This is based off a cartoon or something, right?
I am not going to mince words. This game is a supremely boring dungeon crawler and demonstrates that trait right from the get-go. In fact, if you have ever played a dungeon crawler before, rest assured, no matter how boring it is, Avatar: The Last Airbender is worse. Seriously: avoid. But if you want me to actually earn my keep with a detailed review, you are welcome to stay as I rant about how boring this game is.
Before I start I should say that I have never actually seen this particular cartoon, and so I do not know exactly how this ties into the overall plot. But generally, this game is about Aang. He’s the kid with the “this side up" arrows all over his body. He’s an Airbender, and apparently there is a shortage of them as the title suggests. Aang is discovered by a girl, Zatara, and her brother, Sokka, who are both Waterbenders. They seek to make Aang into the Avatar, who is the master of all four elements. And then there’s something about the Fire Nation invading and grabbing people. If you want to know more, check your local listings. Now, onto the game itself.
The first thing you will notice is the cel-shaded graphics, but soon after they diminish as the camera zooms away from the cutscene to the actual gameplay. The rest of the graphics are pretty bland, with nothing really special in the way of technical or artistic quality, which is typical of a licensed title, although the graphics do resemble the source material effectively. The camera is terrible, and it really deserves special mention in this case. At first I thought that the camera was fixed in its distant vantage. I soon found that I could adjust the camera, but only to make it zoom out even more. The boss fights offer a little relief in the zoom department, but on the whole, Avatar is brought down by the detached eye that is the camera system. It almost breaks the game by itself.
The sound quality is muffled to a large extent, which makes the voice samples a little hard to hear and the background music detached from the action at times. Not like that’s a big loss, because the voice samples range from the "hilarious guard give-and-take" to "insipid mutterings" by the player characters.
The controls are quite bad. The most aggravating control flaw is the menu system, which is obtuse and confusing. Some menus exit with the B button and some with the Z button, which makes such a simple act as leaving the menu an overcomplicated hassle. Even worse, the analog is over-sensitive on the menu screen, so you will find yourself suddenly switching pages on the menu without meaning to. Remember when I said the camera was zoomed out a lot? Well, it affects control too. In fact the camera is too zoomed out for the actual gameplay, even at its closest distance. It is very difficult to actually see what is going on, and when you get more party members, some of whom have very similar clothes, it gets hard to tell who’s who when the fight goes on. There are “Chi Attacks" you learn as you level up, but they are mostly useless, with the only worthwhile one being the very first, which knocks down a lot of the enemies, allowing you to finally see what’s going on.
But the real bulk of complaint comes from the main gameplay, which finds new ways to define fetch-quests and backtracking. In this game, you fight and level up and pick up items, and you complete quests which involve a lot of fighting and leveling up and picking up items. If the game already sounds dull, that’s because it is. Quite. In fact, I have never had a game so viciously opposed to me playing it. The enemies get more numerous and respawn faster, and when you get new party members, the game decides to throw even more at you, which is tacitly unfair because your other members' AI is pretty bad (they get stuck on barrels and such) and, unless you are actually controlling them, they don’t seem to do much damage to the enemies. You are basically doing all the work yourself, and that’s not fun when they gang up on just you out of your party, and it's much less fun when you start the game alone. And this is all the game really is, fighting random enemies for experience, picking up the equipment and items that they drop, and leveling up for bosses that are quite unfun to fight and strangely unfair towards the player. For example, the second boss requires you to level up outside for more than 40 minutes until you do respectable damage. He has an odd attack pattern and can break through blocks. This shouldn’t really be a problem because you have two teammates, but like I said earlier, they just can’t seem to damage the guy, so you spend your time trying in vain to find a pattern while he just wails on you until you die. It just is not fun.
There simply is not enough game variety to go around in this game. Aside from a few simple minigames, the entire game is exactly the same from start to finish, and I find this sort of hack-n-slash deal boring to begin with. This game even has a few bugs. When I first played it, it would not even load the first level, and there are several points where the attack just doesn’t register even though they visibly connect. This is really unacceptable. You don’t have to make a masterpiece of a licensed title, but it should at the very least function.
This is a hardest type of game to review, where its substandard qualities are hidden inside the most mediocre and unremarkable package. Exceptionally good games are fun to play and review, and likewise exceptionally bad games are fun to play (read: laugh at) and review. But this game falls squarely in the lower end of the middle, carving an unspectacular niche in the tree of licensed titles.