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Avatar: The Last Airbender
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: THQ
Developer: THQ Studios Australia
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Avatar: The Last Airbender simply looks, feels and sounds like the show. Graphics are done in a cel-shaded manner so as to effectively duplicate the visual style of the series, while the game's background music has a distinctive Asian flair that also stems from the Nickelodeon show.

All of the characters that come from the show look just like their cartoon counterparts. Everything from Aang and Appa's arrows to Bumi's crazy eyes come through loud and clear. Well, in the cut scenes if not quite as much in the in-game pulled back view. Places like Omashu have the same feel as the show, and I was really impressed by the way the developers were able to show how vast Omashu was while still making the location itself about as big as the other chapters.

Unfortunately, a lack of credits means I can't say for sure if the voices from the series are done by the same actors from the show, but if they aren't, then there are some pretty good imitators out there because everyone sounds like they should.

Avatar: The Last Airbender starts off around the end of the first season, at the Northern Water Tribe. But the game doesn't follow the events of the second season. Instead, this storyline is an all new adventure featuring Aang, Sokka, Katara and several new characters.

This game has everything a fan of the show could want. Your party will eventually consist of an airbender (Aang), a waterbender (Katara), an earthbender (a new character named Haru, though I would have preferred Toph from the series) and Sokka, who though isn't a bender, has some mad club and boomerang skills.

As your team fights enemies and uses their various skills, they gain experience and eventually level up. The team learns new techniques from several different categories. Each team member learns several melee combat combos, offensive bending or specialty attacks and defensive bending or specialty moves. Also, with the exception of Haru, each of the characters will learn a fourth set of skills specific to them. For instance, Katara will learn skills that allow her to heal the team while Aang will learn distraction techniques like his Air Scooter.

The game fits well into the Action/RPG genre. Each chapter/location is filled with 10 or so missions that can be completed in pretty much any order. Each location also contains eight or nine hidden chests that different characters are required to uncover (through bending, with the exception of Sokka of course, he just hits stuff). There is even a mission for Momo, Aang's flying-lemur, where you control the little guy as he runs around the location looking for a certain number of some desired object (flowers, moon plums, coconuts, etc.) for a shop keeper in the location's town.

Locations range from familiar places like the Northern Water Tribe Village to Omashu, but there is also a large handful of new places like the Four Paws "Lost" Island and the Hidden Village. Whether the location is directly from the show or not, each place feels like it belongs in the Avatar universe.

The game's enemies also come in many flavors. You will find everything from wild animals like the Platypus Bear, Wolf Bat or various ranks of Fire Nation soldiers and machines. Then, of course, there are the bosses. Each chapter ends in a boss battle that can be anything from an ancient spirit, to a giant machine, to a big bad Fire Nation jailer.

Avatar: The Last Airbender's difficulty is right on target, for the most part anyway. I found that I only died once in the entire game, and that was when the rest of my team left my side in Omashu, but it was always a challenge. I had relied on the other characters' attacks and healing abilities so much that when left alone, I had to go back and remember how I handled the game in the first Chapter, when only Aang was in my party.

Besides that, I found that as I leveled up, the enemies that would give me trouble in that chapter were a lot easier, but the baddies from the next chapter posed a significant threat. Bosses were a bit of trouble, but once my characters learned their most powerful offensive attacks (Aang's Hurricane, Katara's Maelstrom, etc.), these battles became much easier and a bit humdrum.

Game Mechanics:
Avatar: The Last Airbender's most interesting mechanics would have to be the skill tree system and the way the different equipment you find affects your character's various attributes. By no means are either of these features unique to Avatar, but they both have a huge impact on the feel of the game and the overall gameplay.

First the skill tree. Like I explained before, each character has a series of moves that he or she can and will learn throughout the course of the game. For the most part, a skill can't be learned until its previous, lesser version has been mastered. As your team levels up, the members are each given points and these points are automatically allocated when they are handed out. All skills take three points to master, but while most can be mastered in stages (i.e. Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3), some require all three points to be applied at once. These are typically the most effective moves of a particular category (like Aang's Hurricane attack).

But, while these points are allocated and assigned automatically at the time of leveling up, you can go in and remove points and redistribute them among other techniques. For instance, I found that I rarely used Aang's distraction techniques, or Katara's defensive moves. So when a point was assigned to one of these lesser used categories, I would move it to a move that I used more frequently, typically the offensive ones. This allowed my characters to master the techniques that I used more often quicker.

The other mechanic I mentioned was equipment and how the equipped items affect your characters' various attributes. Each character has seven different attributes. These are Health, Chi, Armor, Life, Focus, Agility and Strength. Each of these determines everything from how effective their attacks are, how quickly they regain Chi, how much Chi they have, how much damage they can withstand, and how much health they have. Throughout the game, enemies will drop tons of equipment, and what they don't drop can be bought or crafted in villages. The different types of equipment modify one or more of these attributes and different combinations of equipment will give different levels of strengths or weaknesses. The six types of equipments are headbands, robes, boots, necklaces, charms and rings.

Though the game doesn't really bring anything new to video games, what it puts together is a fun package that will cause you to lose unknown hours (I know it has for me). Fans of the show should jump on this game because it has pretty much everything you could want and, if you have never seen the series but like Action/RPGs, then at least rent the game, because you will probably fall in love with it too.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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