Thursday, October 23, 2014

Game Review: The Legend of Korra



 This review is based on the PC version of The Legend of Korra, available on Steam.

Seeing as this is a review of a game based on a pre-existing series, I feel it's important to discuss that series at least briefly first.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is perhaps my favorite animated series (read: NOT ANIME) of all time, and I'd say a vast majority of the people who have watched the series also hold the series in high acclaim. In this world, some people are able to manipulate one of four elements (Earth, Fire, Air, or Water,) except for one being: the Avatar, who is able to "bend" all four elements.

The original Avatar series centered around the adventures of the 12 year-old Avatar Aang, who's tasked with saving the world from Fire Lord Ozai. Along the way, he becomes friends with such compelling characters as Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, and even Ozai's son, Zuko. The series is excellently written and paced, and covers many topics most other children-targeted series would never dare to tackle (or at least in respectable depth,) such as war, the morality of killing and revenge, honor, and clashing cultures.

The sequel to Avatar, known as The Legend of Korra, takes place 70 years after the first series' events of Book Three. Korra is the new Avatar, and has her own troubles to deal with in a more modernized world. While I am a fan of The Legend of Korra, it's had its (many) missteps, especially in Books One and Two, with confusing pacing and motivations and some bizarre shifts in tone (Book Two ending feels out of place.) However, as of Book Three and (so far) Book Four, Korra has regained its footing, and manages to present very interesting new storylines. It's not quite as strong as its predecessor yet, but it's very enjoyable to watch.

Zaheer is a good antagonist. Unalaq is not.
Now for the game itself.

The Legend of Korra game takes place sometime between Books Two and Three of the animated series, following Korra's victory over Unalaq and the dark spirit Vaatu. We're able to see the world after Korra's choice to leave open the portals between the mortal world and the Spirit World, with spirits (both benevolent and dangerous) roaming around and giant plant life sprouting throughout Republic City.

Right off the bat, The Legend of Korra game gives us a good taste of its combat system, yet fails to properly introduce newcomers to the series, only serving them with the quick synopsis about what the Avatar can do as one finds at the beginning of the Korra animated series. Rather, we're introduced to a new villain who strips Korra of her bending after we're given an opportunity to try all four elements out briefly in the Spirit World. We don't see much of this villain until late into the game, and even then, he's not at all memorable (just like Unalaq, who I constantly have to look up the name of whenever I want to mention him.)

This guy basically doesn't do anything outside of the beginning and the finale.
 While the plot and storytelling are pretty lackluster, the gameplay is very fun and responsive, especially in the avenue of combat. Developed by one of my favorite teams, PlatinumGames Inc., the combat is extremely fast-paced, responsive, and visceral. You'll be dodging attacks, countering with force, dashing across arenas, racking up combos with the martial arts prowess possessed by Korra, and attempting to fight faster and fiercer with each conflict to reach a higher rank and gain more points used in a store to attain abilities and items. Combat is fluid and feels great, as I've found with Platinum's titles Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Bayonetta, though Korra's gameplay is not nearly as deep as I'd have preferred. The skill ceiling comes nowhere near those other works, and you'll often find yourself repeating certain maneuvers to deal with annoying projectile spamming enemies.

What I found most impressive about the combat is just how different each style of Bending is. Earthbending is so powerful that enemies (and Korra) can't block against it, but it's balanced out by being very slow. Waterbending feels fittingly fluid, allowing users to throw projectiles and even freeze water to use ice as a weapon. Firebending is viciously fast, yet short ranged, so it's probably the best element for raking up numbers in combos. Airbending, probably my favorite to use so far, utilizes wide sweeping movements, allowing you to hit many opponents at once AND YOU CAN EVEN UNLOCK THE AIR SCOOTER THING AANG USED. Each element feels very different from each other. There's tons of passion that's clear to see in this game's combat, and it really is a thrill to finally experience Bending realized in a quality action game.

THIS THING IS AWESOME

The enemies you'll be using these great moves on are...not very inventive, to be honest, and are probably the biggest tell that this is a budget title. Until you fight the spirits after the game's intro, you'll see maybe six unique enemy models that are each palette swapped for different types of each model. The most common enemies are Chi Blockers (as seen in Book One of the animated series), with three variants. They'll vary between fighting you hand-to-hand, throwing bolas at you, and trying to stun you with electric gauntlets. Then, you'll for some reason see these Chi Blockers with the bosses of the Triple Triads, with slightly different colored versions later on. These guys are pretty fun to fight, though the Earthbender gets annoying in crowded situations since you can't block against him. Also, you'll have mini boss fights with the Mecha Tanks, perhaps the most frustrating enemy type to fight, due to their constant stun projectiles, ground burst moves that knock-up, and even sheer size obscuring your view if you try getting close. The best fight in the game is easily the final boss, which I won't spoil, besides saying that it definitely has that Platinum feel to it.

This gif, from Nerd Reactor, shows a tiny taste of the combat, against one of the many Chi Blockers you deal with.
In between the actual combat sections of the game are Temple Run-esque moments where Korra rides atop Naga in a decent but ultimately forgettable mini-game, and Pro Bending, which is kind of like the actual combat but set on the Pro Bending arena from the series and with some small mechanics changes. Both of these are pretty much distractions.

I managed to finish the game's Normal difficulty in around 3 hours, and doing so unlocked Extreme Difficulty and Pro Bending Mode. For what miniscule budget and time this game had to be developed, I'm impressed just how much fan fare and effort went into it, and I really hope that this game can find some success so that producers can see the demand for licensed games being developed by competent teams.

For $15, The Legend of Korra is a great appetizer for Platinum's more complete works, and also a respectful gift to the series' fans, some of whom have been begging for a good Avatar game since the original series aired back in 2005-2008. While corners were clearly cut (which I fault Nickelodeon and Activision on more than Platinum, who clearly put a ton of effort into the game,) the core gameplay really shines through, and I never felt like I was forcing myself to continue.

My personal score? 7/10.

By the way, Korra x Asami is da bes. (Source.)