Games based on cartoons that are popular with kids, teens, and adults have often struggled under the weight of trying to appeal to each audience simultaneously. After all, it's not easy to make a game that a parent will enjoy as much as their child. Such is the case with Avatar: The Last Airbender, an action role-playing game based on the popular Nickelodeon show of the same name. The game has some interesting, yet underused, RPG elements, and the fighting system initially appears as if it has some depth, but the overall game is so simple and easy you'll never need to do much more than mash on the attack button to see the story through to its conclusion.
Avatar takes place in a world that's in the midst of a global war. There are four nations, divided up by the ability of some of their citizens to "bend" (use as a weapon or magic) fire, water, earth, or air. The Fire Nation is trying to eliminate the Water, Earth, and Air Nations in an effort to establish itself as the planet's dominant force. The three nations' only hope for survival lies in the hands of Aang, a 12-year-old Airbender, who also happens to be the Avatar--the one person who can bend all four elements. Not only will Aang have to fend off the Fire Nation, but there are thousands of machines that threaten the land, as well. But Aang won't have to go at it alone. Katara, Aokka, Haru, and Aang's faithful sidekick Momo will all team up to save the day. The story is pretty simple, and for the most part it's entertaining. All of the characters are voiced by the same actors from the cartoon and much of the series' humor comes across here, though it sometimes feels forced.
Avatar mixes light RPG elements with a healthy dose of fighting. The action is viewed from an isometric perspective, which works well for showing off your surroundings while still remaining close enough to be conducive to fighting. The controls are quite simple--you really only need to know where the attack button is. You can block, but you'll rarely need to. You begin the game with only Aang (and Momo), but you'll eventually enlist the services of Katara, Sokka, and Haru. Each character has its own advanced/bending move that can be performed by pressing a shoulder button and a face button. On the Wii, these moves are done by pressing the B button and moving the controller up, down, left, or right. This works poorly because it's awkward and the game often fails to recognize moves or performs the wrong move. You can upgrade your basic attack and special moves by earning experience points. The game upgrades these abilities for you by default, but you can control this feature manually if you so desire.
It's nice to have four fighters at your disposal, but outside of the few occasions where you're forced to go at it alone with a particular character, there's never any need to fight with anyone other than Aang. The three party members that you're not controlling are controlled (poorly) by the CPU. They offer very little assistance during battle and seem content to just perform special attacks over and over. However, you will need to use each person to perform "focus moves." Anytime you come across a ravine you can't cross or find a pile of boulders blocking your path, the game prompts you to perform one of these focus moves. Figuring out which character needs to do the move is revealed by trial and error, though sometimes the scenario relates to someone's innate abilities. On the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, focus moves are performed after you successfully complete a quick timing-based minigame. The Wii does things a bit differently. You're briefly shown a symbol and then you must paint that symbol from memory using the Wii Remote as a paintbrush. Some sequences have just one symbol, while others have as many as three. You're judged on your accuracy, but it doesn't really seem to matter how accurate you are; so long as you're close, you pass. It's fun to paint symbols the first couple of dozen times, but by the end of the game it's just mind numbing.
You'll spend most of your time killing the same sorts of enemies over and over again. Wolves, platypus bears, bandits, firebenders, and various machines are most of the obstacles between you and saving the world. They generally roam in packs and attack by lunging at you, but some of them shoot fire or water, as well. Since both your health and chi (special attack power) regenerate when you're not being attacked, even the most difficult enemies can be dispatched by attacking, running away, and then attacking again. Eventually, you'll find that you don't even need to fight most of the standard enemies--you can simply run right past them. You'll want to fight some of them so you can get new gear and earn some money, but money and items are so readily available that once you get some decent equipment, you won't need to fight much. Boss battles are incredibly easy and require only patience to win. Each boss follows the same pattern of attacking and then leaving you an opening after their attack is done. All you have to do is keep your distance, run around, and wait for the painfully obvious opening to appear. There's a save point before each boss, so you never have to worry about dying. In fact, there are tons of save points everywhere, which makes it odd that there's no autosave or save-anywhere feature.