Sunday, 31 December 2017

Review No. 135 The Legend of Korra - PC (12+)

Strong Points:
Great gameplay
You feel overpowered - like the Avatar should feel...
... But the game can still test your skills
Fully voice acted with the original cast from the show
Lots of collectibles
Pro-Bending is fun and offers a variety of gameplay
Easy to pick up and play, especially the earlier levels, which offers quick bursts of elemental action
Lots of Easter Eggs and references to both shows (The Legend of Aang and The Legend of Korra)
Each Bending style feels different and yet works well together
Great music from the show
Graphics are good...
The Bending styles are mostly balanced...
The details are mostly correct and well thought out (such as the various bending animations)...

Weak Points:
... but could be better
... however, Air is a bit overpowered due to the ease of setting up combos
... but some details are wrong/missed out completely - you can Earthbend on wood for Raava's sake!
Rather short
Feels slightly rushed and, so, never quite reaches its potential as a full Avatar game
No Pro-Bending online or local multiplayer
You can't play as either of the other elements (Fire and Earth) in Pro-Bending
The Naga running sequences can get a bit dull and, in the case of chapter 5 on Extreme Mode, frustratingly difficult
You actually have to lower your power in order to get a platinum medal on Casual Mode
No way to change key-bindings
Would be nice to be able to Bend the environment rather than just 'create' elements
The Jill of All Trades achievement is completely missable and requires you to start completely over again in order to earn it
No trophy or record of your wins in the Pro-Bending arena

Rating: 80%

Warning: slight spoilers for both the game and the show ahead

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
Worldwide: 21 October 2016

Controls (Korra):
WASD: movement/Clash Mode (WAD)/a finisher (S)
Mouse: move camera/certain finishers
Left Click (Tap): light attack/combo counter
Right Click (Tap): heavy attack
Left Click (Hold and Release): charged light attack
Right Click (Hold and Release): charged heavy attack
Space: jump
Shift: dodge/dash (when in the Avatar State)
C: block
W: single counter
F: finisher
Enter: open Korra's Room
Q/E: change element
Q and E: enter the Avatar State
1, 2, 3 and 4: use item

Controls (Naga):
WASD: movement
Space: jump
Shift: duck
Q: left swipe
E: right swipe
F: Water Shield
Space (when in the air): earth jump
Left Click: fireball
Right Click: air boost

Earth. Fire. Air. Water. Only the Avatar can master all four elements and bring balance to the world. Da dooh dahh! Oh yeah, I am the Avatar!

Now then, some of you may notice that I've opened this review in the same way as my earlier First Impressions from all the way back in February 2016 (you can blame GCSEs/A-Levels... I mean the Fire Nation for the delay) and there is a reason for this (and not that I just can't be bothered to think of a different way of opening the post), namely that I think it is important to point out that the feeling of being the Avatar doesn't really go away throughout the entire game which is crucial for a tie-in title such as this.

So then, The Legend of Korra game (seriously was it that hard to think up a subtitle Platinum?) is set between Books 2 and 3 which allows for there to be both Equalists and Dark Spirits as enemies, along with a mysterious old man who appears to be the mastermind of it all. Oh, and he can create magical spirit barriers that can only be broken by certain elements or by killing all of the enemies in an area, he can teleport, he can Earthbend and he can create Dark Spirits. Yeah, it's probably a good thing that the Avatar is overpowered now that I think about it. The premise of the game is that after a Pro-Bending game (which I'll get onto later), Korra gets captured by the Equalists, who block her chi (the life force that flows within all living things and allows a person to Bend the elements) and, so, prevent her bending the elements or really be the Avatar. This is great as it allows you to learn all of the elements from scratch (as, by this point in the story Korra had already mastered all four elements) which helps progression and increases the difficulty of the earlier stages (which is required as Extreme Mode is blocked off until you complete the game once). The game does start with a preview of a later level, however, so as to show you the awesome might of a 'Full-Baked Avatar' which certainly gives you something to aim for. The rest of the game follows Korra trying to figure out why her Bending doesn't come back after a certain period of time (like what normally happens in the show) as well as trying to stop the evil old man, Hundun.

