For years, Avatar fans have been asking for a good game that represents a franchise with so much potential – but does The Legend of Korra live up to these expectations? For those not familiar with the animation of the same name, it's a television series that's the sequel to Avatar: the Last Airbender. In this world, some people are able to control or “bend” one of four elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. One person, however, is known as the Avatar, and is able to master all four elements and bring balance to the world.
While the show is currently on its fourth and final season, this game takes place at the conclusion of Season Two, with Korra having just decided to keep open the spirit portals, forever allowing the spirit world and the natural world to coexist. So, as the game begins, we find our hero in the spirit world surrounded by dark spirits, using all four of her elemental abilities to fend them off, getting overwhelmed in the process.
Flashback to one week ago, as Korra walks the night time streets of Republic City, having just won a pro-bending match. She runs into a mysterious looking old man in the shadows, who is able to take her off guard, and, as you would expect with an already powerful playable protagonist, remove all of her bending powers. As such, all of those cool and upgraded abilities that you were fighting spirits with a few moments ago are now gone.
The bulk of the story consists of Korra tracking down the mysterious old man and figuring out how to get her powers back. It's a plot that ultimately feels a bit lacklustre, but does show an actual consequence from Korra’s choice of keeping the spirit portals open. But what about the wonderful cast of characters from the show? Other than a few small appearances, Mako, Bolin, and the like don’t appear throughout the game, which is a shame, as the secondary characters are some of the best parts of the animation. As a result, the title is solely a Korra focused journey.
Fortunately, the art style of the title is an excellent representation of the source material. The character models are especially well done, and are exactly how you would expect them to look in 3D. Unfortunately, the environments, while fitting with the rest of the art style, seem empty and dull. But in good faith, the release's numerous cutscenes are animated in the same style of the show, although they don't quite match the same quality. Also, as you may expect, all of the voice actors and great backing music from the show are present here.
The gameplay, meanwhile, can be enjoyable, but it's flawed. To start with, the controls can be a bit awkward, and may take some getting used to. You use R2 and L2 to dodge and block respectively, and for a game that requires a ton of blocking and dodging, we feel that the controller layout could have been better mapped to satisfy that need.
General gameplay consists of exploring environments, before being locking into combat arenas as multiple generic foes are thrown at you. Sadly, the enemies themselves don’t have much variety at all; you'll only encounter a few different types of the chi blocker and dark spirit adversaries. There are also three unnamed benders that show up multiple times throughout the game with no explanation as to who they are, and it's perhaps a shame that there aren't more one-on-one, bender-versus-bender fights. And finally, you get the pleasure of taking on some large bosses, who boast two or more health bars that take up the entire screen in size, and as you can imagine, this leads to some frustrating, tedious moments.
But by far the biggest enemy of the game is the camera. When faced with multiple foes in a small and enclosed area, the camera barely even allows you to see who you're throwing your attacks at. While there is an enemy lock-on feature mapped to L3, it doesn’t help at all when you're faced with multiple opponent types, each throwing different attacks your way.
Issues aside, the combat can be fun at times. When you're not up against unfair odds, there's a definite sense of empowerment as you beat down the opposition, and when you're really into the flow of a fight, it's fantastic to be a part of, with smooth animations and some great visual effects accompanying your offensives.
On the other hand, combat can be challenging to say the least. There isn’t much room for error in blocking and countering – it needs to be timed perfectly – but pulling it off results in a satisfying attack that deals major damage to the enemy. However, the mechanic doesn’t help when there are multiple projectiles coming at you, and you can’t possibly block or counter them all.
As for the art of bending itself, each element in the game has a different playstyle suited to it, and requires you to change up your strategy. Something like Earth requires close-quarters fighting, but deals massive damage, while Water wields less power and works better from a distance. You can seamlessly switch between them with a press of L1 or R1, which is great for shifting your tactics on the fly.
That said, keeping track of your abilities gets really tough when you're up against multiple opponents who can render you unable to move, breaking up the flow of combat. To top it all off, the checkpoint system could also be a little bit more generous – we lost track of the number of times that we died in battles with multiple benders, only to have to start from the beginning of the area and make our way back to them.
There are also numerous platforming sequences that, when combined with the camera orientation, feel really awkward and out of place. Luckily, they aren’t a huge part of the game, but they're a frustrating component nonetheless. Moreover, you'll get stuck with a few sections where you get to ride Korra’s polar bear dog Naga as well. The goal here is to race through the sequence, avoid obstacles, and collect as much spirit energy – the in-game currency – as you can. While it’s a change of pace, these sequences, more often than not, only provide more frustration, as the trial and error design sees you failing over and over again.
Surprisingly, the game itself allows for a good bit of replay value. Chapters have hidden chests throughout, which may require a specific type of bending to unlock. These chests contain items from the series that, while having no real value other than providing a spirit energy bonus at the end of the chapter, are fun little Easter eggs for fans. Gathering up all that spirit energy from smashing any and every object in a stage allows you to buy new moves, healing items, or statistic increasing items from the spirit store. Your bending also levels up as you use it to defeat enemies, and each level provides a new combo, or an upgrade to that element's power. While this system isn’t very in-depth, it works well enough to make you feel stronger, as you chain longer combos and dish out more devastating attacks.
Meanwhile, if you manage to beat the game, you're invited to test your skills with the extreme difficulty mode, as well as the pro-bending league. Fortunately, the release also has a chapter select feature, so that you keep all your abilities, purchases, and upgrades if you choose to take on the challenge of a higher difficulty, while the pro-bending league allows for some fun as you take on wonderfully named teams to become the best fighter in Republic City.
While The Legend of Korra can be an entertaining game, camera issues and often frustrating difficulty spikes mean that the release never reaches the potential of its brilliant source material. For fans of the series, the four to six hour completion time coupled with good replay value will make the cheaper price tag worth a shot. For everyone else, though, this is a sometimes enjoyable but largely forgettable action romp.