I'll be the first one to admit that I've changed a lot in the past year. After all, having a kid will do that to a person, for better or worse. But no matter how you look at it, a really strange thing happened to me over the past few days – I genuinely enjoyed playing what's unquestionably a kid's game, based on a TV show I'd never even heard of prior to firing it up. If that's not a head scratcher, then I don't know what is. Even so, THQ's Avatar - The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth ultimately left me wanting more – if only because it ends so soon.
First and foremost, Avatar may as well be called My First God of War, as it steals virtually all of its gameplay from Sony's stalwart mythological franchise. Of course, I can only hope that none of the kids that make up Avatar's target demographic have spent any time with that ultraviolent epic, even though that's probably a naïve pipe dream. Regardless, you can't play Avatar for more than a few minutes without immediately thinking about GoW. Between its combo-based attacks, granite-pushing puzzles, power-up treasure chests, and button-symbol coordinated boss battle climaxes, you start to wonder how much is flattery by imitation and how much is outright thievery. I suppose the developers could have chosen a less worthy title to ape.
the biggest problem with Avatar, just as it was with its counterpart on the DS, is its almost criminally short length.
Avatar follows the story of the main character Aang and his troupe of friends Katara, Sokka, and Toph as they unwittingly get caught up in a battle between the Earth Kingdom and the invading Fire Nation. Sure, this may mean something to those of you who are fans of the series, but to me that doesn't really count for much. In any event, Avatar's presentation is decidedly impressive, although at times inconsistent. The animated cut-scenes look terrific, and present the story very well – even to someone as clueless as me. Though I didn't know who anyone was, the lovely animation, on-target voice acting, and well-paced storyline did a fine job of keeping this uninitiated reviewer interested. On the other hand, the in-engine story-advancing scenes were fairly sloppy, as characters would speak even though their mouths didn't move and, in one bizarre turn of events in the swamp chapter, our hero Aang spoke and fought for several minutes without being seen.
From front to back, the action is heavily dependent upon platforming and combat. Each of the four characters have their own standard and specialized attacks, which all come into use along the way. There are all sorts of combo options for specialized moves, but simple button mashing will take care of business almost all of the time. Just for kicks, there are a few flying levels starring Appa, some sort of bird-like elephant that Aang and crew use to get around. However, the bulk of the time is spent on the ground, double-jumping around the levels and beating up every enemy in sight. The action is well-paced, and the variety of levels ranging from ancient Asian cities to swamps and granite arenas keep things interesting enough. While many of the puzzles are overly simple, there will be a few occasions where you'll find yourself scratching your head at times until the answers become evident.
In the end, though, the biggest problem with Avatar, just as it was with its counterpart on the DS, is its almost criminally short length. You can easily tear through the single-player campaign in a long afternoon, and the multiplayer battle arena doesn't offer too much in the way of extending the action in a meaningful way. Perhaps if there were more unlockables in the way of videos or other fan-friendly fare, I could come up with a compelling argument why anyone but the most ardent of Avatar fans would be well-served with a purchase. Unfortunately, I can't. For all its strengths – and there are plenty – it's unfortunate that more action couldn't have been crammed onto the disc.