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The Legend of Korra and its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender are the kind of franchises just begging to be turned into video games. The two Nickelodeon television series follow Korra and Aang, two different incarnations of the Avatar: a reincarnating link between the spiritual and physical worlds. In the Avatar franchise, particular people can “bend,” or manipulate, one of the elements of water, fire, earth, or air. The Avatar is unique in that she can bend all four elements. While there have been numerous Last Airbender games, none have quite captured the awesome kung-fu battling featured in the shows. With The Legend of Korra, the $14.99 digital-only title releasing this Fall for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, Activision has tapped veteran action-game studio Platinum games to hopefully change that.
I got to play through an extensive demo of The Legend of Korra, and came away impressed – both as a fan of the TV series and as an action-fighting gamer. Whether you’re interested in The Legend of Korra as a casual gamer, Avatar fan, or even a hardcore Platinum follower, these are five things you’ll want to know:
The Story Is Rooted In Series Lore
The Legend of Korra’s main campaign features an all-new story by veteran series writer Tim Hedrick, who wrote for The Last Airbender, and has written nine episodes of The Legend of Korra so far. The game’s new original story takes place between books two and three of The Legend of Korra, and will take the show’s events into account.
One consequence the show will have on the game is the prevalence of spirits, which is what the new antagonist appears to be. In one of the early animated cutscenes, Korra encounters a mysterious old man shrouded in a heavy cloak in one of Republic City’s dark alleyways. As she approaches him, he begins to laugh, and then disappears suddenly in a puff of purple smoke. Before Korra can react, she is shot from behind with a metal dart and loses consciousness. When she wakes up, she finds that she can no longer use her bending.
The demo later picks up with Korra attempting to remember how to bend, one element at a time, by visiting locations throughout the world in order to get back in touch with the spiritual source of her power. Players will have to complete objectives relating to this goal, helping Korra perform certain moves and track down items that will help kickstart her different bending powers.
We don’t know yet if or how the game’s narrative will interact with season 3 of Korra or if it will be considered a canonical story, but with an experienced series writer attached, good-looking 2D cutscenes in the style of the show’s animation, and a mysterious new bad guy, The Legend of Korra’s story might be one reason for fans to get interested.
Signature Platinum Elements Are In Place
One of the more exciting aspects of The Legend of Korra is the fact that stylish-action experts Platinum games signed on to develop. Based on what we played, it really shows. Fans of Madworld, Bayonetta, or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will see a lot of elements of those games in Korra’s gameplay.
Combat is fast-paced, running at a smooth 60 fps. There’s a distinct emphasis on mobility, complimented by a dedicated dodge button. Korra will fight hordes of mixed foes; at one point during the demo, there were 15 to 20 enemies on-screen at once. Manual and auto lock-on helps the targeting and camera angles and felt useful in the tense battles. When Korra has sufficiently reduced an enemy’s hit points, a button prompt will appear over her head, allowing for an over-the-top finisher – complete with dynamic camera angles and action lines.
One of the main mechanics of the combat is the counter attack, rewarded for blocking an attack with perfect timing. When a counter is successful, Korra performs a QTE, usually with the analog sticks, to punish her attacker with a particularly intense element-specific assault. More advanced enemies can counter Korra or even counter-counter, leading to interesting back-and-forth duels.
Platinum’s trademark style comes through in the difficulty. While it was pleasantly easy to grasp the controls, even the casual difficulty proved to be surprisingly tough, with highly competent foes ready and willing to punish me for missing a dodge or block. There will be multiple difficulty levels, and if casual was difficult, I imagine even the most experienced action gamer will find plenty of challenge in the harder modes.
Korra features an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master combo system built around the four elements. By the end of the demo, I had already put together a few go-to combos I was excited about developing further, so action experts should look forward to customizing crazy 200+ hit combos of their own. Players will even receive a score and ranking after each fight based on their performance, ranging from bronze to, of course, platinum.
Bending Elements Are Incorporated Organically
While it’s true that The Legend of Korra is developed in the stylish-action mold, fans of the TV series shouldn’t be worried that the game is just a beat-‘em-up with an Avatar paint job. Whether you’re fighting or navigating the environment, you look and feel like the Avatar. All four bending elements are available for use (once you’ve regained them), and each have their own distinct feel, with advantages and disadvantages. While waterbending may be good for certain situations, like fighting at a distance, earthbending might work better for controlling groups of enemies or staggering a heavier attacker. Korra is able to switch between elements on the fly to unleash multi-element combo techniques. During the demo, I saw Korra launch an enemy with earthbending, juggle him with water, pursue him into the air with fire, and finally smash him back down with air.
