By PJ Walery
“Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Long ago, four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the fire nation attacked.”
That introduction stokes the fires of nostalgia in the hearts of fans around the world. Nostalgia that fueled content across every medium and continues to do so. September 2018 reignited those flames hotter than they’ve been in years thanks to Netflix’s live-action adaptation announcement. Then July 2019 gave us The Rise of Kyoshi – the first of two canon novels about Avatar Kyoshi’s life. It’s finally happening – Avatar: The Last Airbender content is surging back, and as more of it emerges, one thought continues to gnaw at my mind – there needs to be an Avatar video game that truly embodies the brilliance of the series, and there’s no better time to make one than now.
The first Kyoshi book is basking in glowing reviews. Avatar graphic novels and comics continue releasing to positive fan response. Fans maintain a healthy blend of optimism and fear in regards the live-action series – for good reason – though the original showrunners at the helm inspire hope. It’s only a matter of time before another video game is attempted, and damn it, it needs to be done right this time.
Five console-based Avatar games have come out since 2006, the most recent attempt in 2014 with The Legend of Korra for consoles and PC. Critics universally roasted every single release, with users a smidge more lenient than their professional counterparts. Korra was the most divisive of the bunch, scoring the highest Metacritic score in the game series with 64/100, while many major outlets like IGN and GameSpot scorched it with abysmal reviews. Regardless of scores, all reviews revealed two common threads – the story was poorly executed, and a deep well of potential unfortunately remained untapped.
Avatar’s video game counterpart should be a distillation of its greatest qualities
The Avatar television series has some of the most consistently excellent writing of any show out there. Characters are dynamic, nuanced, and wholly relatable. The world is magical and immersive, yet realistic and complicated. Childlike and wondrous, yet steeped with emotion and humanity. Not utilizing its best qualities is like making a Mortal Kombat game with shitty fighting – what the hell is the point, and who would waste time playing that, let alone making it? The Batman and Spider-Man games sold well because they made you feel like an integral part of that world (on top of a dozen other great qualities). A well-made Avatar game should invoke that same feeling. What comes to light here is that neither THQ nor PlatinumGames have delivered a quality Avatar game, and the reins should be passed on to another studio.
A solid Avatar game isn’t impossible, it just requires some proper building blocks:
- A studio unrestricted by a hard deadline
- Original show writers like Tim Hedrick jumping back in, or writers who are truly passionate about the source content
- A satisfying combat system true to the bending and martial art forms
- A world ripe with the lore and narrative that the television series delivered in spades
Draw upon the beauty and depth of The Witcher 3’s world-building and narrative. Harness Skyrim’s encouragement of exploration and channel it into every kingdom. Really focus on a combat system that feels good, impactful, and true to form.
Personally, I’d love to see a RPG-style game where the player can forge their own story in the world.
Imagine starting as a fisherman from the Southern Water Tribe. An Earthbender from Ba Sing Se, or a hunter from a village in its kingdom. A vassal in service of a Fire Nation lord, or a blacksmith within its capital. An Airbender of the Air Nomad Tribe, or a resident of Republic City having just discovered their powers. Maybe you’re none of them, and simply a fledgling martial artist focusing on Chi-blocking to counteract benders. You could be the Avatar, or you can opt not to be at the game’s start, knowing they’re out there somewhere and you may need to help – or fight – them one day.
The animated series is so full of heart; it charms viewers young and old. Avatar’s video game counterpart should be a reflection of its greatest qualities – a pure distillation of its spirit that any fan can enjoy. Instead, all we’ve seen up to this point are half-hearted husks with an Avatar paint job. This incredible series and its loyal fanbase deserve better than that.
What sort of game do you think would work best for the Avatar universe? What studios would you like to see give it a shot?
Thanks for reading!
Image Credit: Google Images — If you know the artist, please reach out and I’ll add attribution.