NDS Review - 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'

by David Wanaselja on July 3, 2007 @ 2:13 a.m. PDT

Based on Nickelodeon's hottest new show, fans will play as Aang, Katara, Sokka and Haru as they grow into an unstoppable team utilizing the kung fu inspired bending arts through the Avatar universe. Players will explore the four Avatar nations in beautifully detailed environments and battle new enemies.

Genre: Action
Developer: THQ Studio Australia
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: October 10, 2006

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an anime-styled cartoon that has been airing on Nickelodeon for the past couple of years. The show features a 12-year-old boy named Aang who is told by a group of monks that he is the Avatar — a spirit that is the manifestation of the entire planet. The land is separated into four countries, each one representing the four ancient elements: air, earth, fire, and water. The cartoon takes a lot of the ideas of Eastern philosophies, and the idea of the Avatar is based on the Dalai Lama. It's a popular, deep, and interesting cartoon, but how does it translate into a video game?

Thankfully, the video game remains pretty faithful to the style and feel of the cartoon. The opening sequence is ripped directly from the cartoon, and the sprites, sounds, voices and art are all faithful to the original. Fans of the show will certainly feel as if they are actually in the world of the Avatar in this title from THQ. The game's plot revolves around the Avatar's quest to grow in power as he battles the Fire Nation. He'll do so with the help of some other characters familiar to fans of the show, including his gigantic flying bison.

The Avatar: The Last Airbender game for the NDS is comprised of seven chapters, each one playing out similar to the last. Basically, you'll spend most of your time talking to NPCs, doing what they ask you to do and getting what they ask you to get, facing the hordes of Fire Nation soldiers and eventually fighting the area boss. As you fight, you'll gain experience points, and with experience comes new powers and an increase in stats. Although the addition of levels and stats gives the appearance of an RPG, the game is almost totally an action title consisting of fighting hordes of the Fire Nation legions. There are no options to choose what stats you want to increase or skill points to put into certain areas, so the RPG aspect is almost a waste.

An unfortunate side effect of the addition of this RPG-lite system is the fact that you'll end up having to grind to face some of the tougher enemies that the game throws at you. Although you can choose to fight as Aang or any of his three companions, it ultimately doesn't make a difference who you choose to fight as; the basic moves for each character are the same, so you may as well choose your favorite and stick with him/her for the duration of the game. You'll be fighting tons of repetitive battles against legions of the same enemies, which isn't really a lot of fun.

Whichever character you choose, the other three characters in Avatar will be controlled onscreen by the AI. Unfortunately, the AI is not very good at controlling your companions, so they won't be of much help throughout the adventure. It would have been more helpful if the game were tailored to have one player on the screen at a time and then reduce the difficulty of the enemies. The uselessness of your NPC teammates is just another minor annoyance that detracts from the game as a whole. Combat is pretty simplistic, and often comes down to a session of button-mashing. Each character has his or her own special bending attacks, but there are so few that there's no variety.

Despite the amount of time that you'll spend fighting endless enemies and leveling up to face the tougher foes and bosses, the game does not take very long to complete. Finishing the game in a single session is not difficult, and after completing the game, there is nothing else to do. There are no unlockable secrets or extra characters to get, and the story won't change the second time around. It's a short game that will only really appeal to fans of the show due to the length of the game. For everyone else, it probably isn't a deep enough experience to be worth the time.

Thankfully, Avatar is a treat to look at. The environments are done in 3D, which is excellently rendered and definitely easy on the eyes. The characters are done as 2D sprites, and they are well drawn and sharp. The view can be rotated so you can view the action from any angle, which is a nice feature. The environments, with the trees, water, lava, and weather, are definitely the high point of Avatar's graphics. Each time you come to a new area, you'll marvel at the scenery, and with good reason.

The action takes place on the top screen of the Nintendo DS, and the bottom screen serves as a menuing system. Through the touch-screen, you can choose your character, view the map, and your characters stats. The touch-screen also displays information and instructions for performing moves and other game mechanics. There's a lot to take in and enjoy, and it's certainly a showpiece for the Nintendo DS.

The audio in Avatar is decent. Sound effects are simple and fit the game just fine, and the music is done in an understated Eastern style. None of the sounds are particularly outstanding, but they aren't annoying either, so it's not an issue. The best aspect of the game is the voice acting that shows up in certain cut scenes. Certainly a rarity in a Nintendo DS game, the voice acting, done by the same actors from the show, adds a lot of value to the title. A mediocre effort in the sound department is saved by this addition.

There are no multiplayer options for Avatar, which is unfortunate, because it could have definitely boosted the length and replayability. A good option to include could have been a local wireless mode for four players to each control a member of the party and work together to complete the title. The game's length could have made it a fun diversion for a day of play between friends. At the very least, maybe a few mini-games or a simple versus mode could have been tacked on as a way to add some value to the title.

Avatar: The Last Airbender for the Nintendo DS is a great-looking title that will definitely appeal to fans of the show. Although the gameplay is a bit repetitive and shallow, the graphics are certainly a pleasure to look at in each area, and the cut scenes with voice acting are a nice addition for a Nintendo DS title. Just don't go in expecting too much, and you'll have fun playing it for what it is, a simple action game set in the Avatar universe. If you want a straightforward action title to spend some time with and are a fan of the Nickelodeon cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender might be a title for you.

Score: 6.5/10

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