I've enjoyed Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Aribender and its sequel series The Legend of Korra. The animation is top-notch, the characters are fun, and long-running stories that get away from European fantasy are rare. The franchise wears its love and reverence of East-Asian, Inuit, and South American culture on its sleeve. Plus, elemental martial arts is cool as hell.
There have been previous Avatar video games, but this is the first one that enthusiast gamers are taking notice of and that's down to its pedigree. See, this digital-download only experience comes from the action game aficionados of Platinum Games. It's one of those matches made in heaven: the martial arts flavor of Korra combined with Devil May Cry action. So how does the final product come out?
As a bit of background for the neophyte: in the world of Legend of Korra, many people can manipulate one of four elements - Earth, Fire, Air, and Water - using martial arts forms to move their spirit energy. As the Avatar, Korra is the only person in her world that can "bend" all four elements; it's her job to keep the balance between our world and the Spirit world. The core of the Legend of Korra's gameplay is focused on Korra's ability to switch between these elements at will. At any time during the game, you can shift between elements.
After an opening scene where you can wield all four elements, the game strips them away and then gives you back Korra's base element, Water. Over the course of the 5-6 hour campaign, you'll regain the other three elements. While having four elements at your disposal could open up a number combat possibilities, in practice you just shift between each element depending on the situation at hand. Water is your long-range choice, Earth is your slow short-range attack stance with heavy knockback, Fire is the fast melee attack stance, and Air is a mid-range area of effect style.
That's pretty much it. The enemies have no elemental weaknesses and there's no real bonuses for switching between forms in combat outside of those specific situations. Enemy far away? Water. Enemy close up? Pick Fire or Earth. Swarmed? Clear space with Air. The combos in Legend of Korra also don't feel as varied as Platinum's recent Bayonetta 2; think of this as Platinum Light. On the bright side, each element looks completely awesome in motion and the ways you unlock them feel true to the spirit of the show.
Like Bayonetta 2, Korra rounds out her attack repertoire with Dodge and Guard/Counter moves, bound to each trigger. Dodge moves Korra completely out of the way of an attack and is necessary to avoid certain electrified attacks in the game. Guard/Counter is a timing based move: use it early and Korra will simply defend against incoming attacks, time it as an attack hits Korra and she'll do a powerful counter-attack. Like Bayonetta 2, this game trades heavily on the counter system.
Especially in boss encounters, countering is the only way to do meaningful damage. If your counter timing isn't up to snuff, you're probably not going to get far in Legend of Korra. Even if you get the timing down, bosses also randomly queue up uncounterable, electrified moves. Some boss battles take a long time simply because the boss won't offer up an attack you can counter.
The Legend of Korra will repeat enemies and bosses over its eight chapters, mostly just changing scenery. Defeating these repeated foes nets you experience and spirit energy. Experience levels up the current bending style you have equipped for bigger attacks and combos, while spirit energy can be used in Uncle Iroh's Shop to buy health items, new moves, or items to change your basic gameplay. In the latter category, I was a frequent user of a Talisman that lowered my attack power, but raised the amount of spirit energy I received from combat. Other equippable items raise your risk and reward in various ways.
That's said, Platinum does break up the beat-em-up gameplay with Temple Run-style corridor racing sections on the back of Korra's pet Naga and the occasional bit of platforming gameplay. You'll also need to revisit chapters to unlock elemental gates/chests or improve your Medal rankings in each fight. Three difficulty levels are available for the Story campaign, and the Pro-Bending mode contains challenge levels with specific objectives. For $15, it's a solid bit of content.
And that's it. Really, there's not much to Legend of Korra. It's a solid, if unspectacular game. I enjoyed what I played, but I can't see myself going back to the game. I also think Nickelodeon has a problem with the game's target audience, as Korra didn't seem hard enough for the Platinum faithful, but it's definitely too difficult or tedious for casual players. I happened to be in the right niche for this title, but I'm not sure if it's a niche they should be aiming for. At $15 though, Korra is a worthwhile buy for the show fans who are up for a challenge. I just wish Platinum had receive a larger budget to create a more full-featured title.
Cel-shaded visuals pay homage to the show's animated style, but the environments are rather lifeless.
I don't remember a single tune from the game, but it felt like they matched the show.
The interface is there. Good job, interface.
There's some mileage in tackling the third difficulty level, doing the Pro-Bending challenges, and unlocking extra content, but Korra is not a long game.
The Legend of Korra is a game that has a clear understanding of the source material, but without the budget to really dig in and do that material justice. Platinum offers up a diet version of the gameplay that made it famous, which is still difficult enough to stymie casual players. For $15 though, fans may find the best Avatar game available.