The game consists of eight separate main game chapters which have Korra going iconic locations such as Air Temple Island and the South Pole all while piecing together various rumors from the Equalists as to what Hundun actually wants and why she can't get her bending back. She does, of course, learn to bend again, thanks to the advice of the Spirit-Guide Uncle Ir... sorry, Jinora, who reminds Korra of her training and suggests that the drinking of Spirit Water (which should really be stockpiled if it's as powerful as Katara's Oasis Water) among other gameplay elements (pun intended) could bring back her Bending abilities. And just in time too, for then you have the final battle between Chaos and Order, Light and Darkness, Avatar and the Master of the Chaotic Attack.

The gameplay follows the basic beat-em-up rules of many button-smashing, combo-ing attacks but with a slight, elemental, difference. Each element handles very differently, with Waterbending being your long-ranged attack, Earthbending being all about strong attacks, Firebending being about very fast, physical combo attacks and Airbending being about many, many, AoE attacks. And, with the ability to change element at will, the real strength of the gameplay is the ability to change and combo the various styles almost at will (it's not quite intuitive or as quick as Bending in the show but there's hope for the future, eh?). As well as just attacking, you also have the ability to dodge up to three times in a row (at which point Korra pauses for a split second - enough time to be hit into a combo, so watch out!) and block, which allows you to counterattack either with a one hit finisher or a combo finisher (depending on the strength/type of enemy). And you'll need all of your abilities (and dexterity) if you want to beat the various types of enemies that range from acrobatic and rope throwing Equalists to giant spirits and various things in between. The Triple Triad members also offer a special quick-time-event counterattack called Clash Mode, which randomly appears when fighting them and results in you having to press certain WAD keys until you knock them off balance and get to go in for a big-damage finisher.

Each element can be leveled up (you get different amounts of exp depending on how you fight - finishers and counterattacks give more exp than just attacking enemies) and each level will grant you some Spirit Energy (the game's currency) as well as either another Chi bar or a new combo. Chi is charged either by holding down the attack button or by equipping certain talismans (which I'll get onto later) and allows for a single, much more powerful attack as well as a certain amount of time (until the Chi bar empties) in which all of your attacks are bigger and more powerful.

The final power in Korra's Avatar arsenal is the all-powerful Avatar State which is... a little bit odd to be honest. The 'light' attack involves you firing huge water/earth/fire/air-balls in seasonal order from the element you already had selected. This attack pretty much one-shots all small enemies and does huge damage to the bigger ones, also causing them to spin around thereby giving you a chance to finish them off. The heavy attack causes Korra to bring all the elements in towards herself before throwing them out in a huge explosion that covers the entire screen... and doesn't seem to damage all the enemies in its radius. Don't get me wrong, it is a very powerful move and is definitely one of the more 'Avatar' moments, its just that you are already so overpowered that it makes the Avatar State a bit of an anti-climax. The State is improved slightly by giving you permanent hover and dash abilities as well as just looking really, really cool.

In addition to combat, the main levels also include slight platformer sections as well as hidden chests that you have to find (I'll get to them later). In addition, there are some 'endless' runner sections that utilize Naga (Korra's pet Polar Bear Dog). The basic idea of the mode is to give Korra a way to traverse vast areas of the game world in a short amount of time and it involves you riding Naga through either Republic City or the South Pole whilst dodging Satomobiles, rocks and holes in the ground. Naga gets progressively faster as if you don't hit anything (which is good as medals for the Naga levels are awarded based on how quickly you complete a level and how much Spirit Energy you collect). Naga has a few ways in which to prevent collisions, namely the abilities to switch between three lanes, jump, duck and destroy small obstacles with her powerful claws. Korra herself also gives Naga some benefits thanks to her bending. These include a water shield (basically an extra life and crucial for Extreme Mode), an earth jump (a double jump), a fireball (allowing you to smash through small obstacles, and even larger ones if you throw enough at them from a distance) and, finally, an air boost (speeds you up and allows you to jump even higher than with the earth jump).

