The Legend Of Korra
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.