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

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).

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.