The Legend of Korra sounded like such a perfect project. Between the show's inventive premise and Platinum's development skill, a game adaptation could have been something truly special. That potential makes it all the more disappointing that this game is so aggressively mediocre.
Only the Avatar
Based on the show of the same name, The Legend of Korra follows Avatar Korra, the latest in a long line of reincarnated beings who have a special spiritual connection that charges them with keeping the world balanced. In a world where many people are born with the innate ability to control (or "bend") one of the four classical elements, only the Avatar can bend all four. Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water each have their own unique styles based on real martial arts. All of this makes for an inventive world that could benefit greatly from the kind of polished combat systems that Platinum is so known for.
However, the one area that should stand out most--the combat--provides the greatest gulf between potential and execution. Each moveset feels clumsy, somehow. Moves don't flow smoothly from one to the next. This makes perfect sense for earthbending, since its style is very firm and planted with slow, powerful maneuvers. The other three lack their signature essence. Firebending is too slow, airbending is too chaotic, and waterbending is too stilted.
Firebending is too slow, airbending is too chaotic, and waterbending is too stilted.
As the Avatar, you can control all four elements, and swapping between them should be a simple exercise. This is just as wooden, with a rotating menu that makes switching awkward while in the thick of combat. There are times when the combat feels like it clicks, momentarily, and those are truly satisfying. They're just too few and far between.
None of this is helped by an endless set of generic badguys, punctuated by frustrating boss battles. Taking down a handful of enemies is easy to the point of dull, while more crowded situations become difficult because the combat system is not fluid enough to handle them all at once. Bosses, meanwhile, are all but immune to your bending and instead rely on gimmicks like counter-attacks that do very little damage. It becomes an endurance match, chipping away at the boss' health with the occasional counter, and simply surviving the rest of the time. These feel like they were meant to pad the rather short playtime.
The combat stages are broken up by sets of Naga stages, in which Korra rides her companion polar bear dog across the streets of Republic City. These are essentially Temple Run with a different skin. It's harmless enough and can be enjoyable in short bursts, but it's not particularly inventive.
Finishing the main campaign opens up a Pro Bending mode, which actually translates the fictional sport fairly well. The concept of Pro Bending has taken a back seat on the show, but it was originally creative enough that translating it into a video game is a welcome addition. It's only too bad that you can only control one player, without the option for other human players to join your team. That means you're reliant on the friendly A.I. as teammates, and sometimes they aren't as skilled as you need them to be for harder matches.
If pro bending is a nice piece of fan-service, though, it's one of the only ones. For a game based on a beloved show, it's strangely anemic. Almost none of the cast shows up at all, even in the nicely produced animated cutscenes. Janet Varney's Korra performance is fine, albeit hampered by a script that often sounds cheesier than the show ever would. Her cast mates barely appear: Jinora stops by from time to time, and Mako and Bolin have a brief cameo, but that's all. No Tenzin, no Asami, no Beifong. Not even Cabbage Corp. Guy.
Worse yet, the plot is largely nonsensical. I expected it wouldn't add much to the story, taking place between two seasons that have already passed. But between the foot soldiers being an organization that was stamped out in season one, and a large part of the story revolving around a portal that closed at the end of season two, nothing about this gels with the show.
The Legend of Korra very much fits our traditional expectations of licensed games, or at least the expectations we had before games like Batman: Arkham Asylum showed what can be done with loving care. It has glimmers of smart ideas, and the developer could have been a perfect fit, but it just doesn't live up to its potential. It feels rushed and dull, and the show deserves better.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 download code provided by the publisher. The Legend of Korra is now available for $14.99. The game is rated T.
The Legend of Korra
- Nicely animated cutscenes
- Pro-Bending translates fictional sport well
- Clumsy combat against dull foot soldiers
- Frustrating boss battles are a slog
- Nonsensical plot doesn't gel with show
Steve Watts posted a new article, The Legend of Korra Review: Chi Blocked
that's too bad, bending seems like a great game mechanic