Avatar the Last Airbender: Into the Inferno
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-04 PS2 Action/Platform E10 (Everyone 10+) THQ

Avatar the Last Airbender debuted on Nickelodeon in 2005 and has since become one of the network's most popular franchises. Based in a world where individuals can harness the power of the four Earthly elements: fire, wind, water, and earth, the show follows a young boy named Aang on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, all the while defeating any who stand in his way.

A third-person action platformer, Avatar the Last Airbender: Into the Inferno follows Aang, an airbender, through the "Book 3: Fire" timeline of the show (or Season 3 timeline, for those who are unfamiliar), in which the Fire Nation has devised a plan to use a powerful comet to bring complete devastation to the world, so that they can claim it for themselves. It is up to Aang and his group of friends to stop Fire Lord Ozai from following through with his dastardly plan.

As an airbender, Aang can "bend" or gather the air surrounding him into a moveable orb that can be used to damage enemies or otherwise manipulate his environment. Aang is unique in that he can also bend the elements of water (and subsequently ice) and earth, and you will need to use all of Aang's powers efficiently in order to make your way through the game.

Gameplay is level based, with two playable characters, Aang and a friend, being available in most. Switching between said choices is achieved with the simple press of one of the directional buttons, allowing you to switch between characters on the fly, especially helpful in instances where one character is low on life.

Movement is controlled with the left analog stick, while the bending of elements is controlled with the right analog stick and the R1 button. The right analog stick controls your character?s bending sight which can be moved anywhere on screen. Once the sight picks up on an element that your character can bend, say a bucket of water or a pile of sand, the sight will change color (blue for water and green for earth), alerting you to this fact.

With a press of the R1 button, your characters can then bend that element. In the case of water, a large ball is picked up that can be used to extinguish fires blocking your path, hit enemies, or be transferred from one vessel to the next, weighing down objects to move platforms, or lightening others' weight so that they can be moved out of the way. For earth, bending equates to lifting temporary platforms out of the earth, even on horizontal sections of land (such as waterfalls), which can be used to climb to new heights.

With three elements under Aang's control, each level plays as a two-part affair. The first part contains simple puzzles and challenges that are overcome via the use of Aang's bending abilities, such as freezing a wall of steam that is blocking your path so that you can continue on, or determining how to raise a wooden cage that is blocking your access to treasures or tokens.

The second part of each level is combat based. At random intervals throughout each level, every exit out of a room, off of a mountaintop, etc. will be blocked by red fire walls, thereby trapping you in said location with a large group of fire benders, who would like nothing more than to defeat you where you stand. By pressing the square button, each character can unleash a standard punching or kicking attack, but Aang also has the advantage, as the last airbender, of being able to launch orbs of air into enemies, not only knocking them away from you, but also damaging them in the process.

Even though battling sequences are few and far between, once you find yourself forced into one, they seem to last forever. Enemies in this case can be equated to the mythological Hydra, who, when challenged by Hercules, would grow two heads for every individual head that was removed. That is, every time you defeat one enemy in the game, three more are there to take its place.

It is also in these battling sequences that the clumsiness of the controls becomes apparent. While in slower, more methodical gameplay the control schematic might work just fine, in these faster paced instances, controlling all of Aang's actions at the same time becomes quite the daunting task.

For example, in order to jump, you press on the X button, but in doing so, you must take your thumb off of the bending site control, eliminating the use of your bending powers. To compensate for this, one could theoretically give up on movement altogether in order to control all three right side buttons at once, but in doing so would obviously open themselves up to massive attacks.

Furthermore, even though the games are based on entirely different television shows, it seems that the same development team at THQ behind Tak and the Guardians of Gross worked on this game, as they share many of the same flaws.

First and foremost is the terrible camera that plagues the game, and causes problems both in wide open spaces and in enclosed areas. In the open, the camera tends to remain far too zoomed out from your character, eliminating the detail within the environment and slowing your progress until it decides to zoom in and allow you to continue. In confined areas, the camera instead takes up a weird semi-overhead angle, which, while closer to your character, also blocks your view of most enemies during battles, allowing you to be hit from behind by a fireball or sword attack that you literally had no chance to see coming.

Either way, both instances also virtually eliminated any depth perception that I might have utilized during gameplay, causing me to randomly jump off of cliffs or incorrectly time my jumps on moving platforms, forcing me to experience one of the game's other massive flaws, its loading times.

No matter if you are loading a level from the start, or are simply hoping to be reset at a checkpoint in the middle of the level after dying, you have to sit through ridiculously long loading times (lasting upwards of a minute in some cases), that are so long in fact, that I would easily place it on any "longest loading times in gaming" lists (if such things exist), second only to Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, another platformer.

Other, albeit less impactful, problems to note include the fact that the multitude of in-level voice acting is set on a loop, causing me to hear my enemies scream "This cannot be happening" or "You will be defeated" far too many times for my liking, and the fact that each level contains a completely separate part of the story, with little to connect them, offering virtually no continuity for those not intimately familiar with the franchise.

As for the look of the game itself, it once again presents players with a double-edged sword. While the cutscenes within the game are beautifully done, and more than adequately capture the look of the television series, the in-level graphics are far too dark, causing you to overlook many details, even those that you need in order to progress, unless you manually turn up your television's brightness.

With the exception of the majority of looped voice acting within the game, the rest of the sound department fares quite well, with fairly epic and cinematic scores being played throughout that, along with the cutscenes, help to better the game's transition from television series to game.

In the end, even with unlockable extras like game art and character power-ups becoming available shortly after the start, they do little to help save the rest of the game from itself, with the title's multiple faults ultimately creating a less-than-mediocre experience suitable only for die-hard fans of the franchise.

Special thanks to Kristina Kirk and THQ for providing a copy of this title.