Avatar: The Last Airbender Hands-On

We try out THQ's action RPG based on the popular cartoon.

THQ showed off Avatar: The Last Airbender for the Wii at an event in New York this week. The action role-playing game features an original story and lets you take the core cast of characters on an adventure to face off against the Fire Nation. We had the chance to try out the game's unique Wii control mechanics, which put an action-oriented twist on its traditional gameplay.

Get ready to battle the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

If you're a bit behind the times with your Avatar knowledge, we'll offer a quick primer. The cartoon started airing on Nickelodeon in 2005 and is currently one of the more high-profile cartoons on the air. The fantasy adventure is set in a magical world that sees humans coexisting with unique animals and supernatural spirits. Humans are split up into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Within each nation, there are men and women called benders, who have the inborn ability to manipulate their native element. Bending is an art form that's equal parts martial arts and elemental mysticism. The bending arts are tied to each of the elements, so individuals will be adept at water bending, earth bending, fire bending, or air bending.

With this kind of setup, there'd have to be a twist, right? And there is! Every generation, a bender will appear who has the power to manipulate all four elements. The unique bender is called an Avatar, and this person embodies the spirit of the planet that reincarnates every generation. To keep things fair, the avatar cycles through each of the nations to keep balance and serve as a conduit to the spirit world. The delicate balance maintained by the Avatar spirit's reincarnation is thrown off when it winds up in a young boy named Aang, an air nomad who doesn't take the news of his heritage well and winds up checking out for about 100 years, thanks to a series of unfortunate events that leave him and his air bison in suspended animation. As you'd expect, Aang's absence causes some serious imbalance that results in the Fire Nation dominating the tribe scene and Aang's people being wiped out. What's a recently returned messianic figure to do in a situation like that? Return order of course, which sets the stage for THQ's upcoming game.

The Last Airbender puts you in control of air-bending Avatar and poster boy for the series Aang, as well as his pet and his three friends--Haru, bender of earth; Katara, bender of water; and Sokka, the nonbending member of the posse who relies on his wits and his trusty boomerang. You'll also have the opportunity to take control of Momo, Aang's monkeylike pet. The game follows the basic linear action role-playing structure and sends the crew on a journey to the key lands in every nation on their quest to stop the Fire Nation's reign of conquest. Anyone who's played the recent X-Men Legends games from Activision should be right at home with the tried-and-true model Australian developer Studio Oz is using for the game. You'll be able to swap control of the four principle characters on the fly to best take advantage of their individual abilities. Taking out enemies will yield experience that will raise your party's level and let you power up each member's unique elemental-bending powers. You'll find each character will have a broad array of powers within their specific element that will number more than what you can use as you play, letting you customize your posse with the sets of powers that you want. Also, your journeys will let you earn cash that you can spend in shops you'll come across throughout the adventure. While on a spree, you can choose to pick up assorted gear for your crew to better handle the enemies you'll encounter. Fans of the series will recognize familiar faces and places from the cartoon but should be prepared for all-new characters to appear.

Besides traditional adventuring with the four humans, Studio Oz has included a pleasant amount of monkey content to the experience. You'll be able to switch control to Momo and do some scouting. Besides allowing you the chance to walk a few miles in the shoes of a white-furred simian, the mechanic lets you use the little guy to discover hidden content and access areas his large human pals can't get to. Sadly, Momo's adventuring seems pretty staid, so anyone hoping for some Wii-powered, feces-flinging action--an obviously natural fit for the versatile controller--can only hope that it makes it into the next game.

Speaking of the Wii controller, just what can Avatar fans and those curious about the system's unique interface expect? Well, based on our hands-on time with a work-in-progress version of the game, it'll be an active experience that mixes traditional mechanics with a whole lot of waving. The game makes use of the Wii remote/analog-bean combo that's been the standard configuration we've seen for most of the action games for the system so far. You'll maneuver the character you're actively controlling with the analog stick (with your artificial-intelligence controlled posse following close behind). Melee attacks will be handled by a combination of waving the wand and pressing the A button. You'll have to make sure you're close to the enemy before you start busting virtual heads, though. When you need to tap into the power of the elements to help even the odds, you'll have to hold down the B trigger on the Wii-mote and wave either the controller or the analog bean horizontally or vertically. Each peripheral has two elemental moves--one bound to each direction--letting you perform a total of four. The analog attachment lets you toggle the party's stealth mode, as well, which renders the gang invisible for stretches when you need to be sneaky. For those keeping score at home, we should note that Avatar doesn't support the Wii-mote speaker.

The game has a cel-shaded look, which is similar to that of the cartoon that it's based on.

The visuals in the game, while not finished, are shaping up well and offer up stylized cel-shaded graphics that mimic the look of the cartoon. While not a show-stopping showcase for the Wii's graphics, Avatar's visuals feature clean detail, smooth animation, and a fluid frame rate that adds up to an authentic experience that should please fans. We weren't able to get a proper feel for the audio, but we expect that the game will mix familiar tunes from the cartoon with original tracks.

From the look of what we've seen so far, Avatar is shaping up to be a good showcase for one type of experience on the Wii. The hybrid experience it offers handles like a happy medium between taking advantage of the controller's key features and relying on traditional console gameplay. The question that lingers, as it does over all the Wii games we've played, is, of course, how the control mechanics will hold up over the kind of long-term play session a game like Avatar will offer. Beyond the control angle, the game seems like it will offer a solid enough action RPG experience that can stand on its own, mixed with enough elements from the cartoon to please fans. We would have liked to have seen the game offer multiplayer support of some kind, though, considering how perfect it would fit into the adventuring format. Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently slated to ship this fall on current-gen consoles and the Wii.

