Preview By: Matt Flanagan
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Anyone who either has any experience at all with Nickelodeon or has friends/relatives/neighbors that do will have heard of the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. Anyone who follows gaming will have heard of the cross-platform action/adventure game based on the show that has already been released on the current-gen systems. It makes its sole next-gen appearance on the Nintendo Wii, but is it going to offer much of an improvement over the last-gen titles? Sadly, I don’t think so.
Even though the fact that you’re reading this preview is a pretty clear indicator that you have some idea what Avatar is about, I’ll explain a little bit about the show. Basically, Avatar chronicles the journey of a stereotypical overeager young teen hero tasked to save an anime-inspired world. The main character is named Aang, and he has the power to "bend" air (which basically means he can control wind). It’s aimed at kids, but pretty much anyone can appreciate the deep character development and well-written story. It’s a great show, but I’m not here to tell you about that so I’ll get back to the game.
Anyway, you control the Avatar Aang and his friends Katara and her brother Sokka (and sometimes Haru, who was a minor character in the show). You travel through the show's world, and THQ has promised that we’ll be able to enjoy elements from the show as well as “never before seen enemies and creatures.” While this does help to provide some added variety, it also means that Avatar purists looking for plot differences will be asking themselves “when did this happen?” from time to time.
Another unfortunate problem is that the game seems to follow in the footsteps of games like “Dragon’s Lair 3D” where you’re given a surprisingly limited among of control over a character who is supposedly able to perform impossible acrobatic stunts. Aang can’t jump, which means that while the combat is well-designed, other elements of the game will probably seem lacking. Also, while the collision detection isn’t horrible in current-gen versions, it’s certainly not fantastic and probably won't be improved upon.
As for the actual combat, it does seem well done, only another problem rears its ugly head in the current-gen versions when you realize that the fast-paced fighting of the show has been replaced by button-mashing and hack ’n slashing. That problem may be fixed on the Wii however, as THQ's use of the controller sounds promising. Players will be able to create combo melee attacks by making "sweeping gestures" with the Wii Remote, and also perform Bending moves by moving the controller left, right, up or down. How these won't be confused with each other (since they appear to be fairly similar movements) is unknown, but we're assuming that Bending moves will require a button press as well. Also promising are the Focus Moves, which allow players to draw symbols using the Wii controller in a time-based series of gestures to enable special moves. This is a DS-ish type addition that should work pretty well. Overall it seems like you'll be able to control your characters well, and their abilities are fleshed-out pretty well, but you’re not going to feel the thrill of being able to bounce off the walls and fly around when you’re fighting like the show itself provides.
The graphics have an interesting cel-shaded look to them, and overall they look good, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing seeing as how the game is a port of a current-gen title. The art style is good, but we’re not going to see the Wii pushed to the limit here.
Overall, the game looks decent, but given THQ’s less-than-perfect track record with Nickelodeon games and the fact that the already released current gen versions of the game aren’t exactly spectacular, I’d say this one is going to have to prove itself before I can recommend it. In all honesty, I have to say that the game, unlike the show, doesn’t look like it will appeal to anyone outside of its target age bracket.
Posted: 2006-10-20 16:30:21 PST