Developer: THQ Australia
Release Date: November 12, 2007
The third season of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" has finally been unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. It's about time, too. We've been waiting the better part of a year to see just how an exiled Avatar and Co. would end up defeating the Fire Nation. However, this also means that it's been an awfully long while since we've been able to control The Aang Gang (tm) in any sort of virtual adventure. Enter Avatar the Last Airbender: The Burning Earth.
Whereas the first game contained an original story to entice fans into buying the game, Burning Earth sticks to familiar ground, challenging players to fight their way through a compressed version of Season 2. Chapter by chapter, they'll relive each epic fight against the Earth and Fire Nation forces, culminating with their final Empire Strikes Back-esque losses within the walls of Ba Sing Se. Consider it a refresher course for, um, those who don't have the DVDs?
At any rate, gone is the open-world, X-Men Legends action-RPG style gameplay of the first title. Here, things play out more like your standard 3D beat-'em-up, with co-op on all of the time. Heroes are assigned automatically by stage and storyline, and if you're not playing with a friend, then the AI takes over. At the very least, the always-on co-op helps to keep the banter and sound bites fresh. The game may also see fit to switch pairs of players during certain points in the mission (such as in The Swamp, where you can control Katara/Momo and Aang/Sokka teams.). At the end of each level is a boss, which can then be unlocked to fight in the game's Arena Mode.
Just because the game's switched to a beat-'em-up core, however, doesn't mean that there aren't things to break up the action. Co-op puzzles abound, as well as obstacles that require the use of a certain type of bender or warrior to get past. Aang can blow obstacles out of the way, for example, and Sokka can cut things with his boomerang. A bit of stealth has also been added, such as when Aang and Sokka sneak past guards (tiptoeing and hiding inside barrels) into the Bei Fong estate to speak to Toph.
Speaking of which! The playable roster, fortunately, is bigger than in the last outing. While the first game stuck to Aang, Katara, Sokka and no-namer Haru, the preview build I played revealed that the aforementioned Momo is now a fully playable character, and — drum roll, please — everybody's favorite Earthbender (or character in general, depending on who you talk to), Toph, is finally controllable!
(As an aside, not only does Toph fight like Street Fighter's Akuma with rocks, but she's also one of the game's toughest bosses when you first fight her as the Blind Bandit in the Earth Rumble. Seriously, observe her for a bit. You'll get the feeling the programmers were huge Toph fans, which is only natural — this is Toph we're talking about here.)
Finally, there are the Appa stages. Appa can be controlled in an on-rails 3D shooting stage that actually plays better than you might think. Sure, all of your shots are momo throwing fruit, but think Panzer Dragoon on a flying bison, and you're still halfway there.
If you've a slave to Avatar, or if you have friends (or children! I hear they watch this show, too, for some reason!) who are, then you already know what to do once this game shows up on stores mid-next month, just in time for the holiday rush. In case anyone's wondering, Achievements are pretty easy to score as well.