Platinum Games isn’t necessarily a household name, but they have a sense of gravitas and a distinct game design philosophy that resonates with a dedicated group of gamers. Every product that they’re announced to work on gets a certain group of people excited, and I’m very much in that core group of people. Bayonetta is easily one of my favorite character action games of all time, and I’m incredibly curious to know what Scalebound turns out to be. They’ve earned a decent amount of respect and trust as a developer with most of the work that they’ve produced.
But when Platinum Games announces that it is developing a Legend of Korra game based off of the hit Nickelodeon show, licensed by Activision, masters of publishing truly miserable licensed games, even the most stalwart fan was probably incredibly skeptical. On paper, it sounds fantastic: Platinum Games are known for making awesome character action games, and the Legend of Korra cartoon honestly makes perfect sense as a character action game. But in its released reality, The Legend of Korra video game is a poor interactive experience of this great television property, and generally feels like a game that Platinum Games didn’t care much about making, or lacked the time to develop properly.
The Legend of Korra follows the titular hero between seasons 2 and 3 of the show. Korra is the Avatar, a martial artist whom has the ability to bend and manipulate the four different elements (Water, Fire, Earth, and Air) in an effort to keep the peace in the metropolis of Republic City. This is difficult owing to some of the citizens having the power to bend only one of the four elements, with the majority being normal, unremarkable non-benders who detest their seemingly “superior” brethren. While on an adventure, Korra has all of her powers stripped away by a mysterious old man, and so she embarks on a quest to retrieve her powers and find out just what the old man is up to.
Ultimately the narrative adds nothing of value to the broader world of The Legend of Korra, and when evaluated in a vacuum, it’s a very weak and tired clichéd storyline to get players to regain their “lost” powers. It’s a shame that the story is basically nonexistent, considering how powerful and evocative the storytelling is in the TV show. All of the narrative identity of The Legend of Korra, from its quirky offbeat humor to dramatically serious social themes are completely absent. The Legend of Korra video game lacks that unique fire that makes the TV show so heartfelt and sincere, which feels like a giant missed opportunity.
The game does attempt to emulate the TV show's lightning fast sense of action. When all four elements are unlocked, you can swap between them at will, each having their own unique abilities and combos. It sounds like a winning formula, but the combat system and character movement is incredibly clunky, stiff and unrewarding. What’s even more baffling is the lack of creative input from the player to intermix the different elements together as you don’t get any unique combos from chaining different elements together, which sounds like a no-brainer. This means that switching elements in the middle of combat is extremely awkward which forces you to just focus on one element throughout a fight.
There are some satisfying aspects of the combat, to be perfectly fair. Enemies react to the damage that you deal to them fairly satisfyingly. The problem is that there are so few combos for each element -- which a good chunk of them aren’t very effective in most circumstances -- that I found that just mashing one button over-and-over again to be incredibly effective. So even though hitting enemies and seeing their reactions to your combos can be fun, you just don’t have that many tools to utilize in your combat encounters. This makes the whole combat experience rather shallow and extremely unrewarding to try and dive into and master.
There are a couple of mini games which try to mix up the repetitive action, but they are pretty miserable experiences to engage with. There’s an instant runner mode where you awkwardly control Korra’s polar bear-dog companion Naga through an on-rails sequences where you have to dodge obstacles with frustratingly unresponsive actions. Then there’s the Pro Bender Tournament which tries to recreate the sport in the cartoon, but just turns out to be a very mashy and a fairly brain-dead experience on the whole. So while Platinum tries to add some variety, unfortunately bad variety doesn’t add anything of value.
Visually the game captures the very particular cartoon style of The Legend Korra the best of any other aspect of the game. But even that is a failure, as the environments (particularly the city levels) feel completely dead and devoid of any life. This translates into you running around in large, empty levels which is incredibly boring to play in and look at. The game heavily borrows from the show in regards to its soundtrack and audio design, so while this is uninspired and somewhat of a copout, it gets the job done of providing some auditory satisfaction for fans.
The Legend of Korra video game is an awkward, simplistic mess of a game that barely leverages the unique characteristics of the property. While the game feels the most like a Legend of Korra title with its production values, the total failure of the combat system and the story rips out the heart of what makes The Legend of Korra such a unique and endearing propriety. And once this conclusion is reached after only a few minutes with the game, it’s hard to describe The Legend of Korra video game as anything other than a failed licensed game.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)