Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Quest For Balance


So you wait around for an Avatar game and then...


Water, Earth, Fire and Air. I do vaguely remember playing Avatar: The Last Airbender on the original Xbox, and the only memorable thing about it is how quickly you could get the paltry 5 achievements and the easy 1000 Gamerpoints it offered–it actually became quite infamous and sought-after for this reason. The Quest For Balance loosely follows the story of the original American animated fantasy action television series, and, unlike the iffy live action movie, uses the same characters and looks a lot like it.

The epic fantasy story goes something like this; Aang is a young Airbender (Airbending is the ability to manipulate air) who is destined to become the Avatar, a master of all bending and the peacekeeper among the four nations of the world. Whilst being groomed for this heavy responsibility Aang understandably baulks at the prospect, and flees from his destiny, riding Appa, his 10-ton flying 6-legged bison-thing. They fly into a lightning storm and crash in the southern ocean and get frozen in an iceberg! Enter Katara and her brother Sokka, members of a water tribe living in the Southern frozen wastes, who discover Aaang and Appa over 100 years later... Thawed from the ice by Katara they all become firm friends.

After the Firebenders attack Katara & Sokka's village, Aang, Katara, Sokka set out to save the world from the militaristic Firebenders, who are set on world domination. During their journey Aang learns of the death many years previously (he's been frozen for 100 years remember) of his sensei, a monk named Gyatso, who was to train him to become the new Avatar. Aang must become a master bender that can control Air, Water, Earth and Fire so must first travel to the North Pole (yep, I was confused by that too...) The game centres around Aang & friends and their ongoing search for the bending skills in order to become the Avatar, and his ongoing battles with Prince Zuko, a young Firebender intent on capturing Aang to earn his father's approval.

After some simple platforming and combat, as in the original story, Aang uses a penguin as a toboggan and slides down an icy slope in a race very reminiscent of a certain Italian plumber's icy adventures! There are several of these "driving" levels throughout the game, and are a simple matter of avoiding obstacles and changing lanes–but some can be quite challenging! Another scripted location, the Island of Kyoshi,  sees you having to complete a much trickier lane-changing test while riding giant fish. Riding the huge fish adds a third dimension to the controls as it can dive underwater to avoid obstacles. He is also adopted by Momo, a flying lemur who becomes his pet and can also be raced against in various locations to reveal secret goodies.

The games feature platform sections regularly and these highlight the lack of control subtlety and that the characters' shadows don't really help pinpoint their position for jumps. The camera is also a bit low, which all combine to make some jumps extremely tricky to judge. Every so often you will find offered a "Pathik" bending challenge to test and advance the party's skills. These Pathik tests combine each character's skills and most tests require more than one character's participation–typically holding a lever so another character can progress.

The ‘X’ button is your basic fast attack, ‘Y’ is a stronger but slower attack. A jump attack can be performed by pressing ‘A’ then ‘X’ quickly. Holding the Left trigger (or LB) will activate target mode and lock onto an enemy, and you can flick between targets with the Right stick. ‘B’ is evade and can only be used when targeting an enemy. The R trigger is "cover", and if an attack is successfully blocked it can be launched back at the enemy...

A bending trap can momentarily freeze enemies in place, leaving them open to another attack. This is performed by holding 'Y' while targeting an enemy. As Aang quickly pressing X,X,Y performs a vortex attack that holds an enemy in place. The same button combo with a Water Bender (initially just Katara) produces a water tentacle that can damage multiple enemies, and similarly, with an Earth Bender the X,X,Y combo performs a rock press that hits enemies and launches them away. The Fire Bender combo launches a ring of flames that can damage several enemies.

Water and Earth benders can make ramps, and various objects and bits of scenery are bendable. The game mixes environmental and elemental puzzles that increase in complexity with sliding tile puzzles that start off very easy, and become head-scratchingly tough.

One of the early boss fights, Hei Bai is very predictable, but they aren't all so easy.

Some of the puzzles require more than one character, and you can press up or down on the D-pad to swap between them. It's worth remembering that only Aang can double-jump, meaning most platform action is best done with him. Pressing 'Right' on the D-Pad will make a character stay in that spot, and holding 'Right' again makes them rejoin the party.

Avatar statues are save points, and it's worth using these whenever you see them. You can also change characters here (if available) and start a co-op game. The co-op mode can be played online or as a couch co-op, and this is where the game is at its best. Depending on the chapter you can play as Aang and a selection of 8 of his friends, allies and frenemies.

The music is sparse but a couple of the background tunes are delightfully appropriate. The sound is rather basic and most of the dialogue is done in closed captions. Aang's voiced overuse of the expression "Totally!" means I feel this was a wise decision–if he'd spouted many more airhead Americanisms I'd have turned the sound down.

It's unlikely you'll get lost as the levels aren't that big, but there's an excellent map and a compass available to point you in the right direction should you not be able to find an item or forget where a quest giver is.

Playing solo, you can switch between available characters (initially Aang, Katara and Sokka) at any time and will need to use each of their abilities to progress at some point. Each character's skills can be enhanced, sometimes with automatic drops and others bought from vendors or with coins collected from smashing objects. More characters are available as you progress and some puzzles require their special bending abilities, or for them to carry an object while the way is cleared by others, but, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes a puzzle just requires a character's presence in a certain spot. They can be left in place by pressing Right on the D-Pad, then switching to another character. Co-op modes, both local and online, work well and make the game a lot more fun to play.

There are a few odd moments that smack of a lack of testing, like when coins drop in inaccessible places, or being able to enter a bending test that requires water and air bending skills with Prince Zuko – who only has fire bending skills! Losing any potions you've used after an unsuccessful boss fight is also daft – surely these should be restored for your next attempt? Fortunately "Free Mode" allows you to re-enter any completed level and restock your potions (as long as you've collected the required coins), but should you have to do this? Disappointment came when we'd completed the story and were trying to mop up a few missed collectibles and side missions via the Free Mode Chapter Select. You spawn into some levels and a door may be locked, which means you can't access parts of levels that you need to get to in order to complete it 100% – a clear lack of testing.

Other problems include the targeting, which simply doesn't work during some fights, and the button response to interactive objects can also be iffy. The combat is fast and furious though, and can be satisfying when you master a few basic attacks and dodge tactics. Healing is Katara's special ability, and this makes her invaluable at the start of the game. While Aang is obviously the focus, switching between the characters is a good idea as Sokko, whilst an incorrigible blowhard, is an awesome damage dealer. Various health-ups in the form of meals can be mapped to Left on the D-pad for quick use, and these will be lifesavers when fights go wrong.

The game features most of the characters, locations and stories from the anime-style cartoon, and does a pretty good, if slightly disjointed, job of replicating the confusing, twisty-turny tale in which enemies are enemies, but the enemy is of your enemies are sometimes your friends... Frenemies! Aficionados of the original series will be delighted that the ill-fated cabbage seller also makes several appearances - destroying his cart seems mean but always reveals a few coins. At the heart of the story is that the power mad Firebenders are always at odds with each other, meaning you even get to play as Aang's enemy Prince Zuko occasionally.

It's that poor cabbage seller - maybe he should try a different job?

While it's a massive improvement on the tawdry 2006 game, this still isn't the game the original cartoon deserves. It's not bad by any means, but lacks polish and depth, and after a few levels you'll feel like you've seen it all and levelled your characters to the point where they feel so OP (Over-Powered) that most, if not all fights (even boss fights) are simple.

Thanks to Bamtang, Game Mill and PressEngine