By Tyler Lubben / December 16th, 2014
|Title||The Legend of Korra
|Release Date||October 21, 2014|
|Genre||Beat ’em Up|
|Platform||PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Teen|
It’s common knowledge that most licensed games are not going to be worth your time. The quick cash-in that some companies take advantage of in the wake of a movie, TV show or other such franchise’s success is something that has plagued consumers since the early days of gaming. Bad gameplay mechanics, shallow stories and countless bugs are commonplace — the only people who would extract much enjoyment out of them being diehard fans and young children who don’t know better. While not all of these games are bad, for every Goldeneye, Turtles in Time and Rogue Squadron out there, you’re going to find huge handfuls of Top Guns, Superman 64s and Sonic Booms. As a general matter of course, if it’s a licensed title, it’s better to just avoid it. That said, The Legend of Korra is not one of those games.
To anyone who has never seen The Legend of Korra or its prequel series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, there’s really only one thing you need to know to understand this game. In the Avatar universe, there are people called “benders” that can control the four main elements of the world – water, earth, fire and air. While any given bender can only control one of these elements, there is one special person known as the Avatar who holds sway over all four of them. In case it wasn’t clear, Korra is that person. In the TV show, Korra’s bending abilities help her bring balance to the world. In the game, those powers translate to different fighting styles that will help get through a variety of situations.
Aside from that, very little of the TV series’ plot is mentioned in the game. The story takes place between the show’s second and third seasons, so it doesn’t really cut into those events. Even so, I do appreciate that most of the game’s major cutscenes are shown through animated clips that make it feel more like an actual episode of the show, even though their quality isn’t as good as that of the show itself. While walking home after a Pro-Bending match, Korra is accosted by some mysterious figures and knocked unconscious by sleep darts. When she comes to, she discovers that her bending powers have been locked by a mysterious old man who commands the goons that kidnapped her. Making her escape, Korra must find a way to regain her powers, discover the evil intentions of this new villain and stop the chaos caused by his forces. Just another day for the Avatar, really.
Fortunately, even without her bending, she still has her Korra arms to lay the smackdown on her foes. The combat system in the game is easy to pick up. Following the default inputs of an Xbox 360 controller (because these types of games really need a gamepad to play properly), normal attacks are performed with the X button, while slower, but stronger moves are tied to the Y button. Korra can also dodge incoming attacks with the RT button or block them with LT. And, just in case you were wondering, yes, blocking immediately before an enemy attacks (made easier by a telltale red flash) will allow Korra to perform a counter after completing a simple quick-time event – usually in the form of moving the control sticks or mashing on the X button.
Before too long, Korra will begin unlocking her powers one by one. Waterbending is your distance-based attack, allowing you to easily damage faraway enemies with blasts of water. Earthbending is incredibly slow, but hard-hitting boulders will make quick work of even tough foes. Firebending is good for quickly dealing damage to single enemies with focused blasts, while airbending is more for crowd control, buffeting opponents in the area with wind blasts and tiny cyclones. Though each power has a fairly situational faculty, you’re by no means forced to master them all if you don’t want to. Firebending, in particular, is very difficult to use effectively early on, but becomes much more useful if you put in the time to level it up.
Leveling up each power is easy – just defeat enemies. As they fall, you’ll get experience points for whichever power you’re currently using. Leveling up will unlock additional combos, the ability to charge for a temporary boost in attack power and extra health. This is also complemented by a store that players can visit between levels to purchase additional attacks, single-use healing items or stat-boosting talismans. I probably caused myself a lot of unnecessary heartache by using a talisman that doubled the XP I accrued at the cost of cutting my HP in half, but a little extra stress seemed a small price to pay for supercharging my bending abilities.
