As expected, James Cameron's latest blockbuster brings with it a tie-in title for every platform but the George Foreman Grill.
The latest lands the Pandorian-plundering humans on the iPhone, pitting them against your playable Na'vi avatar in a story set years before the film's narrative.
After coming away from the 360 version feeling as though I'd completed a pretty, but below average third-person shooter, I wasn't expecting much from this iPhone app. To my surprise, though, this version, buoyed by varied gameplay and mostly solid platforming action, gives its console cousins a run for their Unobtanium.
No Typical Tie-in: If you've played any number of film-based iPhone apps, you know many merely serve as one-note marketing tools, light on gameplay, big on movie hype. Avatar forgoes this in favor of a full-on console quality experience. Coming in at about eight hours, the campaign features a variety of gameplay scenarios, missions, power-ups, boss battles, and story-driving objectives. From battling mechs and piloting Banshees, to platforming through Pandora and rail-grinding down tree trunks, there's lots to do in this miniature paradise. Additionally, light RPG and puzzling elements nicely complement the experience, as does a pop-off-the-screen visual presentation. The combat consists mostly of leaning on the attack button, but this lack of depth is easily outweighed by a carefully paced experience that's always giving you something new to do.
Prince of Pandora: One of my biggest complaints about the console versions was that their Na'vi's acrobatic abilities seemed stunted given their athleticism and familiarity with their surroundings. This is a non-issue on the iPhone, as your big blue packs the sort of platforming prowess that'd turn the heads of the Persian Prince and Laura Croft. You'll spend as much time climbing, jumping, shimmying, rail-grinding, and swinging than you will running and gunning. The inventive level designs, complete with moving platforms, vines, and climbable cliffs, demand your acrobatic skills be as strong as your aim.
Nose-diving Na'vi: As much as I enjoyed the focus on acrobatics over ass-kicking, this aspect also yielded the title's biggest flaw. Even the most polished platformers suffer from the occasional frustrating moment when you can't stick a jump due to a bad camera angle, finicky controls, or inaccurate depth perception, so it's no surprise an iPhone app, with its tiny display, fixed camera, and touch pad, gives way to multiple death dives. These moments by no means ruin the overall experience, but I can think of at least a half dozen times when fun was eclipsed by frustration due to a platforming roadblock. And, given the pricey platform, you can't curb your occasional aggravation by chucking it-as you might a less pricey controller-across the room. The saving grace is frequent checkpoints, allowing you to fall to your death multiple times without ever having to replay long stretches.
Following Avatar's average console entry and other movie tie-in's lackluster debuts on the iPhone, I was pleasantly surprised by this app's brimming campaign, complemented by varied gameplay and a refreshing focus on platforming over combat. Despite a few frustrations, it works well as both a companion to the film and a standalone interactive experience, making it the best film-tied title to hit the App Store yet.
Avatar: The Game was developed and published by Gameloft iPhone on December 14th. Retails for $9.99. A code to download the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the game's campaign.
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