Avatar The Legend of Aang: Into the Inferno (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris
Over the past couple of years, the animated show Avatar has become a huge success story for TV channel Nickelodeon. So much so, that a consider fan base has formed behind it and resulted in items based on the series turning up in other markets, from kids toys to DVDs to games. It is within the gaming spectrum it returns again for here we have another title set within the bounds of the franchise hoping to tie up the war of elements which has been raging within the context of the story. Unfortunately, while the game deals with fire, this is far from a heated title.
The story goes that the Nation of Fire is attempting to use the mystical power hidden within Sozin's Comet in an attempt to bring chaos and destruction to the known world. The only people who can stop them are a group of young warriors, led by franchise stalwart Aang, and so they set out to thwart Fire Lord Ozai's plans for destruction and hope to end the great war which has been running in their lands for the best part of 100 years. This is the story as set out clearly within the confines of the manual yet when it comes to the actual game, there is little reference to it whatsoever. So little in fact that should you not read the manual (which is something very few gamers do nowadays) then you'll be left in the dark, for the most part, as to what is happening in the game. It's clearly been designed with long standing fans in mind but some allusion to the story would have been helpful for those who are perhaps not yet fans to the franchise and are thinking about it.
With such a shallow attempt at providing a story in the game, it's nice to know that the gameplay manages to dispel any bad thoughts on this issue. Taking several cues from the Zelda games on the console, Into the Inferno focuses on tight touch screen action whereby you, playing primarily as Aang, will be accompanied by one of a selection of characters and work your way through each chapter, fighting enemies, solving puzzles and taking on the occasional boss battle. All of these elements take place within the confines and constraints of the touch screen and it plays out well, if only dragging a bit as you go on due to little in the way to breathe much needed life into the later parts of the game. As stated, the game takes its cues from the Zelda games on the console. Fighting enemies requires you to slice and tap the touch screen to dispatch of enemies, all the while being careful to dodge incoming attacks, of which enemies have but a few options leaving little variety to the combat. This latter comment crosses over to the boss battles and it's just a shame that these elements couldn't quite meet the standard of the puzzles in the game.
At each moment in the game, you'll be accompanied by one of Aang's team mates, each of which have an elemental power which you'll need to put to good use if you are to progress through the game. Many of the uses of these powers are simply to allow you to progress through the linear chapters of the game by unblocking pathways or creating new ones on the water with the power of ice. But the game does make some good use of them. You can switch between the two characters on the fly and the utilisation of this and their powers is needed in many instances to clear some of the game's more taxing puzzles, some of which seem uncharacteristically challenging given the demographic whom the game is aimed at. But none of them will leave you scratching your head for too long because they are almost all solved with the use of the elemental powers or by separating your characters to take differing routes.
The game is of a good length, with each of the game's many chapter taking anywhere upwards of 20 minutes to complete. Yet the issue is that while it will last you a good length of time, the latter half of the game drags due in part to there being nothing particularly new about the setup of the gameplay, with it merely reusing ideas from earlier. Likewise, once completed, there is little in the way to return to should you want another play through. There are special coins littered throughout the chapters which can be used to unlock characters and alternate costumes for them but it adds little to the replayability of the game. There is a multiplayer mode for 2 players who can play an Avatar styled game of volleyball, through either single or multi card play, but it's a rather paltry attempt to extend the life of the game and ultimately fails to do so.
The entirety of the game is controlled through the use of the stylus and the touch screen. All movement is carried out by touch the screen for where you want your character to go and holding it there, moving to adjust the trajectory, while attacking is done in a similar way, with slices and taps on the screen helping to dispatch of enemies. It works well and those who have played Zelda on the handheld will be instantly familiar with the setup which is in use here yet they will perhaps be more frustrated here than with those titles as the controls can be a little inaccurate for their own good. Jumping in the game is automatic but the stylus control doesn't always allow for the best ability to line up your jumps and as a result, you'll often find yourself falling off of platforms or missing jumps completely due to the issues. Likewise, the special elemental powers that the characters have, such as the whirlwind power, require placing in the level and trying to get them to point in the desired direction isn't as easy as it should be and so you'll have to constantly redraw the powers until you get them in the right direction. For adult gamers, this is definitely frustrating but when you consider the demographic for the game is younger gamers, then it's strange that the controls are so unforgiving in places.
The series finally makes the full leap into 3d on the handheld and for what it's worth, the new visuals look great. Character models now bare an exaggerated look, with over sized heads crowning a tiny body and cartoony expressions are pasted throughout the entirety by many of the characters on display. With this new look, the character models do look good and are animated well, for the most part, but they seem a little untidy in comparison to some of the better 3d work on the console. They're far from being bad, it's just that there are better. Levels, which are played out from a viewpoint similar to those used in the DS Zelda games, carry a similar theme throughout, that of fire, and while they look decent enough, the lack of variety will grate on those playing as the levels rarely change up in their design beyond a few new inclusions of environmental puzzles based on those that have already come before. The game does maintain a steady frame rate though and this is relatively impressive given that there can be bit a lot of stuff happening on screen at once.
The music isn't of a particularly memorable state but it's been done in such a way so as to appeal to the fans of the franchise and they'll surely enjoy what is on offer, even if it is very repetitive. Sound effects take a more prevalent seat in the game, due to the constant use of powers, but they never extend much beyond the call of their duty to compliment the gameplay as well as they can.
The game is played out in its entirety on the touch screen while the top screen is used as a statistics one, showing your level progress and whether you've collected any special coins or not. The top screen is a little basic, but the screens are put to good use.
Avatar's move into full 3d has come with both plentiful successes and drawbacks. The game succeeds in implementing some well thought out touch screen controls and some interesting gameplay mechanics but it never extends beyond this much and the latter half of the game really drags due to lack of imagination or renewed vigour in the way these are implemented. It's not a bad game, it just doesn't live up to the quality of the games which it has taken cues from. Fans will find some enjoyment, though, but others will struggle to explain why they are playing it over the Zeldas.
Pro: Great use of the touch screen, some interesting gameplay mechanics, graphics are good
Con: Lack of new ideas all but kills the second half of the game, a few control issues, multiplayer is just plain boring
Final score: 6