The Legend of Korra Review (PS4)
The curse of licensed games has been slowly fading away in recent years, with successful movie and TV tie-ins, so who could blame me for being hopeful that Legend of Korra would be the Avatar game I've always wanted. To my great disappointment, it's likely the worst game I'll play all year.
Avatar: The Last What-Bender?
If you're not familiar with The Legend of Korra, maybe you know it's predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender. If not, you're missing out on both accounts. Both animated series, aired on Nickelodeon, are brilliantly written and wonderfully animated stories that are in their worst moments, a lot of fun and at their best moments, the penultimate in storytelling on television--I do not say that lightly.
The Avatar universe--in a nutshell
Both shows take place in an asiatic-inspired world and center on bending--wherein people are able to manipulate one of the four elements with a mix of psychokinetic powers and traditional martial arts. The Avatar, is one person per generation, whom can master all four elements and is tasked with bringing balance to the world--be it decimating evil forces or exercising diplomacy between warring nations. The original series is inarguably better, but both are incredibly strong series full of brilliant writing, great action, fun humor and a persistent "battle of good and evil" backdrop that make them ripe for videogame adaptations.
So you can imagine how excited--even if trepidatiously--I was for a game in that universe. Sure it's only a $15 dollar downloadable game, but with PlatinumGames, developer of the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance behind it, there was some potential. Unless you weren’t paying attention, you should have at some point in that description, thought to yourself: “That would make a great game!” I'm sure I'm not the only Avatar fan that has been just aching for even a taste of an Avatar game--but not even me at my most cynical could have expected it to taste so nauseatingly bitter.
The slightest promise of complex and satisfying combat that quickly melts into numbingly tedious repetition.
Even from early on I could tell it wasn't going to be the game I wanted, it's a downloadable, fast-paced, beat 'em up--and not an open world RPG, where that IP would truly thrive. I told myself that with setting, characters and epic stories aside, that the fighting is a perfectly good attribute to highlight and that even if you're just whipping wind, water, rocks and fire at your foes as the avatar, that could be enough. I honestly that if think that if that was done exceptionally well, it may have been. What you really get is a subpar story, with painfully brief cameos of beloved characters, the slightest promise of complex and satisfying combat that quickly melts into numbingly tedious repetition and an overall rushed hack job of game that could have been so much more.
Start Powerful, Lose Everything, Rebuild.
The format is as old as games themselves but it's a formula that when crafted with a little more love and polish can be perfectly competent: You enjoy a brief introduction with all your powers and maximum badassery, only to lose them all and learn the basics as you slowly build them back up. You run through a series of rigidly linear levels where you fight the same, ever so slightly varying, encounters over and over again until facing another repetitive boss battle. The environments feel just enough like the setting they're meant to be at a glance, before revealing themselves to be depressingly bland and one-dimensional--the whole world feels as if the whole team phoned-it-in and haphazardly rushed through development with depressingly low "it's good enough" standards.
This "good enough" atmosphere will lead even casual fans of the world to be at least a little excited and maybe even have fun, if only for the cheap thrill of feeling like they're in Republic City, or the Air Temple and how cool it is to play as Korra, before that loosely woven immersion falls apart and it reveals it's true nature--recycled,redundant, repetition, replete with just enough slivers of fan service to dupe diehard fans into buying the snake oil.
Time and time again, this game beat down any hope out of me and made me feel like this wasn't even worth my six hours.
The Legend of Korra is a deceptively appealing husk of what even the most moderately fulfilling Avatar game could be. It has just enough of your favorite characters, the actual voice actors, original animation by Titmouse studios themselves, the environments you've always wanted to walk through, and the element-bending combat you've always wanted to be in control of--and none of the refinement to enjoy any of them for more than a fleeting and fraudulent moment.
I felt betrayed countless times in my five to six hour playthrough: when I first regained water bending and shot twisting tendrils of water at enemies before realizing how limited and monotonous the combos are. I was excited with every new element from water to earth to fire before realize that air was so overpowered you never needed anything else, apart from the occasional switch to water; it's the only one with real range. My excitement overwhelmed my composure upon finding (quite possibly the best character in the series--maybe even of all time) Iroh, to be the shopkeeper of the classic "get all your things here in between levels" shop...before realizing that he says only a few lines and that all of the game's voice acting was likely recorded in one quick afternoon. Time and time again, this game beat down any hope out of me and made me feel like this wasn't even worth my six hours.
There is a Pro-bending mode (Pro-bending being the sport in Avator lore wherein two opposing teams of three, push each other off the edge of a towering platform with their bending powers) and that only goes to prove how functional the mechanics and rules of that game could lend themselves to gameplay. Like every aspect of the game, the Pro-bending mode starts off really exciting and then quickly retreats into the same few buttons being mashed ad nauseum. Every peak of excitement is followed closely by the realization that you’re doing the same thing over and over again.
You fight the same bad guys, the same three airbenders (triad members that you literally fight on almost a dozen occasions for no reason. It feels as if they knew I needed to fight other benders so they picked those three characters and just plopped them in front me every few fights), you fight the same mech-suit boss fights again and again and you use the same modicum of combo choices until your fingers are bleeding.
The Bitter Truth
I am such a passionate fan of the series that I kept fooling myself into thinking it was fun, or it wasn’t that bad--but it comes down to this: if you’re a huge Avatar or Legend of Korra fan this is just barely, by the pure fact that it takes place in that world, worth trying if you can really spare the money and wouldn’t mind the dreadfully repetitive gameplay. If you’re not already familiar with the shows, you really owe it to yourself to watch the series but please, I beg of you, don’t let this half-hearted representation be your introduction to that incredible world.