Avatar: The Last Airbender Review (PS2)

Nickelodeonís hugely successful anime inspired television series makes its expected gaming debut, taking cues from a few recent favourite titles along the way.

In the interest of full disclosure, itís probably worth noting that Iíve never actually sat through a full episode of Avatar Ė I gather itís pretty smart and funny, or something, though. Aang Ė the titular Avatar Ė is, I believe, the only one to be able to harness the powers of the air-, earth-, water- and fire-benders, which makes him a unique and important figure in his world, although heís just a child. The gameís not really very clear on this, or any other story elements, however, which is a bit of a let down. Thereís a few mildly amusing moments, but nothing that feels like any kind of effort has been put in to accurately represent the format it stems from: no character development, or any real charm. A lot of this is the fault of the animation in the game, which doesnít even come close to the look of the show, and often looks disappointingly jerky.

Additionally, the cel shaded look of the game is horribly jagged when seen up close, and itís not much better when the action is zoomed out, either, often looking washed out and indistinct. The textures of objects like the rocks and buildings are so muddy that they often appear jarringly separate from the already low resolution ground and wall textures, which is equally disappointing. It all adds up to a game that would have looked average four or five years ago Ė certainly not up the standards of what weíve seen from the console of late, and certainly not up to the standards that Avatar fans have the right to expect from an adaptation. At least the gameís sound is accurate Ė the voices sound on target, and the music, while unmemorable, fits with the subject matter.

Character design is authentic, but the graphics feel flat and lifeless Thereís no real feeling of connection in the combat

The game itself is hardly the most offensive licensed property ever done Ė at least developers are no longer relying on the platform genre for any and all game adaptations. Still, itís a little stilted, and has its fair share of problems, especially once you start comparing it to its inspiration: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and the X-Men Legends series. Most of the elements from those games are there Ė the four characters which can be swapped at will, the special moves mapped to each of the controllerís face buttons, the upgradeable abilities, and so forth. Even the health and power meters are in the game, and are displayed in much the same way, though powers consume chi in Avatar.

Thing is, thereís none of the depth that made those games so compelling, and while its clearly aimed at a younger audience, the game does come off feeling entirely over simplified. For example, while the abilities for each character are upgradeable, thereís no real branching or choice as there was in X-Men Legends, and thereís certainly no need to use health potions, because every character in the game regenerates health automatically. Despite these simplifications, enemies routinely and oddly respawn, often within seconds of having been killed, which makes backtracking unnecessarily frustrating Ė though it does have the unexpected effect of making level grinding easy, meaning that Aang can be at full power by halfway through the game without too much trouble at all.

Expanding your party makes the game a lot easier

However, the most irritating problem with the game is its weak collision detection. Itís often entirely unclear whether attacks are hitting or not, unless you spend all of your time watching the enemyís health bar at the top of the screen. Thereís no tactile reaction from the controller, no reaction with the animation, and no change in the sounds used to signify any difference between a hit and a swing. This is especially frustrating, given the reliance of many enemies on blocking, meaning that if youíre unintentionally targeting one in a group who is blocking, half the time youíll end up being killed by the one standing behind you who isnít. Of course, Aang and the others can block, but itís too vague, and itís far too easy to get through the game by button mashing when you can, and then letting your health regenerate.

In the end, the game just doesnít work on the levels it should Ė it feels too sloppy and imprecise to work successfully as a childrenís game, and certainly doesnít have the cross-generational appeal that the television show itself has. Itís not a bad game, per se, but itís far from well put together, and lacks the intelligence that its source material has Ė both in terms of the show, and the games that have so obviously inspired it. While thereís plenty in the license to warrant this kind of adaptation, itís disappointing that the result is so bland.