Ah, Nickelodeon. The TV channel that's given us the cartoon greatness of SpongeBob SquarePants and Fairly Odd Parents. Even if some of the things it shows are a bit rubbish (we're looking at you Victorious and iCarly), it's probably better than Cartoon Network these days. In fact, it's most recent critically acclaimed show, The Legend of Korra, has become something of a cult phenomenon, likened to everything from The Game of Thrones to "anything dreamt up by Hayao Miyazaki or George Lucas". It seems a shame, then, that the game adaptation of this award-winning animated series leaves a lot to be desired.
The game takes place somewhere between season two and three of the show, and sees the titular Korra, an "Avatar" capable of bending all four elements - air, water, fire and earth - and using them to her advantage, kind of like magic powers. Or, at least, she was, until at the start of the game, when she comes up against a nefarious 'Chi Blocker', who strips her of her air, water, fire and earth bending powers. Over the course of the game, it's up to Korra to hunt him down, gradually regaining her powers one element at a time - and that's about the extent of the story, which acts as little more than a vehicle to get you from area to frustrating area in what is a relatively poor TV tie-in.
Most levels here are a fairly standard beat 'em up fare, with Korra simply travelling from area to area, beating up all the bad guys and moving on to the next, occasionally hunting out collectable items along the way. And that's all well and good - what's more of an issue is that the difficulty spikes so wildly, one minute you'll be ploughing through bad guys with no trouble, and the next you'll find yourself totally unable to get a move in edgeways, before ending up dead within seconds. Korra's trademark bending abilities, which allow her to wield various elemental infused martial arts, seem to have survived fairly well, but with enemies having no obvious strengths and weaknesses, there seems little point mixing up your attacks too much either. Dodging and countering is particularly problematic too, with the window you have for successfully performing either being irritatingly narrow, to the point where it rarely works.
In fact, one early level - which was designed to teach you the benefits of blocking and countering - did anything but. The idea was to keep knocking back several enemies in an arena competition, until you'd knocked them far enough you 'claimed' all the whole area - kind of like sumo. The only problem is, it didn't work anything like that, as we found ourselves being knocked back far more often than they did, usually within a few seconds, until we gave up on the countering altogether and launched a full frontal offensive instead. And don't get us started on the boss fights, with their insane difficulty curves and seriously annoying, seemingly unblockable moves that do way too much damage.
Mixing up the more linear levels are a few 'endless runner' style stages, where Korra leaps on the back of her (rather cute) pet wolf polar bear beast, Naga, and charges head first down narrow streets. And by charge, we mean charge - that thing is packing some serious speed. Which would be all well and good if we weren't required to make split second decisions, shifting her left and right to avoid obstacles, jump gorges and dive under low gaps. Things move way too fast and appear so suddenly you barely have time to react - and with each collision cutting a substantial amount of health off poor Naga, it won't be long before you're dead. In fact, the only way we found to get past these stages was to die repeatedly and hope you manage to reach the next check point through sheer luck - and pray.
As you play, you amass 'Spirit Energy', the game's currency, which can be exchanged for upgrades and items in the store. With various new moves, potions and 'talismans', which prevent stunning, increase chances of counter attacks and the like, you can theoretically make the game that bit easier. But stocking up on health potions seems a largely pointless endeavour, particularly if you're likely to die often, as once you use one, it's gone forever - even if you die and get re-spawned to the point before you chugged it down. When restarting, you do get the option to visit the store to buy more, but this is also pretty pointless, given that, in order to use the items in levels you have to equip them first, and this can only be done between levels - not during. So you may have just bought three new potions to help you through a boss fight, but they'll just be sitting in Korra's room unused until you return, having beaten said boss.
A rather mediocre, short and overly difficult beat 'em up, The Legend of Korra game could have been so much more, especially when you consider the source material. A powerful elemental martial artist battling the social and political unrest in a rich fantastical world with surprisingly solid storytelling this isn't - instead, replaced with a frustrating beat 'em up.