Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: PC (Steam), PS3,
PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
ESRB: T for Teen
Release Date: October 21, 2014
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
It is no secret that, despite the brilliance of the franchise, the Avatar video games themselves are an unanimous atrocity. Enter perhaps one of the biggest surprises of 2014: The Legend of Korra video game, developed by renowned action-game developer Platinum Games. Does The Legend of Korra transcend the woes of its predecessors and thereby renew the Avatar gaming franchise? The answer is unfortunately ambiguous because despite working within a narrative framework penned by series writer Tim Hedrick—who disregards his own source material—it is the little things that developer Platinum Games does that fans should and will take notice of.
The Legend of Korra video game serves to connect the second and third seasons of the television show, and it rightfully presupposes knowledge of Korra and Team Avatar's exploits. As such, one is immediately subjected to the world of Korra with little to no explanation of the franchise's lore. Consequently, for those unfamiliar with the Nickelodeon television show, the video game is not an ideal starting point.
Unfortunately, the game's narrative is abysmal and is not worth delineating too much, primarily because the impossible act requires the existence of an actual narrative. Instead, what prevails is some semblance of a narrative that can easily be mistaken for the ramblings of a third-grader in his or her attempt to correctly explain the plot of any major action Hollywood production. As told through brief animated cut-scenes between missions, there is a bad guy whose aim is do bad things. The player assumes the role of a good guy who must do good things to stop said bad guy from doing bad things. To no one's surprise Korra is once again without bending and by means of linear progression she must unlock each of her abilities in turn as a means to triumph. Additionally, the disappointing absence of major characters from the series has Korra—and the player—progress primarily alone throughout the course of the adventure.
However, this does not provide sufficient reason to charge the story mode with irrelevance and posit the game, on the whole, as a complete failure. Underneath the narrative there lies quasi-RPG and free-runner components that augment what would otherwise be a mundane enterprise. The more Korra utilizes a particular element (i.e. water, earth, fire, air) it, in addition to leveling-up, will admit the use of new combos. These combos, however, will need to be purchased in-game using 'spirits' that are obtained through combat, environment destruction, and mission completion.
The in-game shop also provides the player with items that range from health potions to passive power-ups that can, for example, increase Korra's damage but reduce her maximum HP. Some of the eight chapters are linked via an endless-runner minigame of sorts that neither annexes nor hinders the experience. In fact, I found each to be quite fun.
Additionally, the shop system works quite well, save for a few fundamental oversights. If the player purchases an item and uses it during a mission after the game auto-saves—only to die thereafter—he or she will have to repurchase the item upon starting once more at the checkpoint and is not reimbursed. While this can at times be an annoyance, the consumable items are relatively inexpensive provided of course the player is collecting as much spirit as possible. There was never a moment when I could not afford a consumable item even as I died over and again during my playthrough on Extreme.
The Legend of Korra also has a share of collectibles to gather and uncover. Hidden items are scattered throughout and are tucked neatly away within large treasure chests. In order to yield the highest reward, it is the task of the player to beat-up the chests making sure to do the most damage as quickly as possible. Some early collectibles can only be obtained by way of specific elemental powers that the player as of that point does not possess. It is such that one will have to replay a few missions if he or she wishes to collect everything. Additionally, there are a few costumes that are unlocked by both entering secret codes and completing the game on various difficulties.
Given the game's developer, combat is unmistakably the foundation from which the game was built. While indeed the player can burn through enemies using any singular element, one is encouraged to make use of all the elements in succession as switching between the four is done with the simple press of a button. Doing so provides a unique combat experience that is able to cater to long-time fans of the series and newcomers alike. Platinum Games is, as a result, walking the line of moderation in The Legend of Korra. It is this finite degree of moderation that debilitates the combat and leaves avid action-gamers conclusively wanting. The aforementioned combos are limited in scope and are easy to perform. Further, as there are no unique skill-trees when leveling-up and acquiring combos, the bending itself lacks personal identity.
The fluidity of the combat is impressive in its own right and I rarely ran into difficulties with the camera; being able to lock-on to specific targets assisted in what could have otherwise been convoluted occurrences. The Legend of Korra does not stray far from brawler conventions for the core of its combat is fundamentally composed of blocking, dodging, countering and attacking. Combat is simultaneously enjoyable to take part in and easy to comprehend.
Make no mistake, however; The Legend of Korra is difficult—even downright unfair at times. In fact, the game does not care for the distinction between the two. While standard enemies do pose a viable challenge and one will find themself repeating a number of sequences in acrimonious despair, it is the repetitive nature of each boss fight that plagues the immediacy of the game's action. During each boss encounter the player must obnoxiously dodge as one waits for the single easiest attack to counter lest he or she have to start all over again. The tiresome redundancy as put forth by each boss is embellished all the more given the provocative novelty of the final boss.
Once the story is complete the player unlocks Pro Bending. During Pro Bending matches the player must attack his or her opponents. When an opponent's health is low, that particular opponent will be pushed backward one section. If all three opponents are pushed back, the player's team advances as a means of enclosing the gap between the other team and the back of the stage. To be brief, the objective of Pro Bending is to progress forward while knocking all three opponents back and off the stage. Pro Bending is a fun reward for completing the game; however, the latter, more competitive tiers are riddled—surprise, surprise—with frustratingly unfair computer antics.
The player can only assume the role of Korra and, per Pro Bendering rules, is limited to water bending alone. One can use either weak or strong attacks as he or she dodges, dips, dives, ducks, and dodges their way to victory. On occasion, Mako and Bolin provide commentary, but the player will be too frustrated with their AI to be amused. Simply allowing the player to direct the actions of both brothers—that is to say give them orders—would have resolved most of the issues that arise during a given match.
The Legend of Korra video game does not quite live up to its potential. And while fans of the Nickelodeon television series might not walk away entirely disappointed, the game does leave much to be desired. The initial experience is short, lasting anywhere from about four to six hours, but the handful of extra goodies call for one's attention. It is hard for me to recommend this game to those unfamiliar with the source material, but it is even more difficult for me to recommend this to fans without sounding apprehensive. In the end, what Avatar fans are left with once more is a longing for a game that will do the franchise justice—perhaps an open-world game, or maybe even a 2D fighter developed by Arc System Works or French Bread. Until then, what we have is what we have and what we have really is not all that bad—it's just not all that good either.
+ 'Normal' and 'Extreme' difficulties offer nice challenges
+ Smooth, elaborate, combat compliments the painterly aesthetic
+ Quasi-RPG aspects give rise to a sense of accomplishment and growth
+ Alternating between bending techniques and pulling-off long combos makes one feel powerful
- The experience is repetitive and brief
- The narrative is dull and uninspired
- Major characters from the series are absent
- The aforementioned RPG elements leave one wanting
- The computer can at times be unfair, but not necessarily difficult
- Those who are not fans of the show will find little to get excited about
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
While the game derives little from the rich history of its source material, it nevertheless accomplishes the task of being a sound beat-em-up with fun expeditious combat.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a copy purchased by the writer.