Though I’ve heard nothing but good things about Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender and its ongoing spin-off, The Legend of Korra, I’ve never actually bothered to sit down and watch an episode of either series. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when one of the highlights of last week’s San Diego Comic-Con turned out to be my hands-on session with Activision’s upcoming Korra tie-in game.
That’s primarily because, unlike the glut of terrible licensed games of the ‘90s and 2000s, The Legend of Korra isn’t leaning on any pre-established fandom to justify its existence. To handle development, Activision tapped the Japanese studio Platinum Games, who’ve long since established themselves as masters of third-person action with titles like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Rarely has a developer been such an obvious fit for a property.
That’s a sentiment echoed by Platinum producer Atsushi Kurooka. Kurooka says the team hadn’t heard of the show before they were approached by Activision—it never aired in Japan—but the moment they started looking into it, they realized it would be a good fit.
“The first thing that struck us was how well researched the action was,” he says. “It was pretty much on the same level as some of the best Japanese anime. We looked at it and thought, ‘This is right up our alley.’ This is the kind of stuff that we consider ourselves to be pretty good at. It wasn’t just the action, either. The story was also incredibly impressive to us—just the depth overall.”
For the uninitiated, the world of Korra revolves around four nations, each of which has the ability to control one of the four elements. As the Avatar, our titular heroine is the only person who can wield all four powers simultaneously.
In gameplay terms, that means Korra can seamlessly switch between elemental attacks on the fly, allowing just two attack buttons to control a wide variety of strategically different combos. According to director Eiro Shirahama, it’s that concept that will allow The Legend of Korra to please both younger viewers of the show and longtime Platinum fans.
“We understood that it was a slightly different audience,” Shirahama says. “The way that we handled that was by making the combos easy to do. So while it’s simple to do basic combos, the depth actually comes from being able to mix the different styles. By switching at any time, we’re able to create the needed depth while also remaining accessible to an audience that may not necessarily be familiar with our games.”
And while the gameplay is shaping up to be strong enough to draw in franchise outsiders like myself, The Legend of Korra will still have plenty to offer diehard fans of the TV series as well. The visual style, combat animations, locations, and enemy designs are both beautiful and faithful to the show. (At least, that’s what our Korra-watching news editor Chris Holzworth says. You’ll have to take his word for it.) Perhaps more importantly, Platinum has worked with the series’ creative team to craft an original story set between the first and second seasons, featuring a blend of familiar faces and brand-new adversaries. It all sounds quite promising. Heck, it might even get me to give the show a shot for the first time.
I’m a bit less sold, however, on the segments that put Korra atop her pet polar bear dog, Naga. Styled after an endless runner (though not actually endless), these sections task you with running down alleyways, strafing left and right, jumping over, and sliding under obstacles in your path—all while trying to collect as much of the game’s currency as you can manage. The abbreviated level I played wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt a bit basic and uninspired compared to the rich combat of the main gameplay. Of course, I might end up feeling differently once I see these portions fully fleshed out and in context. For now, though, I’m slightly worried they’ll come off as less-compelling filler content.
Still, on the whole, I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed my brief time with the game, and I’m just as delighted to see that Platinum is putting their trademark polish and depth into Korra’s combat systems. A lot of minor details still give me pause—since I played through the demo with all of Korra’s powers unlocked and maxed out, I’m not sure exactly how the challenge and complexity will ramp up—but I’d be lying if I said The Legend of Korra hadn’t snuck its way onto my list of this year’s most anticipated games.