The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

The Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra universe is tailor-made for a good video game. It boggles my mind that the much-loved series still hasn't gotten one.

The Avatar series, for those not in the know, is about a world in which many people can manipulate the elements -- earth, water, air, or fire -- through (beautifully choreographed) martial arts. Only one person, a reincarnating supernatural force with cool glowy eyes known as the Avatar, can use all four elements and, hopefully, balance a world in constant elemental conflict. The Legend of Korra TV series is a follow-up to Avatar: The Last Airbender, set 70 years later.

Short version: no, this isn't the one with the blue cat people.

Legend of Korra attempts to translate the show's main appeals -- mesmerising action scenes and fun, believable characters -- into a combo-heavy action game. It kind of succeeds at the former and fails miserably at the latter.

Let's start with the basic premise, which is so forgettable that I've already nearly forgotten it. There's this evil chaos mage who feels totally out of place in the Avatar universe, and he wants to Do Bad Things For Reasons and blah blah blah the spirit world. The story steals plot points and set pieces liberally from Korra season two -- which it technically takes place shortly after -- but there's no character or drama to it. It's just a bland chase through a series of bland levels followed by a decent-ish (though super clichéd) final battle, and it's only a few hours-long, to boot.

The only non-Korra main character who even shows up is Tenzen's daughter Jinora. In fact, the best part of the story, in my opinion, comes after the story itself is over, when Bolin and Mako (who are basically not present at all throughout the rest of the game) make fun of how preposterous it all sounds.

But the fights! They are… alright. Sometimes. Combos are relatively simple to pull off, relying primarily on two buttons and timing. The twist is that you can cycle through the elements as you please, each of which is suited for certain purposes. Water, for instance, can give people the worst wet willie from a pretty long distance, while fire is good for slugging it out up-close-and-personal. Earth, meanwhile, is slow but powerful (especially when it comes to breaking guards and knockback effects) and air can slice through crowds like none other.

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

On occasion, these gameplay elements come together to crackle with satisfying power. A Bayonetta-like split-second counter system aids in that, creating moments where you'll, say, catch someone right as they're dropkicking you, wheel around, and pulverize them into oblivion with a fire hydrant jet of water -- furiously mashing X on every hit. As long as your timing is good, you can counter from any direction or angle. It's damn empowering, when it works.

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review
The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

The problem with Legend of Korra's combat is that it's actively inconvenient. Much of the game feels like a bouncer standing between you and the fun inside the club. After a brief opening segment the game deprives you of all elemental powers until you slowly unlock each one individually. Combat sans powers (or even with only one or two) is tedious and limited. I understand a desire to ease players into things, but Korra overdoes it.

Moreover, instead of using the early hours to teach you the ins and outs of each element, you kinda just have them unceremoniously tossed at you while the game bombards you with tutorials about basic things like how to equip items. Yes Korra, I know I have to equip an item before I can use it. You tell me every time I pause the game. Fuck.

Things get even more tedious when you factor in an inexcusably clumsy camera and attacks/dodges that lock you into animations, leaving you vulnerable too often. Most enemy types -- of which there are only a few, used repeatedly and then given slightly better stats and used again -- love to take advantage of both the camera and the unbreakable combat animations. Bosses adore their attacks with just enough strikes that your dodge -- which inexplicably wears poor, apparently 87-year-old Korra out after three successive uses -- becomes your undoing.

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

Toward the end of the game I squared off against two massive boss monsters at once, both of whom would mob around me and eclipse the camera. I could hardly see anything, which made effective countering nearly impossible. To make matters worse, the bosses had little tag-along jerkstore demons who'd burrow underground and uppercut me from behind when their big brothers stopped raining down blows. It was outrageous, like the developers had designed an encounter to take advantage of every flaw in their game. It might have been an interesting fight if, say, the goal was to separate the two behemoths, divide and conquer. Unfortunately the game offered no reliable way to do so. I felt like I was firing blind and hoping to off them before they offed me.

It's not that Korra on normal is particularly challenging, it just feels… cheap. Battles rarely feel like evenly matched, edge-of-your-seat showdowns. Instead you're either mowing down hordes of brainless thugs or getting trucked by cheap-shot attacks that add insult to injury. I never really found a satisfying rhythm. Just frustration between long periods of "blah."

