THQ's new dungeon-crawler falls a bit short of the mark.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a dungeon crawling RPG based on the popular Nickelodeon show of the same name. The world is composed of several elemental nations as well as individuals called benders who have the power to manipulate water, earth, fire, or air. One bender in a generation, known as the Avatar, holds the spirit of the planet and the power to bend all four elements, giving him the responsibility to keep the balance of nations in check. Aang, the current Avatar, is only twelve years old when he disappears, giving the Fire Nation an opportunity to move forward with a war for world conquest, beginning with the slaughter of Aang's people, the Air Nomads. 100 years later, Aang is found trapped in an iceberg that's kept him in suspended animation. With his home country eradicated and the Fire Nation threatening to overthrow the rest of the world, Aang and his newfound friends must do all they can to stop them.
The gameplay in Avatar is similar to the X-Men Legends games. You perform regular attacks with the A button and guard with the B button. You can also sneak by enemies by pressing the X button, but be a man and defeat them for megabucks and experience. Holding R brings up a rather familiar group of four icons representing special moves that are associated with the four face buttons on the GameCube controller. Once you have more characters in your party, you can switch between them by pressing a particular direction on the control pad. The main downfall here is that, unlike X-Men Legends, Avatar is a strictly single player affair.
Town areas are seamlessly integrated into the level maps. Some of them can be rather large with a lot of branching paths. All of them are filled with lots of useless NPCs that carry on the exact same conversation with you, which only changes when you get a new objective. It's so bad that the few characters that do have something different to say are marked with colored circles on the map. Another NPC oddity is that when you're passing by people, you'll hear them make a few remarks to one another, but whenever you talk with a person, the dialogue is delivered almost entirely through text. There are some good parts of towns though. You can find some extra missions to net rare armor and artifacts. Plus, there are merchants who buy and sell goods or craft items from raw materials and even a bit of gambling to participate in now and then.
Avatar is full of invisible goodies to find. You'll just be walking along and suddenly feel the
stone of agony controller rumble and see a question mark above your head. Wander in this "rumble zone" for a bit and you'll come across a spot where you can enter focus mode by pressing the Y button. Focus mode places your character in the center of the screen with a circle around him and button icons flying at him from different directions. Push the correct buttons as they enter the circle and you'll complete focus mode and unveil a chest full of goodies. (I can already predict how this will be done in the Wii version.)
There are also quests for Aang's flying lemur, Momo. It can see items the others can't (like tomatoes), so you'll have to switch to Momo mode to find certain items the villagers need. Since Momo can walk through the levels without anyone noticing him and has no means of attack, he can be a good resource for scouting out enemy strongholds, but his missions feel empty. Villagers requesting these items seem to always like to ask for eight of them too, which makes searching large sections of the level to find them all a bit tedious.
Upgrading attacks and getting new powers is one of the exciting parts of beat-em-up RPGs like this, but Avatar's upgrades don't seem to be visibly different in any way even if they are stronger. Likewise, the new powers seem to be kind of useless. However, I do like the fact that armor and artifacts don't require you to reach a certain experience level before you can use them. At least that way you can sell the junk you don't need instead of hanging on to piles of stuff that might be useful sometime down the road.
Having only gotten to play the first level and a half or so, there may be a bit more to Avatar as the game progresses. But at this point, it feels like an oversimplified version of X-Men Legends that is sorely in need of multiplayer.