The way combat itself works also takes cues from the mechanics of bending detailed in the show. The most obvious way it does this is through the “chi-focusing” attack system. During any attack in a combo sequence, light or heavy, Korra can begin focusing her chi instead of immediately attacking. Chi-focusing feels like charging an attack, and functions similarly, with the player holding the attack button down. The result is a more powerful and dynamic assault that changes depending on which step in the combo Korra it’s performed. Chi-focusing is built right into the combo system so that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of fighting, and makes Korra’s attacks feel more like the bending they’re based on.
Each bending style also looks distinct, with fluid animations that look like they were ripped from the show frame-by-frame. Platinum worked with Sifu Kisu, the same martial arts consultant that worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, to make sure Korra’s moves are authentic to the kung fu fighting depicted. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can even enter the Avatar state, lifting Korra into the air in a swirling vortex of all four elements. This powerful technique appropriately functions as a super mode “trump card,” and is made available via a charging bar that fills as you fight.
Each element has its own navigational and platforming techniques. Firebending features a quick dash, which Korra uses fire as a jet booster to charge forward or avoid attacks. Airbending has a double jump, which will be very helpful during The Legend of Korra’s platforming sequences, and you can even use Aang’s trademark air scooter (just be careful not to run into any statues). As with combat, traversal sequences encourage players to switch between styles to adapt to different challenges often, so expect to master all of Korra’s powers both in battle and out.
Visual And Audio Is Accurate To The Show
The Legend of Korra contains plenty of little nods to fans, like the Aang statue towering over Republic City, or the airbending challenge Korra used to train moving with the breeze on Air Temple Island. That breeze, along with everything else in-game, should sound just right, as Platinum and Activision made sure to fully recreate the sound effects used in the show, and every voice actor reprised their role.
The game also looks right, as the cel-shaded style was clearly inspired by the beautiful animation from the show; Korra’s ponytail bounces as she flips and kicks, leaves blow through the air, and firebending creates exaggerated shadows and black smoke.
Korra will visit several iconic series locations on her globe-trotting campaign. During the demo, I visited Air Temple Island, two different iterations of Republic City, and an icy location that looked an awful lot like the North Pole. I did battle with enemies while leaping over huge vines and across destroyed buildings and rooftops, and navigated a huge icy crevasse. During these levels, Korra interacts some of the show’s other characters. In the part of the game I saw, Jinora accompanied Korra in spirit form, offering advice and acting as a helpful tutorial.
Beyond these steps to be authentic to the show, Platinum and Activision have included alternate game modes and minigames. Between levels in the campaign, Korra rides her polar bear-dog Naga in an endless-runner segment, gathering points and currency for upgrading. This segment wasn’t substantial, but it didn’t take up much time and felt like a nice change of pace. Pro-bending is also featured in The Legend of Korra as a totally separate mode from the main campaign. In the pro-bending mode, teammates Mako and Bolin join Korra on the pro-bending stage as they duel multiple opposing teams in 3 v. 3 matches that scale in difficulty as the player advances. All the rules of pro-bending, including one-element-only fighting and beating opponents backward to score points, are fully featured.
Replay Is Encouraged
Depending on skill level and personal play style, The Legend of Korra’s story mode is estimated to take between four and five hours to beat the first time. However, the game is designed to be played more than once. Activision says that to find everything there is to acquire, most players will want to complete it three times.
The leveling system is made to keep you coming back. As Korra uses each of her four styles, in or out of combat, she gains experience with that element. Using an element enough will level it up, unlocking new combos, chi-focused attacks, and special techniques. Each elemental style can be leveled up 10 times. This means if you’ve got a particular style you like, it’ll get better the more you use it. The Legend of Korra features a full new game plus, so you can take your leveled Korra to subsequent playthroughs, and even test her against any of the difficulties without having to start over. Activision left the impression that you can’t max out Korra in one playthrough, so if you want the most powerful (and impressive) attacks in each element, you’ll have to complete the story mode more than once.
Equipment will be scattered throughout The Legend of Korra’s story campaign. Many of these items will upgrade Korra’s stats in a variety of ways, and some will add interesting optional game modifiers: one item will halve both the damage Korra dishes out and receives, which is very helpful on the harder difficulties. A lot of these items are locked away behind “bending chests,” which only open when a particular element is used on them. The problem is that Korra won’t have all her bending from the start during the first playthrough, so she’ll have to leave some behind. Many powerful items are sealed behind chests like these, and can only be opened on new-game plus playthroughs.
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