Review: The Legend of Korra

The Avatar: The Last Airbender series was a surprise hit when it debuted. Echoing the charisma and energy of Japanese anime, the series earned enough of a fanbase to earn a sequel series: The Legend of Korra. And like its predecessor, The Legend of Korra was ripe for video games. But unlike many other TV show games, there’s a pedigree on Korra’s side. The game adaptation of The Legend of Korra was developed by Platinum Games, a company whose past works have earned them a notably pristine record. In the wake of Bayonetta 2, however, The Legend of Korra stands as a humble downloadable title based on the acclaimed animated series. While past games based on the Avatar franchise have been mediocre, The Legend of Korra aims to bring back some hope for the license. The Legend of Korra is a decent entry point for anyone new to character action games. Just don’t expect it to represent its license particularly well.

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The Legend of Korra starts with Korra in the Spirit World getting swarmed by enemies. The game quickly enters a flashback to a week before where Korra and her teammates are participating in the pro-bending tournament. On the way back home, Korra sees Triple Threat Triad members with an old man, who she mistakenly believes to be a citizen being mugged. Turns out the old man is actually working with the Triad, who ambush Korra and strip her of her bending powers. The rest of the game has Korra tracking down the old man, defeating his allied soldiers, and regaining her four element bending powers. Despite some intense battles, the story is elementary, with an underwhelming villain and very little character development for Korra or anyone else for that matter. Secondary characters are rare, so there isn’t any real fan service for Avatar faithful. While it’s nice that The Legend of Korra doesn’t rely on its source material so much that it alienates non-fans, the game doesn’t embrace the license enough to give hardcore fans much to chew on. It’s a missed opportunity.

Following in the footsteps of past character actions games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, The Legend of Korra is a beat-em-up, through and through. You wander around areas until enemies appear, with the exit being walled off. Defeat the enemies, barrier disappears, move forward, rinse, repeat. It’s extremely straightforward and it can make most encounters pretty dull. There are very few reasons to go off the beaten path, aside from collectible items to earn extra currency to buy items and moves. Environments don’t have any objects or gimmicks, so the levels feel obnoxiously flat, even for a beat-em-up. That means that your combat skills are the only thing that’ll keep you engaged in the basic stages.

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But is that combat any good? This is Platinum, after all, creators of some of the best character action games of the last generation. You’d expect The Legend of Korra to follow suit with that over-the-top, adrenaline-drenched action. Does it? Well…kinda. Korra has your typical light and heavy attacks, along with dodge and block commands. Blocking right before an enemy’s attack connects lets Korra counterattack, which can damage, stun, or knock back enemies (depending on the enemy type). It’s surprisingly responsive and echoes the Witch Time of Bayonetta. Camera, however, is a big problem. Due to questionable stage construction and a high amount of action, the camera rarely gives you a good angle during combat, especially when fighting multiple larger enemies at once. It always gets in too close, which can make more chaotic crowd control a headache to deal with.

Korra’s main ability is her bending, which channels power from each of the four elements. Each element has its own style; water is smooth and attacks in a wide range, air is a precise shot with potential whirlwind attacks, fire is a combo-crazy melee burst, and earth is a slow, but high-damage style. The different elements can be upgraded with use, but you can get by most enemy swarms with nimble dodging and button-mashing the attack button. Compared to most Platinum Games titles, The Legend of Korra’s combat is much less intricate, and at times, can feel too basic, but the counter system is shockingly well-built and the high amount of style in each element makes combat flow surprisingly well, especially in the later stages where massive combos are the way to go. The Legend of Korra still rewards good reflexes and honed skill, even if its combat borders on mashing buttons instead of fluid momentum.

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Aside from the main combat, Korra can also participate in runner-style missions with her polar bear dog Naga. These play out like your typical endless runner, with dodges, sidesteps, jumps and slides to provide momentum. These are fun for a while, but suffer from some questionable level design that forces you back to the checkpoint if you hit a wall. You can also buy items in the store like new moves or equipment, but aside from a few key purchases, you aren’t likely to need them. The other main side mission is pro-bending, where combatants use different bending powers to take control of a play field. Attacking your opponents until they lose stamina lets you push them back to the edge, and you earn a victory if you can push them out before time expires or claim the majority of the field at the end of three rounds. It’s pretty addictive, though there aren’t too many “leagues” to play through. You do get a New Game +, though, which lets you replay combat stages to continue upgrading your elements. The Legend of Korra is a downloadable title for $15, and while that’s still pretty steep for just a few hours of gameplay, the game’s combat has some charm and can make those hours pretty fun.

Despite the game’s complete lack of fan service, the game is still a good-looking one. The cutscenes are designed in the style of the animated series and still retain the spirit of the show. Levels take place in various locales of the show like Republic City, but don’t show enough character or identifiability to stand out. The lack of fan service shows most here, as more of it would’ve definitely helped the levels not look so flat and uninteresting. The animations in-game, however, are awesome, especially Korra’s special moves and Avatar state (the final boss is a huge highlight). The PS4 version is especially sharp with its clean animation, and I didn’t notice a drop from a solid 60fps during my entire playthough. Sound design stays true to the series with some great level themes and some decent voice acting. The voice acting’s biggest fault is the lack of a compelling story to deliver, even if the performances are okay.

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Closing Comments:

The Legend of Korra might not have any of the panache of past Platinum Games titles, but it’s a surprisingly good entry point for newcomers to Platinum’s design philosophy. It has a lot of button mashing, but delivers enough exciting animations and pitch-perfect defense controls to channel the spirit of the skill-based opuses that Platinum have produced in the past. Still, its personality is damaged from a bad story and lack of key figures in the series. For a game set in such an identifiable universe, The Legend of Korra doesn’t do much with its characters, locales or lore whatsoever. The side missions are also hit-or-miss, from messy endless runners to an underdeveloped pro-bending mode. Despite a poor use of its license, The Legend of Korra still provides some fun for its price. It might not live up to Platinum Games’ sky-high pedigree, and you might be compelled to call it their first misstep, but The Legend of Korra is a good starting point if you want to see what Platinum Games are all about.

3outof5Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4