The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra

There’s not much for fans of the Nickelodeon series, as Korra is heavy on references but light on meaningful content. Platinum Games enthusiasts, expecting another diamond from Platinum’s character/action crown, will expose Korra’s limitations all too quickly. Korra’s fiction and Platinum’s development lineage impart a veritable dream team of narrative and design, but neither party seemed to bring the necessary hardware to live up to their respective and respected standards.

The Legend of Korra actually bears a generous amount of material for a brawler. For those unfamiliar with the television show (or Avatar: The Last Airbender, Korra’s technical prequel), the titular protagonist Korra is an Avatar – a supreme being who expresses mastery over the four elements. Earth, wind, fire, and water are at her command, and the game translates their sentiment to element-specific action attacks. Early on Korra predictably loses her powers to an older man, a “chi-blocker,” revealing the rest of her mission; reacquire her powers and seek some sort of resolution against her aggressor.

Without considering their practical application, Korra’s powers seem flashy and effective. Water, the first that’s made available, is great for taking on ranged attackers and a minor benefit to standard melee punches. Earth represents the hulking bruiser, taking more time to dish out but dealing massive damage in the process. Fire is quick but weak, whereas wind operated similarly but with more of a focus on crowd control. Each element is also subject to a handful of upgrades either earned through repeated use or purchased in-between chapters at a store. The latter are mostly value changes, adding a bit of flair here and there, whereas the former essentially unlock additional ends of combo strings.

Putting Korra’s powers to use, at first, feels aligned with Platinum’s attention to detail. Korra can either approach an enemy and start unloading a combo, or wait for the enemy to attack and then counter by blocking at just the right time. Performing this action brings up a quick-time event prompting various directions of the analog stick, and typically outranks any standard attack in pure damage dealing ability. Eventually Korra will have to dodge projectiles and deal with multiple varieties of enemies, all of which is standard fare for the genre Korra aspires to subscribe.

All of these ideas are technically sound and definitely ripe for a competent brawler. The problem is The Legend of Korra self-destructs before it’s able to make much use out of them. Enemies are either mindless peons open to endless mashing of basic combos, or clear specialists tuned for counter attacks or dodging. Bosses also rely on easily telegraphed patters, focusing more on trial-and-error than any semblance of skill. This is exacerbated by the game’s awful camera, which, despite a primitive lock-on mechanic, always seems to drift elsewhere when you’re ready to dish out a finisher. There’s a palpable lack of a connection between the player and the game’s mechanics, and it’s felt every time Korra has to engage multiple enemies.

It’s not that The Legend of Korra can’t come up with any good ideas, its that it has an unspoken penchant for trading them out with bad ones. Punching off enemies into oblivion is cool, and the sound of them drifting away is oddly rewarding, but the game can’t keep up with repeated activity. In The Legend of Korra’s closing chapters it can’t even bother with a finishing animation for her weirdly shaped opponents.. Likewise, boss battles against giant mechs that start off prom-sing quickly devolve into basic dodge-and-block sequences. The only battle that actually requires context-sensitive switching between Korra’s four elements is the final one – meaning the game ends as soon as it really feels like it begins.

The Legend of Korra’s attempts at breaking its pace are also met with a tepid response. The chief offender is a runner-like mini-game where she rides her bear, Naga, through a series of traps. You’ll have to jump, slide, and quickly navigate turns, all of which is handled with a spectacular lack of grace. It culminates in a boss battle against three robots which stands as the worst and most desperately annoying sequence Platinum Games has ever put their stamp on. Naga has to jump and avoid obstacles while occasionally swiping at a rotating triumvirate of robots. It lasts forever, doesn’t clearly dictate the difference between ducking and dodging, and feels wholly out place in the context of the rest of the game.

There’s also a bit of exploration to complete along the way. Platinum’s brawlers, with the exception of Anarchy Reigns, have always felt like a cleverly disguised series of challenge rooms peppered with variable objectives in-between. The Legend of Korra operates on a similar philosophy, but on a much smaller scale. Its budget can’t compete with the Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising’s of the world, leaving its world crudely designed and architecturally sparse. Light platforming challenges give way to the occasional element-specific door, itself meant to encourage chapter replays, but are all too easily revealed inside The Legend of Korra’s lifeless and destitute levels. Like the rest of the game, good ideas are in place, they’re just not executed upon with any degree of honest skill.

When evaluating what The Legend of Korra does and does not accomplish, two important variables come into play. It’s a based on a show aimed at younger viewers familiar with the series, not necessarily (ahem) thirty-one year old men deeply infatuated with Platinum’s past work. It’s also a $15 game for sale in a digital-only marketplace, partly explaining any of the shortcomings we often associate with Platinum’s higher-budgeted work. It’s unfair to expect the same depth and quality of a higher priced product, and it was hard to determine whether or not my biases and expectations were affecting how I was seeing the game.

Operating through the mind of myself some twenty years in the past, I would have probably thought The Legend of Korra was utterly amazing. Licensed games are frequently mindless garbage churned out to maximize profit on a built-in audience, and extracting any sort of quality out of their contents is often a fool’s errand. Kids don’t know this, which is why I spent my youth playing Yo Noid!, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout, and ID4. The Legend of Korra is by no means a shining example of a licensed game done right, but it is a step above the dreck we’re used to getting in the heyday of shovelware. There’s a decent game buried beneath a frustrating waste of potential.

This leaves Korra’s function as either $15 audition for better and deeper action games, or as an occasionally irritating but somewhat fulfilling sampler for its parent television series. Combat flow and function is better served in Bayonetta, brawling is more inventive in Anarchy Reigns and MadWorld, and there’s a more engaging narrative running through every single episode of The Legend of Korra. This leaves the game in an odd limbo; it’s certainly something – but it lacks the resolve to execute upon an y of its deep foundations.

Eric Layman is available to resolve all perceived conflicts by 1v1'ing in Virtual On through the Sega Saturn's state-of-the-art NetLink modem.