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Avatar: The Legend of Aang is a spin off computer game of the American television series which aired for three years between 2005 and 2008. Now, I never actually saw it on the TV. The only reason I came across it was because my brother downloads random stuff from the internet and Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of his more successful. Well, not for him because until I'd bought the DVD's I kept nicking his iPod to watch it. It is without a doubt a funny, heartwarming and charming cartoon series that mingles anime and American cartoon and it was a major hit. And if anything is a major hit then there will always be merchandise to take advantage of it. Usually I ignore it, but call me a fool on this occasion I couldn't resist.
Avatar: The Legend of Aang is based around the first series of Avatar: The Last Airbender and is based around the story of Aang, who is if you haven't guessed both the Avatar and the last Airbender. Currently this makes no sense whatsoever to you so I will explain. Each of the four nations have their own element; the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The benders (stop snickering) are people within these society's who have the power to use this power and harness it for either good or ill; so a Waterbender can move water which could be used to heal or could be used to harm. The avatar is the one is capable of bending all of the world's elements although he has a natural affinity to one type, there is only one alive in the world at any given time and when one dies another is born from a different tribe. Aang is the avatar, he is also the only surviving remnant from the Air Nomads after they were wiped out by the Fire Nation.
But Aang is also a twelve year old boy who without any adult supervision is more interested in messing about and having fun. Aang must master all four elements to bring peace and harmony back to the world and to stop the Fire Nation's otherwise inevitable domination over the world, and the first element he must master is water.
With a huge sigh of relief I am able to say that the game sticks pretty darn closely to the storyline of the original cartoon; if it hadn't I would have been more than a little bit disappointed. In fact, the opening scene of the game has been taken directly from the cartoon. It is probably what I would call an action RPG with the emphasis being on the action part of that couplet; although you do get the levelling up and new skills that would suggest an RPG title, the largest amount is sheer hit and slash action. If you've watched the television series then nothing in the plot is going to take you by surprise, but I don't know how far this game would really appeal if you are not already fans of the series.
There is to almost no point in this having RPG elements as there is no layer of choice to the game; the character levels up and that is about it. You don't get to pick equipment or stat increases. On the other hand you do get to choose your character out of a choice of four: Aang, the avatar, Katara a waterbender, Sokka her rather idiotic brother and Haru an earthbender who the group make friends with. Each of them has their own distinctive weapons and fighting styles, but the moves are basically the same so there's actually very little to distinguish between them.
The game is made up of seven chapters and you spend most of your time running around between NPC's collecting items for them and doing what they ask you to do along with beating the crud out of the Fire Empire other enemies, and this is probably what lets the game down most. There is very little variance in the game. Most of your time is spent running around on fairly mundane tasks or button mashing in order to kill as many people as possible. It becomes very repetitive very quickly as although there are different bending techniques there just aren't enough of them to keep the battles interesting, and the constant button mashing just gets boring. It's also not helpful that in order to beat the level bosses you often have to grind your level up by deliberately engaging in mundane battles.
During battles your allies are fighting alongside you and are controlled by the games AI system, which is another niggle of a let down in the game. To be bluntly honest they are about as thick as a plank of wood. At best they just won't help you much and at worst they will actively hinder your progress which does get irritating for obvious reasons. But despite the many, many battles and despite the grinding this isn't a game that will last you very long; it's easy enough to complete it in one sitting.
On the plus side the controls system is very easy to use and they have incorporated the touch screen into the menu system rather than the battle system. The menu system is very intuitive and works very well; you can easily switch characters, get items and look at the map without having to fumble or struggle, but for once it occurred to me that perhaps if they had included more of the touch screen in the main gameplay it might have been a little bit less monotonous.
Graphics wise it's quite pretty but nothing special, although luckily the cartoon style graphics that are in use don't date too quickly. The environments are done in a 3D fashion that is easy on the eye and the character sprites are more 2D within this. Some reviews have been head over heels with the environments but I never really found this; they didn't irritate me with their awfulness but equally there was nothing there that made me sit up and go 'Wow'. The cut scenes are quite nice though; they're simple stylistically but this in keeping with the overall anime. One thing that I was impressed with is that the characters are all in keeping with the show, as it is very often the case that game developers lose sight of the original film when they are making game adaptations. This is not the case here. It is very clear that the developers of the game have kept one eye very closely on the television series while making this and that is a relief for any fan.
The same is true in terms of in game sound. In terms of in-game music I did my usual trick of listening to it in order to put it in the review and then turned it off due to game music always driving me insane after a while (notable exception Chrono Trigger). Much like the majority of the graphics the sound is decent; there's nothing there that's going to really stand out but probably not much to really irritate you unless you're like me with a hatred of game music. It's very understated and you get the impression that this definitely wasn't where the effort went into the game. The exception to the rule again would have to be the cut scenes where the rest of the sound in the game is somewhat saved by the inclusion of real voice acting but the actors who actually played the parts in the television series. This is a rarity in any game really, but particularly in the DS field and is probably the highlight of the game.
At points it feels like you are watching an episode of the series, at points it feels like pointless button mashing in an attempt to get through yet another legion of the same enemies that you've been fighting for the last twenty five minutes and at points it just feels completely and utterly mundane. I won't say that this is a really bad game; the plot and the graphics probably allow it to fit into the category of a mediocre game. Its saving grace is quite literally how closely it has stuck to the original television series because as it is, it is not going to appeal to anyone who is not already a fan of the series. If it didn't stick so closely to the series then it would be a disappointment to this section of its possible sales base as well.
As an RPG it fails due to the lack of choice in how your character grows and evolves, but this probably can't be helped due to the fact that they had to follow the series. But it also doesn't measure up amazingly well as an action game because of the sheer amount of button mashing and messing around you have to do to get anywhere. To me it kind of felt like they were so busy concentrating on being true to the series that they forgot they were meant to be making an entertaining and preferably original game that would be fun and addictive to play. They really needed to concentrate more on the gameplay aspects of the game and make it less mundane and repetitive, because as it stands it is only being saved from being really poor because of the voice acting and the plot. Both of which you could find by watching the original series (available on itunes by the way), and if you're not a fan you're going to find very little to interest you.
My only other comment would be that even if I don't play multiplayer on the console, if you are going to create a game that has such a limited longevity then the least you can do is offer some sort of muliplayer addition to flesh it out a bit. Or some hidden extras perhaps? Umm...no. Nothing. Nada.
If you are a mad fan of the series then by all means buy this game; it's not the best you will find but it's not the worst by a long shot. It's let down by its battle system, its repetitiveness and its lack of anything original and that's without the poor longevity, but if you're a major fan of the series it's worth a look for a couple of hours entertainment. Plus it looks cool in your DS games case! If you're not an Avatar fan then I can see no interest for you whatsoever in the game as aside from being a nice retelling of the series it doesn't have a lot going for it.
Play as Aang, Katara, Haru and Sokka as you grow your team into an unstoppable force. Utilize your bending powers and explore the Avatar universe. Bring to life an adventure of intrigue, deception and revelation that exposes an even greater threat than the Fire Nation as you battle new enemies and master your bending skills.