The Legend Of Korra

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion De­vel­oper Plat­inumGames For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Out now

On pa­per, it all looked so promis­ing: per­haps the world’s best de­vel­oper of ac­tion games be­ing given the task of de­vel­op­ing a tie-in for a well­liked an­ime that fea­tures a pow­er­ful fe­male lead with a va­ri­ety of fight­ing skills. Could Ac­tivi­sion have found a more ideal match here than Plat­inum? And yet as you wearily ham­mer Square and Tri­an­gle while fac­ing an endgame boss with no fewer than three health bars, you may be­gin to won­der how it all went so wrong.

Then again, as early as the first proper level there’s ev­i­dence of a stu­dio short of re­sources, labour­ing un­der a mea­gre bud­get and work­ing to­wards an un­rea­son­able dead­line. The an­i­ma­tion may be smooth, the ac­tion may be sharp and the con­trols may be re­spon­sive, but the en­vi­ron­ments are hor­ri­bly bland, en­tirely bereft of de­tail and character. You’ll face one group of masked en­e­mies, then another, and then another, sprint­ing through de­serted beige al­ley­ways in be­tween, paus­ing oc­ca­sion­ally to smash up vases, crates, loot chests and even the odd car.

Be­fore then, you’ll get a fleet­ing taste of a fully pow­ered-up Korra be­fore a plot con­trivance causes her to lose her abil­ity to bend the el­e­ments to her will, a well-worn de­vice that serves only to ex­ac­er­bate the in­her­ent rep­e­ti­tion of the core com­bat. Nat­u­rally, Korra ex­plores a va­ri­ety of en­vi­ron­ments over the course of the next five hours to earn them back, though the nar­ra­tive can’t be both­ered to cre­ate a con­vinc­ing rea­son for the jour­ney. She spends sev­eral lev­els mut­ter­ing some­thing about chi block­ers, spo­rad­i­cally re­gain­ing her skills merely by com­plet­ing ob­jec­tives in com­bat, such as build­ing a high combo chain, or dodg­ing in­com­ing at­tacks. The an­tag­o­nist is sim­ply re­ferred to as “that old man” for most of the game, un­til he in­tro­duces him­self and his master plan in a laugh­able ex­po­si­tion bar­rage dur­ing the fi­nal stage.

When you’re not fac­ing the same en­e­mies in slightly larger num­bers and dif­fer­ent coloured jump­suits, or en­dur­ing some woe­fully rudi­men­tary plat­form­ing, you’ll be pit­ted against other ‘ben­ders’ – sub-bosses by another name – and colos­sal hu­manoid tanks, which take a heavy pum­melling be­fore be­ing con­signed to the great scrap­yard in the sky. Each en­counter is largely iden­ti­cal to the last, though the ante is upped as you progress – if you faced one boss in an early level, you can guar­an­tee you’ll fight two of them later on.

The game reaches its nadir dur­ing in­ter­ludes in which Korra rides her po­lar bear dog com­pan­ion, Naga. Th­ese bor­row lib­er­ally – brazenly, even – from Tem­ple Run. You ac­cel­er­ate au­to­mat­i­cally, nudg­ing the ana­logue stick to make rapid left and right turns, col­lect­ing spirit en­ergy as you leap gaps, slide un­der low walls, and dodge rocky ob­sta­cles. A sin­gle mis­take sends you back to the most re­cent check­point, though at least th­ese are gen­er­ously placed; the only other sav­ing grace is that the stages are mer­ci­fully short, at least un­til one mad­den­ing late-game ve­hic­u­lar boss fight.

In­deed, while you’d imag­ine the tar­get mar­ket for Korra would skew a lit­tle younger than Plat­inum’s ex­ist­ing au­di­ence, it hasn’t toned down the dif­fi­culty from its usual stan­dard. Bosses have sub­stan­tial health gauges (in some cases plu­ral) that take some time to whit­tle down, and if their blows con­nect, you can ex­pect a fair chunk of your own health to dis­ap­pear. In­tel­li­gent fight­ing will build up your chi me­ter, al­low­ing you to de­liver more pow­er­ful at­tacks more rapidly, but com­bos are eas­ily in­ter­rupted, and the tim­ing for coun­ters, which prompt stick-push­ing and but­ton-mash­ing com­mands, never feels quite as in­tu­itive as it should. To give your­self a fight­ing chance, you can spend the spirit points you’ve ac­cu­mu­lated on po­tions and an arte­fact that au­to­mat­i­cally re­vives Korra when she falls in bat­tle. Al­ter­na­tively, there are ex­pen­sive tal­is­mans that raise your chi me­ter while halv­ing your health, or cut your at­tack power in two while dou­bling your life, though there’s noth­ing per­ma­nent you can equip that doesn’t have some kind of side ef­fect. Tem­po­rary buffs in­clude a speed in­crease, but th­ese are so pro­hib­i­tively costly you’d do well not to rely on them. You will, how­ever, need a lit­tle ex­tra help on oc­ca­sion, not least when the game throws two large bosses at you simultaneously and the cam­era can’t man­age to keep them both on­screen. Be­ing hit by some­thing you can’t see is ir­ri­tat­ing, though hardly ex­clu­sive to this game; you know you’re on dan­ger­ous ground when Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z feels like an ap­pro­pri­ate com­par­i­son.

That Korra avoids sim­i­lar lev­els of ig­nominy is en­tirely down to Plat­inum’s ex­pe­ri­ence as a de­vel­oper of com­bat sys­tems. Though the en­coun­ters vary lit­tle, the stu­dio’s rhythms are in­stantly recog­nis­able; you’ll see it in the way a blow con­nects, the way moves flow into one another. And once you’ve un­locked the full ex­tent of Korra’s abil­i­ties – from the slow but force­ful Earth at­tacks to the blis­ter­ingly quick jabs of the Fire pow­ers – you can even af­ford to ex­per­i­ment a lit­tle. Mind you, there’s no real en­cour­age­ment to do so un­til the fi­nal boss (who some­times erects el­e­men­tal walls around him), but once you’re fi­nally em­pow­ered to let loose, it be­comes a much bet­ter game.

That isn’t enough to de­flect at­ten­tion away from the fact that this is es­sen­tially ten min­utes’ worth of game remixed ad nau­seam at steadily es­ca­lat­ing dif­fi­culty to pad it out to five hours. By li­censed game stan­dards, it’s ad­e­quate enough. What makes Korra so dis­ap­point­ing is that its im­mense po­ten­tial has been squan­dered, and the name of a de­vel­oper with a pre­vi­ously un­blem­ished record has been tar­nished. Sure, Plat­inum has made flawed games be­fore, but noth­ing nearly so bland or as unin­spir­ing as this.

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