IGN Review of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
The Wii version of Avatar isn't based on the same design that's hit the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, nor is it in stereoscopic 3D like the film promotes. A completely separate team worked on the Wii edition, and as fun as the game can get, it's clear that Avatar suffers from "we gotta get this game out in time for the movie" syndrome. In other words, it's got a lot of rough edges and a severely abrupt presentation, almost as if the team ran out of time to really give this game the once-over it needs.
Avatar on Wii follows a storyline that's created specifically for the game, featuring an original native creature (a Na'vi) who's quest is to seek out the "newcomers" (those are the humans) who've stolen precious Na'vi artifacts for profit. It's a very cut and dry situation: infiltrate the colonies and take out the humans either with brute force or sneaky stealth.
In the on-foot levels, it's a brawler that utilizes the Wii Remote motion as the character's attacks. Swinging left, right, up and down produces different attacks with the Na'vi's staff – while waggling the controller like a maniac will certainly put the "button mashing" down on the enemies, you'll only be able to pull off powerful combos if you swing with casual and timed motions. I do have to say that the game does a very good job recognizing the specific directions, an area that many games seem to struggle. Earlier in the game's development I was under the impression that the Wii Motion Plus was enhancing the motion recognition, but after playing through the final game, Wii Motion Plus support doesn't affect the staff attacks. It's just good Wii Remote programming.
The key element to these on-foot levels is the stealth focus: Na'vi can blend in with the surroundings pretty well, so you can simply duck into the high grass and the humans will look around for you all dumbfounded. If you elude their gaze you can easily perform automatic stealth attacks that require nothing more than a single button press to activate, and then a simple swing of the remote just to make it a little more challenging. Stealth is so integral to the gameplay that even the final boss battle depends on the element more than 90 percent of the time.
The levels feature a bit of exploration but for the most part the layouts of the areas are pretty straightforward. Your character will automatically walk across fallen logs and trees without risk of falling (he has, after all, grown up in the Pandora jungles) and can climb up designated ledges. But the designs are inconsistent in what you can climb up and what you can't, so you might find yourself a bit frustrated trying to pull yourself up on top of a crate that clearly has a short enough distance to reach the top.
The secondary flying portions feel ripped right out of Panzer Dragoon: using the nunchuk's tilt function, you control your creature's pitch and yaw, all the while aiming at oncoming enemies with the Wii Remote's pointer. These missions aren't very challenging at all, and even if you die you'll respawn at one of several checkpoints with full health and very little penalty.
The developer put common Wii accessories into play as optional control and gameplay mechanisms. The Wii Motion Plus may not enhance the standard controls of Avatar, but it does enable the ability to call upon a Pandora wasp, which players can control by tilting the Wii Remote and stun enemies as they try to shoot it down. The Wii Fit Balance Board can also replace the nunchuk-tilt control of the banshee levels, and your enjoyment with this option is directly linked to how well you can shift your weight to control the oversized winged beast. Me, I had better luck with the stock controls in these missions, and the Wii Motion Plus enhancement is minimal at best. It's a little unfair to those without the attachment to show collectibles that can only be reached with the Motion Plus-controlled wasp. In reality, if you want to beat the game 100 percent, you absolutely need the attachment. But since there's very little reward for the victory, don't knock yourself out finding a unit.
Avatar tries to be quite the looker on Wii but struggles to maintain it. The developer definitely locked down the visual style of the Cameron film and attempts to push a lot of cool next-gen effects like depth of field. Very often, though, the framerate takes a dive and the game becomes distractingly choppy. Cutscenes are also pretty awkward with stiff animations, not to mention some absolutely dreadful voice acting and dialogue. Wait until you see Sigorney Weaver's terrible line reads in Mission 7.
The game also implements the jump-in, jump-out multiplayer that seems to be all the rage on Wii. Thank you to the development team in including it, but no thank you to just how sloppy it comes off. The game just doesn't feel like it was meant for this feature, and very little care was put into actually making it work. The single-character fixed camera system breaks to support two characters who move independently, but then the game has to abruptly switch to the single player camera for the quicktime events that get triggered during the stealth attacks.
That's really the biggest fault of Avatar on Wii: its lack of polish. When you get to the final mission and you meet up with the "big boss" at the end with very little character development or introduction, it's hard to shake the feeling that the development team didn't have time to animate the cutscene properly. This becomes even more apparent at the game's finale: win the game, and the rest of the story's told through simple text and a five second "the end" cutscene, followed by scrolling credits. That's it. Clearly the game was rushed through development because the ending is incredibly anticlimactic.
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