I found myself playing this for two reasons: 1.) I love the show and 2.) the price was right (that is, free). I had already heard the game's crap on any console and the only reason it moved a ton of copies on the XBox 360 is because there's a glitch in the first level that makes you earn a bazillion achievement points by doing next to nothing. Being that ages ago I soldiered through the Get Backers GBA games (even the incredibly sucky first one), my tolerance for crappy licensed titles has historically been quite high. Until now.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth...where to begin? (Other than the abuse of colons in the title, but I guess I can't blame the game that much since the show's title has a colon.) Well, the beginning's as good a place to start as any, I suppose.
When you start up the game, after about five minutes of unskippable load screens, you finally come to the title screen and you get to start. When you start a new game, it begins with Aang, Katara, and Sokka at the Northern Water Tribe being seen off and told Aang has to find an Earthbending Master now. Okay, so we're apparently going to start in early season two. Fair enough. This is where things start to get a little odd.
The story is set up to follow the events of the second season pretty much exactly, with a few liberties taken to make this a game and not a direct retread. The levels are divided into "Chapters", just like the episodes, and each level bears the name of the same episode in the sequence. This whole thing just struck me as bizarre, because if I wanted to retread the events of the show, I'd just watch the show over again and save myself the time and effort. At least the graphics are decent and if you ever watched the show and found yourself thinking "wow, it'd be awesome if this scene were a video game and I was the one making them do that!", well, you'll be pleased.
So we get a bit of text explaining that the crew decides Aang's old friend and Earthbender extraordinaire, King Bumi, should be Aang's Earthbending teacher, and they're heading off to Omashu, and with that, we're in Chapter One: the Avatar State. I won't retread everything that happens because if you've seen the show, you know, and if you haven't, you either don't want to be spoiled or you don't care. You almost immediately get into your first boss battle, but before you do, a tutorial comes up and explains the controls. There's about seven pages worth of information to memorize, and it won't matter anyway because the controls are so terrible you'll never get it all. In the first display of stupidity, they also explain all non-battle controls along with the battle controls before the fight scene, so you have to digest those to remember for after the battle while at the same time hoping you remember the battle commands to make it that far.
So what are the fucky controls? After much trial and error, I figured out it's this:
A: Hold down to walk, since you automatically run. Also scrolls through text.
X: Use Bending or special attacks
Y: Use regular attack, or talk to people outside of battle. They don't tell you this, but A also lets you talk to people.
Start: Pause, also open inventory screen (handy for mid-battle)
Left and Right Shoulder Buttons: Scroll through screens, including to access the save screen, because using the D-pad will just go through options on the current screen and all of the other buttons are assigned to commands on each screen.
Select: Switch between character stats view and map view outside of battle.
Got all of that? You have to memorize all of that before even starting your first battle. And they also fail to tell you at all that pressing Y will trigger events, like climbing up and down ladders. So we finally get to the battle, which is against General Fong and some Earthbenders. If you think they're going to pull any punches because this is a tutorial fight, you're wrong: it's ridiculously hard to line up your shots, score any hits on the guy, and take out the other Earthbenders on your own. Doable, obviously, but long and frustrating.
So you finally win this battle, and you're sent on a quest out to the countryside to gather some herbs with Aang and Sokka. The first thing you'll notice is the first two levels like to make up excuses to keep Katara out of your party. At first they make sense, like she wants to help heal some of the people who need herbs until you come back, but then they become retarded, like "wanting to take a look on the ground" disregarding there's a reason the rest of you aren't staying above ground. But I digress.
The map screen is a must for navigating pretty much anywhere, because you can't tell which places are areas you can go and which aren't or even which direction you're going without the map. So you go outside and encounter your first battles with Fire Nation soldiers, including some Firebenders. You'll notice you get handed a ridiculous amount of EXP for each victory, so much so you go from level one to level thirteen before the end of the first level. You also get money and items up the wazoo, and the battle sequence doesn't end until you collect them all, leading to my next gripe: in some areas, if characters go low enough on the screen, they are obscured by scenery and thus rendered impossible to see. So you think you've beaten all of your opponents, when out of the blue another one starts to wail on you. Then after they're all dead, you have to make sure you run around the scenery where you can't see in case some items were dropped there.
