Long ago, there was a show on Nickelodeon that changed the entire dynamic of storytelling for young audiences. Each week many fans, including myself, waited for the next chapter of their beloved show. The show was so dazzling in story, design, and action that it was impossible not to fall in love with its rich world. The show was called Avatar: The Last Airbender and it was a cartoon with anime influences that followed the journey of a young boy named Aang and his friends. In this world, there are four nations each characterized by an element that they can control.
Only the Avatar can attain the ability to master all four elements and keep the world in balance, but when the fire nation attacked, the Avatar vanished for 100 years. Aang, being the last Airbender after the Fire Nation killed his people in search of him, is now tasked to learn the next three elements and defeat the Fire Lord. After many years, the show regained massive popularity during the pandemic and it has created many new fans across the world. These fans have been begging for new content and new games, especially a game that would allow us to relieve that wonderful journey of becoming the Avatar. We are still waiting, but Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance might quench that desire for a little while.
Developed by Bamtang Games and Published by GameMill Entertainment, Quest for Balance is the most recent Avatar: The Last Airbender game on consoles since Into the Inferno (2008). In the past, most of the games released would focus on one of the three seasons of the show. The allure of Quest for Balance is that it covers the entire series and intends to retell the story of the Avatar while allowing the player to relive key moments. Each season has about 20 episodes so of course it was expected that the game wouldn’t get to every detail exactly. It does, however, cover most of the important episodes and allows you to play many characters you never has a chance to before.
The story starts in the city of Ba Sing Se at Iroh’s tea shop. It is apparent that the game starts after Aang’s journey has ended. Iroh is playing Pai Sho with King Bumi and Pakku. A knocking at the door interrupts their game as Zongying, the director of the Ba Sing Se Players, appears. She sits at the table and asks that the three men recount the story of the Avatar so that she can get the story correctly unlike the Ember Island Players.
For those who have seen the show, the Ember Island Players were a group of actors who performed Aang’s entire journey with exaggerated stereotypes and misinformation. The idea of retelling the story accurately seemed like a pretty good way to start the narrative and explain why the story hops around so much. The cut scenes are mostly told through comic book pictures with some movement, as voice actors can be heard trying their best to sound like the original actors.
After the intro scene, the game then cuts to Aang at the air temple. The game does a little tutorial at this point to help you underrate the controls. The camera allows very minimal movement, and you can’t do a 360 of your surroundings. The angle is also at a bit of a distance, kind of like a turn-based game, so if you wanted to zoom in, you can’t. The cool thing is that you can switch to any character whenever you like by clicking up or down on the D-pad.
The characters are always running in whatever direction you bring them towards and if you leave characters behind they will magically appear next to you. You can also use the D-pad to have characters wait or follow. As you go through the map levels, you’ll be able to smash items to get coins. Grabbing floating coins and looting chests allows you to purchase items and potions that will assist you in battle. Most of the levels and upgrades require you to solve simple puzzles to access them, including some things that you can’t access without a particular character, you unlock later in the game.
Combat is pretty much a beat-em-up style with the characters and enemies being blocked by a blue force field. You can do combos with your bending style and a powerful attack that needs a load time. You can also dash dodge and block enemy attacks. Use the left trigger to lock on an enemy and you can switch between them. Each character has their own bending style with unique abilities.
As you progress, you can unlock more skills on your skill tree. Access the skill tree by going to the menu. There you can also see combo tutorials and all the items you have purchased. In order to upgrade your skills, you have to collect Pai Sho tiles. They can be accessed by completing mini-puzzle games in the Pathik Bending Challenge. The puzzles mostly require you to move boxes around and it honestly becomes redundant. I love a good puzzle every now and then but I never imagined doing so many in an Avatar game.
As the levels progress, you can free-roam around familiar locations and do side missions. Many missions require you to find items, deliver things, fight bad guys, and so on. You can also buy and sell items at vendors as well as destroy items in the environment to get more coins. There are also mini-games where it’s like an Avatar version of Subway Surfer. You collect coins and dodge objects in three lanes. While all of this was entertaining at times, it just felt like this game was a little bit of a wasted opportunity.
The scenes don’t blend well and it dips between animation, comic book style, and text boxes. The story feels really jumped and rushed with very little lead-up to some scenes. The battles are a mess of melee and it’s hard to focus on what’s going on. One of the coolest things about bending elements in Avatar was that they are based on four martial arts styles, and this game missed that uniqueness in a clunky hack-and-slash way. There are a lot of glimpses of hope in this game, things that I wish they took some more time with, or ideas that I would love to see explored in another game.
The game seems to be a nostalgia-driven Avatar situation simulator where you just relieve moments of the show with really no focus on the story itself. Someone who never watched the show would never know much of what’s really going on. The sad thing is that dedicated fans will find the game shallow and kind of pointless. At times it literally felt like I was playing an old Xbox 360 remaster or something. I hate to be harsh but I was extremely disappointed with this approach, but I was also glad to have some new Avatar content in my life.
With a playtime of about 9 hours and at the cost of $40 the game is not completely terrible if you love Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s very much on par with the games of the past and I think that’s the problem. We need a cool third-person perspective open-world game. One where you can toggle various bending moves and styles like Ghost of Tsushima did. I think an RPG within the world of Avatar would be a massive game seller. Quest for Balance tried and for that I commend them, but we really need a very strong approach if there’s going to be a next game. Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance is available now on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox X/S, PC, and Xbox
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance for PlayStation 5 provided by GameMill Entertainment.