Although I could hardly describe any game from Platinum Games as perfect, I afford the studio a significant level of pedigree.
With titles like Vanquish, Bayonetta, and even the underrated Revengeance, they have routinely provided unique, well-crafted experiences, carried on the shoulders of robust and complex gameplay systems.
In theory, a technical brawler in the Avatar franchise developed by Platinum should have been an easy home run. Instead, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Legend of Korra is that there’s no good reason why it should be so frustrating.
Based on the cartoon of the same name, the game opens with a mysterious villain using the deadly art of unnecessary acupuncture to steal Korra’s elemental powers. As Korra, the player must reacquire these abilities at arbitrarily determined times while attempting to stop Mr. Mysterious from doing stuff.
What stuff? Well I won’t spoil it for you, but don’t worry, because it doesn’t even matter until the final mission–until then you’re just chasing people because they’re bad and I guess you’re supposed to.
Largely, the plot feels like the script from one thirty-minute episode of the series, stretched to five or six hours with most of the dialogue excised–and devoid of any of the wit, cleverness, and heart that has made the Avatar franchise successful. Indeed none of the characters that you enjoy from the show–save Korra herself–make appearances of any significance.
Cutscenes are animated in the style of the series, but since nothing of interest happens during any of these sequences they might as well have been produced in engine. For what it’s worth, that engine manages to render Korra fairly well, but is undercut by empty worlds, repetitive locations and a woefully thin assortment of palette-swapped enemies. This leaves the game visually barren, with the only exception being a reasonably enjoyable representation of Korra’s bending powers, and the unique martial arts styles associated with them.
Initally, as Korra’s powers are limited, the game alternates between painfully boring and frustratingly difficult. Against the sprinklings of rank and file enemies in the early levels, there’s little to do besides approach, tap “X” three times, and move on. This monotony is interrupted only when the game decides to confront Korra with trios of fully empowered benders, against whom Korra’s attacks are weak and counters are inexplicably non-functional.
This state of affairs endures for far too long; with too few combos and annoying enemies, the game quickly crosses the threshold where the fun I was not having at any given time overwhelmed the value of any potential fun I might have later. Most of the game is reminiscent of the infamous climb-out-of-hades puzzle from God of War: the one you only continue trying to complete for the promise of something enjoyable on the other side. Once I powered through these sections and managed to unlock or empower Korra’s abilities to a reasonable degree, the combat opened up somewhat and became potentially enjoyable–and, having none of that, the game promptly dropped me into an escalating sequence of scenarios apparently designed to artificially extend game length through insane difficulty.
Typically, this involved presenting me with enemy mobs composed specifically to prevent the combat powers from being effectual. Enemies have debilitating attacks that fire too quickly, and are compounded in situations where there are simply too many of these enemies and not enough tools to combat them. Sometimes even the environment is part of the problem, such as one combat sequence where Korra was dropped into a tiny arena with two enemies so massive that both could not be seen at the same time, making it impossible to respond to their attacks.
This callous, unthinking way in which the game design treats the player is so pervasive that even the smallest slight becomes infuriating. One brief moment of the game presents the classic “narrow path” trope where the player must avoid falling into an abyss.
All well and good–until you realize Korra has exactly one movement speed: sprint. This is the nature of the game; the odds are stacked continuously against the player, who simply does not have the tools to navigate the unfair scenarios.
As if the game wants to apologize for its own failings, occasionally a mob of low-level enemies will appear and formally request that Korra unleash her elemental fury upon them without any aggravating design hiccups or unfair challenges. In those moments, Legend of Korra can indeed be enjoyable–but it’s not so much finding a diamond in the rough as it is a lone raisin in the desert. There just isn’t any sustenance to it. Elemental combat should be the bread and butter of the game, but too much of the experience is dedicated to unlocking what is ultimately an inadequate reward.
A pair of mini-games are also provided–taking place both inside the story and as separate modes. First up is the pro-bending mode, where Korra must mash X ineffectually to knock enemies back across the game field, as seen on the show. Next, some missions take place as an infinite-runner style mini-game, where Korra rides her polar bear dog, Naga, and navigates obstacles by jumping, changing “lanes” and turning corners. Like many elements, these sequences seem present only to artificially inflate game length with frustrating, overly-long and repetitive gameplay.
The often-rushed timetables of licensed games not withstanding, I find it difficult to imagine any excuse for the quality of this game, with a studio like Platinum behind it. This is their wheelhouse; I know they could have made this game good, and I don’t understand why they didn’t. If you are a fan of either Platinum or the Avatar franchise, my recommendation is a strong avoid.