Nickelodeon's element-bending cartoon gets a playable chapter, but does it stand up as a separate title?
The Legend of Korra is the sequel to Avatar: The Last Air-Bender. The story is set in a world where the four elements - wind, water, earth and fire - can be controlled by certain people using martial arts-esque techniques, called "bending." Benders can control one element each, but in every generation there is an "avatar" that can control all four. A chosen one that will bring balance to the force etc. Korra happens to be the current avatar.
If you missed the cartoon series, you may have been unlucky enough to come across the terrible Last Airbender live action movie. Unlike the feature film, the cartoons are usually well received and have a strong fan base. This game is deliberately designed with that in mind, because if you're looking for background story and exposition, you've come to the wrong place.
Set between the 2nd and 3rd Legend of Korra series, the game jumps straight in to the action. There's no real explanation as to who Korra is, why people are attacking her or who the various supporting cast members are. This is a game for people who know exactly what's going on. Unfortunately I have never seen The Legend of Korra, so I was lost beyond the core concepts and stayed that way for the entire game.
The visuals are initially impressive. Cut scenes could be straight from the TV series and the in-game graphics are sharp and well animated. After fighting the same set of enemies over and over again, the effect begins to tire. The enemies aren't the only over-used visual, the locations repeat to the point where disorientation after a battle is all too common.
The story has Korra stripped of her bending powers, allowing the player to regain abilities throughout the game. Initially combat is a boring button bashing affair, but as each element is added back in to the mix, switching between styles adds variety.
One of the key aspects of combat is the ability to counter, with button bashing leading to a quick death. Countering is often hard to perform, whether it's down to attack animations or an inconsistent approach across attacks. Effective fighting becomes near impossible when attacked by three enemy benders, an event that happens far too often. While the earth bender delivers near unstoppable close range attacks, the water bender can launch long distance ice daggers that thwart attempts to play a ranged game.
Legend of Korra is very difficult. On normal, even basic enemies hit harder than expected and a lapse in concentration can easily lead to death. Since Super Meat Boy, I can't remember another game that had me dying more often. Purchasing health items is essential rather than a precaution.
One of the lead contributors to Korra's death are the levels racing on the back of her polar bear-dog. The quick reaction gameplay would be a nice distraction if it didn't result so easily and frequently in death. Plus you never really know why she's racing through the streets, or going anywhere for that matter.
So is The Legend of Korra just one for the fans? Well, the big attraction of the series is the development of the plot and characters; in that respect the game has failed them. This isn't a case of a bad review due to unfamiliarity with the source material, a fan of the show would be more disappointed in a game that has all the traits of a rush job.
Platinum Games produced one of the year's best games in Bayonetta 2 and The Legend of Korra is an unfortunate black mark on an otherwise impressive resumé.
With a price tag just over €12, the game is clearly targeting the Xbox Arcade / PSN end of the market, but it's no excuse for the lack of narrative or the limited gameplay.
The Legend of Korra is worth a look for fans of action brawlers or those who can't get enough of the Avatar world, but perhaps wait until the price inevitably drops.