The only good thing is that while you can only control one character at a time, the AI on your partner is pretty decent, and they'll do about as good a job as you. In fact, it's entirely possible to step back and let your partner do all of the work, only accessing the inventory screen and healing him once in a while. With the DS, you use your stylus to choose who you control on the status screen, but since all characters level equally and their abilities seem about even, it doesn't really make much difference. Aside from an HP meter, you also have a gauge with four dots, which is your Bending ability (or just your special ability for non-Bender characters). How many dots are used depends on which attack you have selected (with the stylus) to be your special attacks, and the more you level, the better attacks you earn. Fair enough, except you haven't the foggiest flippin' clue what any of the attacks do or how much energy they use until you use them. More on that in a bit.
So you gather the herbs, which are on a cliffside that you have to climb like stairs because it's not like Aang can jump super-high or anything like that. Sort of funny is if you ditch your partner, he'll teleport behind you after he's offscreen for a few seconds. And then you make your way back, and...all of the enemies you fought earlier have regenerated. I thought we left this behind in the NES days, but no, it's our old friend "any enemies you kill on one screen will return when you go back to that screen again". Meaning if you're accidentally backed offscreen for whatever reason, you have to fight all over again to go back to where you want to be. This would be the big reason why you level so freakin' fast.
Once you have the herbs, you also check in with Katara for a bit for a quick and easy mini-game: click the bandages on the soldiers as they scroll through to heal them, see how many you can heal in a minute. I got thirty done. Whoo.
So you bring the herbs back, fighting your way back to where you started, a quick scene follows which follows canon so closely they even put in spoken dialogue from the show (the only times they use voice acting), and that's it. You're on to the next part.
The next level is set in Omashu, meaning they skilled an episode but since the second episode is about them lost in a cave, I'll count my blessings here. You'll start to notice a pattern here: there's a mission where you gather things, and a boss battle here as well. You also have to switch between the surface and the sewers, which gets old fast because some places in the sewer are blocked but look open on your map, and some places on the street are blocked so you have to navigate the sewers to get there. On the surface more Fire Nation soldiers and Fire Benders want to take a chunk out of your hide, and in the sewers you fight painfully easy...blobs, I guess. I don't know what they are. It took me a while to realize on the surface, there's occasionally large crates you can jump on to walk on the roofs to blocked areas. Before the boss battle, you'll also get Katara in your party for the first time, and things start to get really frustrating.
For the sake of variety and because the boss is a Firebender, I switched to Katara for the boss battle. Her main attack is her water whip, which is nifty because if enemies are lined up just right, you can do damage to them all at once. But her main Waterbending attack, while very powerful, has to be lined up just right to work. And I have yet to figure out what just right is, because while it looks like the water hit the enemies on screen, no damage is actually done to them and I just wasted half of my Bending points trying it.
And again, the boss battle is ridiculously hard. It's impossible to get close enough to him to level a normal attack, because he'll immediately surround himself with flames that take off a huge chunk of your health, so you have to use your Bending attacks, which, as I noted, is nearly impossible to line up right, especially since the guy is chasing you, lobbing off fire balls, and unleashing more unpleasant and very health-sucking attacks. I had about 50 healing items on me from my many battles, and used almost all of them before the end of the battle, running around waiting for my Bending energy to recharge and then hoping I could line it up right to hit him. Sometimes, once you hit him with Bending, you can get a few more normal attacks in before he gets up and unleashes his fire ring. Aang was dead about two minutes into the battle, by the way. So you beat him, there's another scene with dialogue lifted from the show, and you move on to the Swamp.
And here's where I stopped. After figuring out that jumping into the water just teleports you back to where you started, but you have to jump on barely visible lilypads, some of which are just offscreen so you have to take it on faith they're there, I got to the Swampbenders' village and used Katara's Waterbending to put out fires (Katara is the only character you have at this point). I'm apparently supposed to search for the Firebenders that did this, but I got sick of falling into the water or running into invisible walls trying to figure out where the hell I'm supposed to go next, so I just quit.
This is a really, really bad game. While I always find it sort of neat to see your favorite characters lovingly rendered into cute sprites, in this case it's just not worth it. This game's hard, it's poorly designed, it's frustrating, and most of the time it's just stupid. And since from everything I see it's just a retread of key events from the second season with nothing new to add to the story, it's also a complete waste of time. Even if you get a free copy like I did, don't even bother.