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31 comments
greystone227
greystone227

I think this game looks promising. As long as when you do attacks, you don't have to literally swing your arms. A short movement (like in Zelda) would be good, because that wouldn't be too bothersome. As far as the graphics go, come on guys. Stop complaining. First of all, screen shots of games with cel-shaded graphics never look as good as when you're actually playing it. Go take a look at screen shots for the Wind Waker. I personally think the in-game graphics are amazing, but the screen shots don't look too great. Also, they said the graphics are still in development. So stop worrying.

jmm0070
jmm0070

please make the game as complete as the show, all elements and temples and nations please (would be a promising great game, has a storyline that has the potential to become a game even beter that OOT, but it must be developed really well)

RoyTheSwordsman
RoyTheSwordsman

The screens are from the gamecube game but played on the wii with the wiimote, the final version will have much better wii graphics

-KoN-
-KoN-

People people people this game has major potential for the Wii. I mean your complaining about the graphics that are 1 on the computer and 2 still in development. I for one am getting really hyped for this game because 1 the show is the best show on Nickelodean and 2 hopefully the best game that THQ has made for Nickelodean. Think of doing all the bending with the Wii-mote.

gforce85
gforce85

Avatar rules!!!!!! That would be sweet if you have to say "Yip Yip" to make Appa fly

OrginalMario
OrginalMario

The Graphics remind me of Dragon Quest.... which is good

skipyou
skipyou

This had better not be the graphics for it becuase that SUKS

obi_2_kenobi
obi_2_kenobi

No it doesn't look allright this game looks awful, I hope they're gonna do something about it cause I'm never gonna buy a game that looks so blurry and ugly like that...

g-master999
g-master999

Meh, looks all right. I'm a fan of the show, but I'm gonna have to see how this comes along before I decide to get it.

darknight570
darknight570

I would like to get my hands on it. It looks like it could be a solid RPG, but who's to say?

coltACP
coltACP

The Wii games just need a stable framerate to function at optimum levels-without a stable framerate both control and experience would be less. Now i know everyone is like-oh it's not looking as good as 360 ect-but it is not supposed to. Since when did you get a 100% stable framerate on 360 games? yeah never wise guy, it's up and down, have you seen the new splinter cell btw? i couldn't believe the frame drops in that-een though it does look gorgeous-i'm a bit of a graphics whore and i know how much framerate will actually mean to Wii games-they may not be as impressive but it'll run like SILK which is more than can be said for 360 an PS3 games that are trying to PUSH the machine. Maybe when Capcom shows what they can do with it(resident evil 4 engine anybody^^) you'll see what the Wii can actually do-hmm with a stable framerate too lol.

blackmage0_15
blackmage0_15

Hazuki, I've got a game for you. Play Windwaker with 5.1 surround and turn it up. Then fight a boss. God, that is an amazing experience. Give it a try sometime.

Jofulikestofu
Jofulikestofu

um, it looks fine to me. i don't know what you think is wrong with it. *graphics whores*

hazuki
hazuki

I am happy they arent using the speaker on the remote. I usually have everything i play really loud and nintendo has a tenency to have low level sound that i can barely hear.

flamingice45
flamingice45

For those who are complaining about the graphics: The visuals in the game, while not finished, are shaping up well and offer up stylized cel-shaded graphics that mimic the look of the cartoon. You guys really need to read. And also, a games graphics can be low quality, but it can still be an amazing game. On topic: This game looks sweet!

topdogal
topdogal

these graphics are abysmal, they look like psp or just a bit better than ds, i wouldnt even stand for this on gamecube

Rect_Pola
Rect_Pola

Whew; I'm glad they held back the bending to something user friendly. I don't know about you, but I was more than a little scared when I first saw it was on the Wii. Anyone who has seen the show (and how developers mishandled DS functionality in its first run of games) knows what I'm talking about. I so hope this game rocks.

2w-sephiroth
2w-sephiroth

The graphics look really "low" I am sure the wii can do much better than this

SuperH75mil
SuperH75mil

I almost completely forgot who Haru was until I remembered that episode from the first season, which begs the question: where the hell is Toph? Unless, of course, the game only progresses through the first season? It'll be interesting to see how the game plans on telling the Avatar story considering how unfinished the series is. By unfinished, of course, I don't mean unpolished...the show is fantastic, and the dialogue often seems to be from sort of family-friendly Joss Whedon.

Platyphyllum
Platyphyllum

If the gameplay sticks to an X-Men legends style gameplay then this could be a good game! I also like the graphics! The cartoony look.

bobmcdoog
bobmcdoog

I heard about a month ago that this was a GC game, if it was then that would kinda explain the graphics...

AnGrYpHiL
AnGrYpHiL

i like the cartoon look alot :)

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

Umm...wow, the graphics aren't great, seriously, but hopefully it'll be fun. The graphics should at the very least be better than the Gamecube and right now from the screens they're kind of under powered. Hopefully they're in the phase of tweaking it.

SSJ4Bardock
SSJ4Bardock

I agree with Cehack, there's no excuse for cel-shaded graphics to look that bad. But the article even says - Work In Progress

Cehack
Cehack

Wow, I really hope those graphics are still in the place-holder/alpha phase. They look like something out of an early PS2 game. I'm not a huge graphic buff but when they're that bad they tend to distract.

Vid_Kid_430
Vid_Kid_430

Still say it would be a great mmorpg. If you agree look up my topic in the forum!

eg_robomojo
eg_robomojo

I'll love this cartoon, it ahs a really nice anime style and I was surprised that a cartoon this well-made was on Nickelodeon and not cartoon network. I look forward to playing the game, especially on the Wii.