The Last Airbender Achieves Mediocre Results
Video games related to the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series are mostly known for mind numbingly easy achievements and poor gameplay built up around lazy recaps of the show's seasons. Now it gets a new lease on life in the form of a movie tie-in game based on M. Night Shyamalan's live action adaptation of the cartoon show. Artistic liberties have been taken with the source material, but basically it involves a fictional world based off East Asian style and philosophy. Most importantly, people called benders can manipulate the elements with martial arts. Kick rocks, whip people with water, launch fireballs, and create hurricanes.
How well does all this translate to a game based on a movie? Results are surprising to say the least, but that might have been caused by my extremely low expectations going in. At the very least you can expect a decent length story mode and (surprisingly enough) plenty of optional challenges.
The Last Airbender has an interesting narrative choice by making one of the antagonists the star of the game. The story is told through the perspective of the banished Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation (played by Dev Patel). His country is busy making an attempt at world domination and fears the only one that can stop them is the Avatar. Of course, the Avatar has been missing for a hundred years so he's given the snipe hunt of finding and capturing the Avatar in order to go home. The game follows Zuko as he tries to pull this off with the world and his own country against him. The titular last Airbender, Aang (played by Noah Ringer) is demoted to guest star status and only appears in a few stages if just to curb complaints.
Graphics are serviceable but still a little rough. The game doesn't go for any stylized art directions and tries to go for the look of the movie using what the Wii can offer. Characters end up looking a little blocky and some costumes clip a whole lot while pulling off moves and jumping around. Environments like ice caves and old temples come off the best with a few little touches like the ability to scorch flags or knock armor off enemies by beating them senseless. It won't hold up under close inspection if you're the one that has to have great graphics. It probably doesn't help that there are only four real areas that you'll explore in this game. A ship, a temple, a cave, and a city made of ice. You may or may not notice this as they try to spread it out.
Gameplay handles mostly like a 3D brawler with a bit of platforming and a dash of on-rails shooting. You'll run through areas, meet plenty of unfriendly guys, and then waste them all on your way to the end of the stage. Controls are fairly simple and handle decently with the Wiimote. The A button handles your basic attacks while holding multiple buttons do stuff like area attacks and launching projectiles. Motion controls are used well enough so they're not annoying and are mostly set aside for cut-scenes and a few jumps. They also appear if you can string together a combo long enough without getting hit to add a heavy attack. Special attacks involve hitting the C button for extra damage or a speed boost to make enemies move slower.
It would almost be button mashy if not for the way combat plays out. There's a big emphasis on crowd control. Enemies refuse to wait their turn and will swarm you at every opportunity. Hammering away on one guy with the A button is a good way to get attacked from behind or hit with a fireball by ranged guys hanging out on the edge of the screen. Jumping around and juggling targets to keep everyone off balance is usually the best policy. It doesn't take too long before you're jump kicking fireballs at one guy and hitting another as you make your way across the screen. The camera can get a bit unwieldy in tight spaces but it works enough to get by. Zuko and Aang handle the same with small changes due to one throws fireballs and the other uses tornadoes. It's pretty amusing to turn soldiers into projectiles with a windstorm and toss them around.
Most of the game is like this, but it has a few levels where it changes things up. You'll get a pseudo stealth level where you play as the ninja-like Blue Spirit and take guys out all sneaky like. Zuko has a few on-rails shooter sections where he tosses fireballs at plenty of willing targets. It's certainly refreshing and handles well enough that they aren't a pain to play through. The game even ends on a fairly challenging boss battle where you can beat up Aasif Mandavi. I can't name many games where you can fight a Daily Show correspondent. Okay, he's actually playing a Fire Nation admiral named Zhao. Details. Whatever.
One thing that might help replay value (in the rare event you buy this game) is a long list of in-game challenges all throughout the game to put the X-Box 360 Avatar game to shame. A few of them cover basic challenges like beating the game on the hardest difficulty, but most of them are unique like beating a group of enemies in a specific section of the game without getting touched, causing environmental damage, beating an area without attacking and more. Beating challenges will unlock bonuses like extra damage for attacks, costumes for multiplayer, and some impressive looking concept art for the movie that hasn't made an appearance anywhere else. There is certainly plenty to do other than getting through the game if you have time to spare.
There's also multiplayer but it's hardly worth mentioning. It's a strictly competitive mode to see which player can beat up the most dudes in a certain time limit. Enemies drop all kinds of power-ups, but players can't attack each other directly unless they find a specific player-vs-player one. Losing all your health will simply knock you out for a time so there's no demand to be careful like in the story. You'll have eight stages but it's really more like four stages with two different areas. Confusingly, this is the only mode where you can see the costumes you've unlocked from the main game which you can't even access unless you have two Wiimotes.
I hesitate to call this game good. It certainly shows a lot more polish than other Avatar games and even the movie it's based on. Take that how you will. You'll only get three actors from the movie in the form of Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, and Aasif Mandavi. Dev does all the narration as Zuko and does an okay job if not for all the funky pronunciations riddled through the whole game. It almost seems like missing half the cast is responsible for the direction of this game. For a stupid fun fact, Nolan North has a voice acting credit but it doesn't show who he played (probably the various guards because they sound pretty good).
Judging how M. Night's movie was received in theaters, this is probably as close to fun as you're going to get with The Last Airbender.