Players who have watched the first season of Korra should immediately recognize the majority of enemies that Korra takes on over the course of the game. More than anything else, players will do battle with masked Chi Blockers that are color coded for different attacks – indicating standard melee fighters, ranged attackers or those that use special electrified attacks that Korra can’t block. True to their name, some will also use a special move that hits Korra’s pressure points and temporarily prevents her from using whichever bending power she had equipped. Aside from them, Korra will also take on rival benders from the Triple Threat Triad that can match her own fire, earth and waterbending powers, as well as giant Mecha Tanks that act as bosses at first, but are eventually relegated to standard enemies as the story continues.
In between the action segments, Korra will also call upon the services of her faithful polar bear dog, Naga, to run through long stages that play similarly to endless runners like Temple Run. Naga will need to weave between obstacles, jump over gaps and slide under large walls through the streets of Republic City and other locations to get Korra where she needs to go. As you work through the story, your bending abilities can also be used to give you temporary bonuses including creating shields, shooting fireballs and giving you a mid-air jump. I didn’t find this sections particularly difficult — dying more often because I got greedy and went after out-of-reach spirits to increase my score rather than being tripped up by the obstacles the game set before me. If I’m being completely honest, though, I didn’t think these sections were entirely necessary. The meat of Korra is the fighting sections, and I always just wanted to get back to that — trying to finish the Naga sections as quickly as possible.
I’ve already mentioned the animated cutscenes that make up the game’s story, but how do the 3D graphics themselves look? For the most part, the 3D models did a great job of representing their normally-2D animated counterparts. In recent years, developers have done a fantastic job of translating 2D characters into the 3D realm, and that carries over here, as well. That said, there were some instances on Korra’s model when things felt just a bit off. When running, jumping and fighting, the cel-shaded Korra and the enemy models looked great, but when standing still, some of Korra’s stances seemed a little jagged and disproportionate close up. It was only an issue when I sat and paid close attention to it though, and during the action, it wasn’t noticeable at all. As far as the music goes, the tracks that feature strong percussion and wind instruments sound very much like what you’d hear from the show. Whether these tracks were written for the game, or the music was just lifted straight from the show, I can’ say. Either way, it did a great job of making the game feel more authentic to the Avatar franchise.
Sadly, while the gameplay is mostly top-notch, the same cannot be said about the plot. Korra is generally on her own for the duration of the game. Her friends Mako, Bolin and Asami are nowhere to be found outside the intro scene, and the only support she does receive is from brief conversations with her friend/airbending tutor Jinora who advises her on how to unlock her bending abilities as the story goes on. Unfortunately, I feel that the game takes a hit due to this fact. I’ve never been too wild about Janet Varney as the voice of Korra, so having her carry almost the entire narrative on her own and listening to her inner musings as she worked through the game’s eight levels got annoying pretty quickly. Without the high quality performances from veterans like J.K. Simmons or the hilarious banter from P.J. Byrne, it really made for a bland experience. I’m just glad the gameplay so easily made up for it.
With that in mind, I think the biggest concern with The Legend of Korra is that I’m not quite sure who exactly the game is for. As a fan of the TV show, I was rather disappointed. It’s very solitary adventure with almost the entire supporting cast completely absent throughout. If you’re looking for a deep storyline for which the series is (sort of?) known, you aren’t going to find it here. On the other hand, the combat system is the same incredibly satisfying fare that we’ve all come to expect from Platinum Games, though it’s hard to say if fans of their other titles will pick this up considering the stigma surrounding most licensed games. However, passing on it just because of that would be a huge mistake. It took me just under five hours to complete the main story, though, if not for my HP-reducing talisman that padded out the game with additional deaths or if I had simply played on a lower difficulty, I probably could have cut off at least a half hour. However, while it is indeed short, Korra is a thrill to play from start to finish, which is especially nice at the reduced cost of $15. Plus, after the credits roll, players can go through the story again on the newly-acquired “Challenge” difficulty to unlock more items and outfits for Korra, as well as play a more involved version of the Pro-Bending mini-game from the opening. It may not have the most memorable plot around, but, if you’re looking for a fantastic action experience from a proven developer, you won’t go wrong here.
Review copy provided by the author, and is based on the PC version.
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