If, like me, you’re a fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” the promise of playing through the fantastic story yourself is an enticing concept that, shockingly, hasn’t really been implemented in the 18 years since the animated series premiered on Nickelodeon. Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance aims to change that: Finally, you and a co-op partner can relive iconic Avatar moments, like when Aang had to save a village from an angry monster by he solved a sliding block or that another time he had to enter the spirit world to… solve a sliding block puzzle. “Quest for Balance” is easily the worst adaptation of the series since M. Night Shyamalan’s abysmal live-action film. It highlights amazing moments of the story, fills them with horrific battles and tricky quests, and tops it all off with a healthy dash of idiots that still keeps fans waiting for a decent Avatar game to come out of the ice.
“Quest for Balance” divides the three-season story of “Avatar” into 18 chapters, each loosely retelling an episode or portion of the animated film. The word “loose” is also of great importance here, as the events of each chapter often focus on the most mundane parts of Aang’s incredibly rich adventure, while passing many of the exciting parts into text transitions between scenes or 2D animations that separate the levels. For example, in the first level, Katara and Aang explore the rather ugly wreckage of a Fire Nation ship, where nothing of note happens until a text box at the end of the level explains that they triggered a trap and saw the Fire Nation attack Katara’s home , and had to rush back… by doing an incredibly boring Temple Run rip-off where you collect coins while sliding on an otter penguin.
It’s no problem for an adaptation to make changes to its source material to better suit the new medium, but the way it’s done here makes the story completely incomprehensible to newcomers and completely unsatisfactory to long-time fans. Large sections of the show are reduced to half-hearted “and then this happened” exposition sessions, while Quest for Balance instead asks you to complete exciting missions like delivering fruitcakes or beating up faceless bandits for a meager reward. Some moments are even told incorrectly or out of order, often distorted into strangely disappointing versions of themselves. Almost identical fights against Prince Zuko are the boss encounters in three of the first four chapters, while the fight against the wild panda spirit Hei Bai is a sliding puzzle in the truest sense of the word. Yes, another one.
Reusing the same mediocre activities is one of Quest for Balance’s favorite tricks, with several Temple Run-style sections (none of which are fun), lots of recycled enemies and combat, and such a large number of decent but thematically irrelevant block puzzles it feels like almost like it was a completely different game that was then retrofitted with an avatar theme. A downright ridiculous portion of the puzzles are based on the idea that no one, not even the literal Avatar, can jump with a torch in hand. To his credit, there’s a respectable amount to do overall; It took me about nine hours to complete all 18 chapters. You are allowed to revisit it with all your characters and upgrades to 100% complete it after the fact, and there are even 19 bonus attempts to complete. The problem is that piling on more substandard content doesn’t improve a game that wasn’t fun to begin with.
Combat squanders the flashy bending abilities that scream for an excellent combat system and is a clunky mess of button mashing. It’s always incredibly easy to spam your way through waves of bandits and evil tamers, or frustrating because the sheer number of them and their wildly inaccurate hitboxes leave you trapped in constant knockdown animations. Perhaps the best example of how ridiculously inaccurate Quest for Balance has become is that Sokka is consistently the strongest fighter by far, able to deliver similarly powerful attacks faster than any bender, and with one ability in his skill tree, which finally manages to do this makes him completely immune to precipitation. Occasionally I had to be careful when dodging (without using Sokka), focusing on enemies that were putting shields on others, or using special abilities that provided a few stuns for crowd control, but the fights are largely a mess It’s time for all subtlety to be removed.
The skill trees for each of the nine playable characters are actually a small, if very dark, bright spot, allowing you to use Pai Sho parts collected from quests to improve stats and skills – sometimes with boring stat surveys, but other times also flashy ways (like this Sokka ability). It’s actually a well-tuned progression system that, over time, makes me think about which character to spend this limited resource on… or that would have been the case if any of it was even minor in actual combat role where all that mattered was swinging wildly and occasionally using a healing item that was important.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance Official Screenshots
(The first playthrough also has a few trap characters – you can use them to put points into skill trees of people like Suki or the Blue Spirit, who only appear briefly, only to essentially become relevant again at the end of the campaign.)
The way that “Quest for Balance” is also, at its core, janky cannot be overstated. It’s not that the most It’s a flawed game that I’ve played for the past few years, but to say the edges are rough would be overstating how much they’ve been sharpened into edges in the first place. The controls are an unsatisfactory mess and it’s not uncommon for you to get stuck with the geometry or for the fixed camera to completely cut off parts of the action. It’s also broken in some hilarious ways: healing items in particular sell in stores for more than they cost, allowing you to get infinite amounts of money at any time, rendering almost all of Quest for Balance’s breakable items and hidden treasure chests pointless. It’s one of those, “How did this survive testing?” type of glitches.
What’s particularly disappointing is how easy it is to see what this game could have been beneath all the grime. It probably would never have been great, but not all of his ideas are poorly thought out. While the 3D animations are pretty terrible throughout, the 2D animated cutscenes are actually pretty sweet. The whole thing is framed with a few members of the White Lotus telling the Avatar’s stories, chiming in to provide all the hastily glossed-over details – and while many of the voices seem tonally similar, there were few moments of conversation are really not bad.
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If this had been paired with a game where the side activities were actually entertaining instead of pointless fetch quests, where switching between teammates allowed for interesting taming playstyles instead of different ways of playing the same button presses, and where this legendary story was presented in one… Had it been retold in a way that respected the source material rather than using it to cram in overused and loosely related mini-games, Quest for Balance might actually have fulfilled its promise. It’s not inconceivable that with a little more time (probably a lot more) the fun could have been found here, but what we got instead feels like the bare minimum necessary to look like it’s in Okay, and bring it to market so that Quest Because Balance could live on as another trap on the shelves, lurking for well-meaning parents who don’t know any better.