The Legend of Korra hands-on Preview: Retaining Platinum's DNA
As a candidate for most left-field announcement of the summer of 2014, the Activision-published, Platinum Games-developed The Legend of Korra actually makes a lot of sense. Between Transformers and Spider-Man, Activision is certainly experienced when it comes licensed properties. If you’re dealing with a property as action-driven as Korra, why not enlist the talents of a Japanese studio synonymous with action like Platinum? The more I learned about and played the game, the more I felt like this was one of the smartest moves Activision has done in recent memory. That said, I did double-check my preview appointment invite a few times just to make sure I was really reading the words “Activision”, “Platinum Games”, and “The Legend of Korra” in a single email.
One of smartest aspects of The Legend of Korra that also feels practical is its competitive $14.99 price point. This falls in line with the game’s projected playtime of four hours to beat the story. That said, Platinum is making a game that greatly encourages multiple playthroughs as it takes about three replays to unlock everything. There are objects and paths that have elemental barriers, and given that some of the elemental skills are unlocked later in the game, retreading older areas can only be accomplished through a New Game+.
Considering how much our demo jumped around from one location after another, one could get the false impression that this game would be much larger than what the estimated playtime would indicate. Even though it’s a linear game that features mild exploration, it was surprising to see a wide variety of areas including Republic City, tribal lands, and Korra’s homeland in the South Pole. The art direction does a fine job in matching the style of the TV show with noteworthy backgrounds that have been given a hand-painted look. And when we spotted the airbending training gates in the background, we knew that Activision and Platinum would offer bits of fan service here and there.
Speaking of features that would please Korra devotees, Platinum Games added areas that go beyond the game’s primary adventure. We got to see Korra ride her trusty giant polar bear/dog companion through the streets of Republic City in an infinite-running style stage. The jumping, sliding, and side-stepping demands of this minigame proved to be a challenge even for the Platinum Games spokesman, so we have a feeling that these sections will feel all the more rewarding once mastered. Then there’s the pro-bending arena, which feels like a must-have feature for any Korra game. As a Platinum production, it wasn’t surprising that this 3-on-1 match relies heavily on twitch-level actions and reactions. It swiftly punishes button mashers since you’ll leave yourself open to attack. Much of the strategy involves patience while you wait for an opening and microsecond timing when attempting to block and counter incoming attacks.
Sound familiar? The more we watched and played The Legend of Korra, the more we felt it had some of the combat DNA of Platinum’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Again, we’re talking about well-timed blocks, patience, and quick reactions. Rest assured, unless you set the game to its highest difficulty setting, you won’t have to worry about facing the same kind challenges found in Revengeance. That said, even though the main adventure feels slightly more forgivable to button mashers, you would be cheating yourself. You’d certainly deprive yourself of the dozens of eye-catching element-specific combos, which by the way look spectacular and often look like they came straight out of the TV show. While what we saw was a preview build (complete with sketched cutscene placeholders), we couldn’t help but feel optimistic about this unusual developer-publisher-licensed property collaboration. If there’s any downside to this, it’s that the deep combat and refined gameplay of The Legend of Korra might make the recent output of Namco Bandai-published anime games feel mind-numbingly boring by contrast.