after the series left off, with the main hero Aang up at the Northern Water Tribe. Shortly thereafter, the Fire Nation attacks the town, kidnaps Kitara, and Aang and Sokka set off to rescue her. The story is minimal for the most part, but it does an adequate job of taking Aang and Co. to a wide variety of locales, several of which will be recognizable to fans of the television show.

Also like the other versions, Avatar for PSP follows an action-RPG-lite game model. Combat takes place in real time, and the party gains experience and levels for defeating enemies. Players can use the right trigger to access their quick items, and use the pause menu to view the map, check mission objectives, put points into bending skills, and equip your characters. It's all standard fare for veterans of other hack-and-slash RPGs, but it's a nice change of pace for children's gaming. The action takes place through a variety of 3-D maps similar in design to the DS version, but without that version's rotatable camera. It's a seemingly obvious feature that is sorely missing in this version.

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Unfortunately, that's not the only problem with this version. The battle system in particular feels unbearably sluggish. Your character is incapable of moving and attacking at the same time, making combat seem extremely slow. This is only worsened by the fact that even the most basic enemies have obscenely high amounts of health points and take seemingly forever to kill.

The attack animations are dull and do little to add any kind of excitement to the monotonous fighting. Making matters even worse is the sluggish AI displayed by Aang's party, which grows to include Sokka, Katara, and Haru. You have the option of taking control of these characters at any time, but when left up to computer control, they have a funny way of getting themselves killed.

The game is also rather short. Most players should be able to blow through the main adventure over the course of a weekend, and after that there's really not much else to do. The lack of multiplayer is very curious, as this type of game would have been perfect for co-op. As is, you're left with the short single-player adventure and not much else.

Graphically, Avatar looks fairly decent for a PSP game, and does a good job capturing the source material. The inclusion of pre-rendered videos is a nice touch, and the 3-D environments are impressive. The character models look good, but the animation is stiff at times, particularly during combat. Also, the lack of a controllable camera often hurts visibility and makes exploring more painful than it needs to be.

Sound is OK, but unremarkable. The inclusion of voice-overs is nice, but they're relatively sparse. Sound effects are for the most part passable, although somewhat forgettable. The soundtrack is hit-or-miss, with a few alright songs and some that really grate the nerves.

The PSP version of Avatar is sure to please some fans of the show with its presentation, but the sluggish combat is so grating that only the most die-hard fans will bother finishing. If you absolutely have to pick up one of the Avatar games, try one of the other versions.

Graphics: 7.0

Sound: 6.5

First Play: 5.0

Replay Value: 4.5

Gameplay: 5.0

Overall: 5.2

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