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Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

Developer: THQ Publisher: THQ
Release Date: October 10, 2006 Also On: None

The better a game is, and the better it sells, the more likely it is to be borrowed from, either directly or in key concepts. One need only look at how many collect-a-thon platformers there have been since Super Mario 64 came out to realize that. Thus, it is not surprising to find a game released that emulates both the Golden Sun series and the Legend of Zelda series in some elements, and that thus comes out somewhere in between the two in terms of gameplay style. Nor is it surprising to find a licensed game doing the borrowing since many licensed games tend to lack creativity. What is surprising is when one finds a licensed game where the borrowed elements execute well, make sense in the context, and result in a game worth playing. The GBA version of Avatar: The Last Airbender is just such a game.

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Although I have limited knowledge of the cartoon series on which this game is based, I have seen enough of it to know that the graphics of this game do a good job of emulating the characters and environments of the cartoon. Characters can easily be identified by looking at them (at least those ones I would recognize, I can’t speak for the rest of them). The environments also make sense given the world in which the Avatar series takes place. The level of detail in this game might not be top notch, but then neither is the level of detail in the cartoon much better. Overall, there’s nothing about the graphics to be complained about.

On the sound front, I do not know the show well enough to know how much of the music is borrowed from it, but the music in this game is very good. It fits the environments well, giving more upbeat themes or more spooky ones as is appropriate. Some of the music in this game is even reasonably memorable, although it wouldn’t be on the level of the Super Mario Bros. theme by any means. The sound effects are appropriate to the license as well, from what I can remember of the show, but there is very little voice acting in this game, none if you don’t call an occasional attack grunt voice acting. Overall, the sound in this game was handled fairly well for a GBA title.

As I said, the gameplay is somewhere in the vein of the Legend of Zelda or Golden Sun franchises. Of course, I’m referring to the bird’s-eye-view Zelda games when I say this. Like those two franchises, Avatar employs a bird’s eye view of the action, and it also is much more focused on puzzles than combat in many areas. What combat there is is closer to Zelda than Golden Sun since the game operates in real time, not turn-based battling. Also, there is no leveling in this game, although new abilities can be uncovered as you go through the game.

Much like the recently released Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island, Avatar employs multiple playable characters. In the case of the GBA version, this number is limited to three: Aang, Katara, and Sokka. Each of them has their own abilities, and the balance between using them is maintained quite well, so you won’t be using the same one all the time. These diverse abilities for each character all make sense given what is known of the characters from the cartoon.

Unlike Nicktoons, however, the ones that you aren’t currently using will follow you, unless they cannot do so, usually because a group separation is necessary for one of the puzzles, which happens quite a bit. Whether the group is separated or together, the rule is that you lose if anybody dies, and since the three characters usually stay together, that makes it very easy for characters that you aren’t actively controlling to be hit. The ones that you aren’t controlling generally do nothing except follow the one that you are. They don’t split up to surround enemies when there are enemies, and, indeed, they don’t even battle at all. Still, the normal combat in this game isn’t so chaotic as to make this a significant problem.

In terms of difficulty, some of the puzzles will take a while to figure out. They aren’t quite as difficult as the puzzles you’d find in Golden Sun or Zelda, but they aren’t always completely obvious either. The combat amounts basically to attack pattern memorization and taking advantage of vulnerable times in the cases where even that is necessary. Much of the normal combat can be handled by approaching an enemy with Aang and repeatedly hitting the attack button, although you can sometimes stun enemies with his air blast or with some other moves.

The game is divided into chapters, with each chapter being similar in feel to a dungeon in Zelda or Golden Sun, with the exception that sometimes you will need to talk to people in villages or do other things to advance the plot. Each chapter ends with a boss that is appropriate to the environment and the situation. These boss battles are fairly similar to the boss battles in the later Zelda games, namely, do something to make the boss vulnerable and then whack him as many times as you can before he resumes his attack pattern. Generally, it will be fairly obvious what needs to be done to make the boss vulnerable, but not always.

Overall, this game is probably easy enough for the most part to be enjoyed by the young kids who are most likely to be interested in the license, but it is also deep enough to be enjoyed by those who are a little older and are looking for something to tide them over until Twilight Princess comes out. Either way, for fans of puzzle-based GBA games, I would be very quick to recommend this one. The only disadvantage is that there will be little reason to replay the game after you have beaten it, although it is reasonably lengthy for a GBA game.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 7
Final: 7.3
Written by Martin Review Guide