As well as a couple of Pro-Bending games in the main game, there are also three Pro-Bending tournaments (consisting of five games each), in ascending difficulty from Rookie to Captain to Ace, which are unlocked once you beat the game the first time. In the tournament you face different teams from the show, including the infamous White Falls Wolfbats, in a 3-round match. In order to win a match, you either have to win the most rounds (done by progressing into the opponent's zones) or knock all of your opponents out of the ring. You control Korra, who is restricted to just waterbending, while Bolin and Mako utilise their earthbending and firebending, respectively. The strength of each bender increases as Korra levels up her bending in the main game, but, unfortunately, you cannot play as any other character than Korra herself. I feel that this is a missed opportunity, along with the lack of an online or couch-co-op mode. However, the game does include the smaller, tie-breaker ring from the show which shows that the developers still knew what they were doing when adapting the source material. Overall, I think that pro-bending is a superb addition to the main game, with the blocking, dodging and bending feeling great, and the spectacle being superb, but it was also underused, with only three difficulties and no option for multiplayer.

The shop is ran by the ever helpful, always reliable and tea-addicted General-Turned-Spiritual-Guardian Iroh. You can buy various new combos, including the Water Whip, as well as a free revive in the form of Katara's Oasis Water, and various talismans that you can fit around your playstyle, such as one that doubles your power but halves your HP and vice versa. These are required in order to Platinum Medal Casual mode as you will have to decrease your power so that you don't defeat enemies too quickly, so as to allow for more combo points. The shop is a good feature, and offers another way to progress, especially as items purchased are carried across difficulty settings. You can equip four items at a time, although these can be changed at any time during the game by accessing Korra's Room. In Korra's Room you can also change her costume which allows for more Easter Eggs, such as her Equalist outfit and Spirit outfit.

Talking of Easter Eggs, there are absolutely loads in the game, from both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, in the form of Vanity Items. These collectibles come in five rarities, from C to SS, and include throwbacks such as Aang's glider staff, a movie poster for The Adventures of Nuktuk, Hero of the South, the Blue Spirit Mask and Cabbages. They can be collected from destroying the various chests hidden throughout the game, with the rarity of the item you collect increasing, the quicker and more destructively you destroy the chests. Some chests can only be defeated by certain elements and other Vanity Items can also be gained for defeating certain enemies in certain ways. These collectibles were great fun to see and weren't even too much of a grind to collect. Easter Eggs are also stored in the game's achievements, including quotes such as 'Zhu Li! Do The Thing!' and 'Be the Leaf'.

The graphics, while decent enough and evocative of the show, could have been more crisp and detailed, especially considering the game was released after the gorgeous Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. In addition, the world could be a bit more detailed as, although you are in the more ruined sections of the city, there still aren't any citizens walking around, and you can only interact with the world by hitting it (would it have been that difficult to at least allow you to read the posters?). However, the music more than makes up from it as it is simply the soundtrack from the show (which anyone who has ever watched it can testify is one of the greatest soundtracks for a TV show ever). Furthermore, getting the original voice actors (no mean feat for a licensed game, really) really helps make it a better homage to the show and the cinematic cut-scenes give you a glimpse into what the game could have looked like if more effort had been shown.

Finally, I'd like to take the time to just imagine a perfect Avatar game, one with the freedom of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, graphics of Ni No Kuni and storyline of the show itself. Imagine being able to freely bend the world around you, while the soundtrack blasts around you. Now imagine it in VR once the technology's improved. Just imagine.

In conclusion, The Legend of Korra game is a more or less faithful adaptation of the beloved TV show but could have benefited from some tweaking here and there. If you want to live and breath the universe of the show, I'd recommend watching it or reading the graphic novels. However, if you want a taste of what it would feel like to be the Avatar, while getting to experience some brilliant nods to the show, I'd recommend this game.

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