Yesterday I posted my review of the Legend of Korra video game. While it had some high points, I mostly wasn't a fan. And now, with the Korra cartoon and entire Avatar universe winding down, I can't help but worry that we might never see a video game truly do the series justice.
First off, for those just joining us, the basics: Avatar is a great cartoon series about elementally fueled martial arts action and—at least, in The Last Airbender—some of the most believably human characters on TV. It's also not long for this world. Korra season four is being positioned as a finale, both for the show and, for the time being, the entire lore-bound tome of a main series. Bummer.
Nickelodeon could pluck the series from its sunken desert library of abandoned franchises someday, but at the moment they don't seem overly fond of it. Moreover series creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino are definitely moving on after season four concludes, so the future doesn't look especially rosy at the moment.
That leaves Avatar's video game legacy in an unfortunate spot. Even Korra—which despite my misgivings, is probably the best game among many halfhearted attempts—feels thin and flimsy in the context of this near-boundless universe. While the combat is a cut above anything else we've seen from Avatar games, it's still sloppily grafted onto a 4-5 hour budget game. And that vibrant world full of far-flung nations, zany technology, and animals combined with other animals? Nowhere to be seen, replaced by a series of dispassionate colorless corridors.
What else have we got on the Avatar game slate? Let's see... mediocre action-RPG, mediocre action-RPG, minigame collection, medicore action-RPG, and so on. Also a billion inconsequential webgames, because Nickelodeon loves their webgames.
That is a shame worthy of real tears, the sort normally reserved for funerals and spilled cabbages. There are so many aspects of Avatar that'd make for a fantastic video game. For instance:
- Elemental powers: This is an obvious one, but even the Korra game—with a combo system rooted in elemental switching—didn't use them in an interesting way. Elemental oppositions can add strategic depth to combat, just as they did on the show. Water benders frequently gave fire benders fits, for instance. That kind of thing. Avatar combat shouldn't just be punching with pretty lights attached, but that's pretty much all any games ever did with it.
- An expansive, explorable world: The Avatar world is gigantic, with four major nations (Water, Fire, Earth, and Air) and countless cities, villages, and wildernesses in between. There's still so much of it we never got to see on the show—so many ruins and mountains and cities of glimmering stone left untouched. A game with even a small open-world component could take advantage of that marvelously. The best possible outcome here? Something like Skyrim, but set somewhere in the Avatar universe. It'll probably never happen, but you can't blame a guy for screaming at the sky and trying to pick fights with every deity about it. Er, dreaming. I meant dreaming.
- Years and years and years of history: Aang and Korra are the most recent in a long, long, loooooooong line of Avatars. We're talking thousands of years of lore here. Brief overviews of previous incarnations in the kung-fu wizard shaman line have included nation-ruling badasses, good-for-nothing surfer jerks, and people who lost their loved ones to a face-stealing slug-spider abomination. Actually you know what? Just give me a horror game about avoiding getting my face stolen by Koh The Face Stealer and we'll be squaresies.
- There are basically Pokemon: OK, maybe I'm reaching a bit with this one, but the Avatar world has platypus bears, sky bison, polar bear dogs, turtle ducks, and every other Frankenstein monster animal combo imaginable. Also dragons, because fuck yeah dragons. Running around and teaming up with/taming creatures would rock, especially if it involved the sort of bond that, say, Aang and Appa share (as opposed to merely being a medicore Pokemon clone or something).
- Remember that one part in season two of Korra? The story of the first Avatar—or at least the world he inhabited—as a game. Think about it. Think about it and weep for what could've been.
- This game is called Jade Empire: OK, now take it, throw in Legend of Korra: The Game-style combat, sprinkle in some smartly written, funny characters to compliment the fact that you'll be talking with people a lot, stir, and bake until you have made literally the greatest thing.
And that's just me riffing on a few simple ideas. There's so much possibility in the Avatar universe, but time constraints, low budgets, and other downsides of licensed game creation mean we may never get to see it properly realized in video game form. That idea legitimately breaks my heart.
If nothing else, Avatar isn't definitively dead and buried. Creators Konietzko and DiMartino are saying this is the end "for the moment." So maybe one day in the future, Nickelodeon and others involved will realize the error of their ways and try to make things right. Or maybe not. It's impossible to say at the moment. Here's hoping for something someday, even if I'm not exactly getting my hopes up.