Release Date: October 13, 2008
"Avatar: The Last Airbender," having recently concluded its third season, doesn't seem to be entirely over yet. Besides a planned MMORPG that will run alongside reruns of the show, a live-action movie is now in development to further progress the series, and THQ is happily continuing the games after the series concludes. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Into the Inferno for the Wii follows the tradition of an average game that looks good and plays decently but doesn't do anything special.
For those not too aware of the series' plot, here is a breakdown of the first two seasons: Aang is the latest incarnation of the Avatar, a symbolic emissary of peace and the only one able to master all four different elements by which his world is powered. After recovering from freezing himself in a block of ice for a century, Aang awakens to find his entire tribe slain by the world-conquering efforts of the Fire Nation, and he sets out to save the world with a few friends and a lot of moral support. Unfortunately, right before the game starts, he gets his butt kicked pretty handily by the villain's second-in-command, nearly destroying the world's single hope against the Fire Nation.
After waking aboard a stolen ship of the Fire Nation, you go through a truncated version of the third season's plot. (Spoiler: The villains lose in the end.) With most of the comic episodes removed, things are reduced to a martial arts flick-inspired combat system and varied puzzles that involve the use of the character's different Bending techniques. In other words, it's your generic kids-show-to-action-game transfer, only with less of the series' humor than in previous efforts.
Fortunately, THQ put in the effort to clean up some of the mess of the previous games, so the controls in Into the Inferno have been improved and even manage to find a pretty good way to take advantage of the Wiimote. Combat is handled in typical brawler style, requiring no waggle whatsoever in favor of fairly tight controls that let you whip around and beat up entire hordes of enemies all at once. In case you don't feel that's enough, you can point the Wiimote up to get a marker, which you can then use to grab different pieces of the four elements and throw them around. You cannot Bend and fight at the same time, but you can beat everyone into submission by just using an orb of water or shaking the Nunchuk to freeze the water and pull the classic smack-the-iceberg trick. The game also offers some more impressive feats as you progress, although the results are pre-rendered, so there aren't any physics-based puzzles to worry about.
Besides fighting through the main plot of the third season, about the only special thing that Into the Inferno offers is the ability to purchase a variety of unlockable items. Most of this consists of varied pieces of (admittedly utterly beautiful) show and game concept art, but it also includes an explicit cheats menu with a fair array of options, which can be either purchased or simply typed right in.
A game like this tends to rely on its presentation: graphics that remind of the show, sounds from the show, and if you can swing it (THQ could), voice clips by the show actors. As usual, THQ took enough time to do this at least somewhat decently, keeping the models very, if imperfectly, consistent; providing characters with a wide array of costumes; and getting the show's voice actors involved. They also came up with some sense of style to the artwork — or at least copied a relevant superior, with many side elements feeling rather similar to Capcom's classic Okami. The Bending mechanic is also handled like a refined version of the Celestial Brush from Okami, so I guess I can't complain about the source of THQ's inspiration.
About the only serious beef I can say I have with Into The Inferno is that it lets you skip cut scenes, which are rendered purely in the in-game engine, but not tutorials, which are rather obviously compressed prerecorded video.
Other than that, Avatar: The Last Airbender - Into The Inferno doesn't really do anything especially wrong. It looks nice, plays decently, and is okay at distilling the plot of the third season of the show. It's just that it doesn't do anything especially right either, missing the humor of the show and not quite feeling the same. It's another case of THQ doing the job for a quick buck, and while it'll be perfectly OK by fans of the show, others probably won't be attracted to the results.