Even the game's big chance to throw some adrenaline-pumping blast beats into that rhythm, the super-powered Avatar Mode, doesn't show up until near the end of your first playthrough. Activating it allows Korra to briefly wreck everything in sight. Avatar mode allows Korra to go all Captain Planet on enemies, firing a ton of elemental attacks. It's exhilarating, a nice antidote to how out-of-control combat normally feels. But you don't get it until right before the final boss fight. You can replay with all your powers intact, but that's kinda too little, too late.

It's a surprise that such a sloppy game would come from Platinum Games, the makers of the excellent Bayonetta series. It's like a B-Team developed this one, and they somehow missed capturing what games like Bayonetta -- which offer a supreme degree of control to the player -- are so great. The superficial markers are there, but the execution feels stilted and icky instead of slick.

In addition to all the elemental fighting, Korra offers another type of gameplay -- segments where you ride Korra's polar bear dog Naga. These segments are generally dull filler and culminate with what is easily the most infuriating moment in the entire game.

In general, the Naga segments are simple three-lane obstacle-avoidance marathons. Dodge side to side, duck fences, leap gaps, etc. But near the end, those mechanics are applied to a boss fight against three giant robots. Three hits were enough to kill me, and if I ran into a wall I'd go down with one hit. The robots, meanwhile, telegraphed attacks unclearly and took advantage of me getting briefly locked into animations on certain attacksall the while rotating in and out of my range so it took extra time to finish off any single one of them. I think I died more than 50 times before I finally completed it

It was not fun. At all. By the time I finished, I was angry enough to go into an Avatar State of my own, which involves using my own mastery of fire to put my controller inside a microwave. It was so bad, you guys. It was so, so bad.

I mean, when I think of Naga, I think of this:

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

Not this:

The Legend Of Korra: The Kotaku Review

And you know what? That's what I imagine I'll remember most about The Legend of Korra: rage-inducing moments. The rest of the game was so bland and tasteless that it will probably vanish entirely from my mind before the month's end.

As a huge fan of the Avatar universe, The Legend of Korra is a tremendous disappointment. The series has so many great ideas, locations, and characters. Even the crappier seasons (Korra books 1 and 2, I'm looking at you) have heart and soul in addition to breathtaking action. Legend of Korra: The Game has none of those things -- just a blank, glassy eyed stare. Avatar deserves better.


Comments

    Man, that's disappointing. The avatar series seems like a perfect gaming match but had been let down every time

    If only there was some kind of format that allowed you to present animated content without the need to immediately download files that contain poorly compressed data about every frame, preventing the need to have a page size of 15Mb. Although thankfully this is a time when the AU site has done a good job of resizing the thumbnails as the US site is more around 30Mb. /rant

    On topic, I'm kind of disappointed that the game didn't review better because if anyone can do an action game properly, it's Platinum.

    I'm enjoying the game, the naga section are terrible and the environment so far is very bland, but the combat is great fun, I've found using the lock on system gets around the terrible camera in combat.

    Damnit! I really wanted an Avatar game! I played the old DS ones to death. Severely disappointed.

    The game costs 15 USD. I've bought worse crap for a higher price.

    It's not the worst third person action game I've played, but it is definitely the worst platinum title to date. Combat without the bending is woefully slow, any of the levels set in republic city are pretty easy to get lost in it you're looking for collectables as it's just copypasted blocks of the same buildings and there's no minimap. Countering is probably the weirdest part of the game because most of the enemies telegraph their attacks by flashing red, but then you've got to wait about a second before countering otherwise it won't register.

    Give it a miss, go get bayonetta 2 instead

      Korra is a budger price title
      Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising etc... were not.

      I feel like it's fine at the price, not saying your opinion sucks but like, it's $15. :P I've bought meals for that price. hahaa

    I think part of the problem is that while the bending in Avatar is awesome it isn't what makes Avatar itself such a good show. It's the world and the people in it that make it great.

    While the game may not deliver, if the release price is $15 then the original budget must have been fairly low, that's just my guess though.

    My guess is that platinum got given a generally low budget, to make a generally decent game. Not sure if they succeeded but a $15 release price is a dead giveaway in my opinion.

    If you're a fan of the show then $15 is a steal. And I'm not sure why reviewers seem to be having so much trouble with the combat. I mean, fighting the robots 50 times?! I'm awful at these sorts of games and it took maybe 3 goes to finish that section.

    I haven't really seen a better example of a reviewer missing the point than with this one. It's very important to understand context; this was not supposed to be on the level of MG:Rising or Bayonetta, it was a solid downloadable title. Not really surprised a Kotaku article missed a large ethical principle, but still.

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