Avatar: The Last Airbender - PS2 - Preview
I don’t watch cartoons. Up until now I had no idea that a show called Avatar existed, nor was I aware that it has been scoring millions of monthly viewers on Nickelodeon. In fact, when I see the word Nickelodeon I often run in the opposite direction.
Unless the word “THQ” is attached to it.
At the beginning of the current console generation, THQ formed a great relationship with Nickelodeon, turning out classics like Tak and Barnyard. They teamed with Disney for numerous Pixar-related games, including the latest hit from Rainbow Studios – Cars.
When I saw that THQ was in charge of Avatar, I immediately started to expect good things. The game’s subtitle is “The Last Airbender,” but if the preview build is any indication, this will be far from the last game in the series.
Avatar is somewhat of an action/RPG. Combat is based on a series of combo and single-hit super attacks. Aang, the main playable character, wields a staff and has many powers that enable him to overthrow large numbers of enemies. Battles with five or six enemies are not uncommon. Though that might sound like a paltry amount compared to other titles, in this game, two can be difficult to handle until you start to level up.
And that’s where the game is most like an action/RPG. All characters gain experience by defeating enemies. The level system does what you’d expect: growth increases your stats, most notably your health. To increase stats faster, and to continue your character growth even after leveling, players may equip armor, amulets, rings, hats, and boots. Each has the potential to enhance (or to take away) points of health, strength, and Chi (your powers), among five or six other important categories.
Chi is the game’s answer to MP. The Chi bar starts off fairly weak, which isn’t too much of a problem when you only have one special attack. It’s when you start gaining more attacks – and start to encounter relentless clusters of enemies – that you’ll need to pay close attention to your Chi.
This preview build seemed close to completion, and for now Chi rejuvenates on its own. Your health does as well, but both fill up slowly. You can replenish both meters fully by using items, but in my experience they were best saved for boss battles, or for when they were absolutely necessary.
(Example: I had just fought off six enemies. Another six have arrived, and my health is near zero. Running away won’t get me anywhere, not when my enemies can run faster and will attack before I’m able to escape. What to do? Cave and use a health item, and hope you don’t end up needing it more later.)
There have been other games like Avatar (including last year’s co-op Mortal Kombat title). But this one has an element that, while not entirely new, has yet to be implemented in a game as well as it has been implemented here: multi-character, fully controllable party members.
You can have up to four characters at one time. Each is assigned a different directional button. Pressing up, down, left, or right will switch between them. The characters not under your control will follow along as loyal soldiers, fighting almost as valiantly as if you had the ability to control each of them simultaneously.
This is particularly important because of the lacking AI found in other games. Simply put, good AI rarely exists. Either your AI-controlled party members are idiots, or they do too much of the killing for you.
In Avatar, it feels more like a natural, team effort. They helped me, and I helped them. Sometimes they’d die first in a vicious battle. Sometimes it’d be me, in which case my controls are automatically shifted to whoever’s still conscious (if more than one are, it seems to be randomized).
Each character has his or her own special traits, with Aang offering the most bang for your buck. Sokka is pretty good with a boomerang, whacking enemies till they’re finished. Katara has ice powers, allowing her to blast enemies and form an icy pathway for her comrades to cross. The fourth character appears to be Prince Zuko. It’ll be interesting to see what his powers are like.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is due this fall. Look for it on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, Nintendo DS, GBA, Windows PC, and Nintendo Wii.