Avatar: The Legend of Aang (DS) - Review

 Game 1: Water

Console: Nintendo DS

Welcome everyone to the start of my first gaming marathon! A quick explanation of what I mean by this: YouTuber SomecallmeJohnny, one of my inspirations, reviews games in a marathon model. He reviews a number of games in the same series in a row. I’ve decided to try out this format for myself; to see how it treats me.

The subject of this first marathon? Avatar. The four DS games to be exact: The Legend Aang (which you're reading now), The Burning Earth, Into the Inferno and The Last Airbender.

Why Avatar and not something, like, Mario? Well, a few weeks ago, I found the Kyoshi duology of novels at a bookstore. That drew me back into the world of Avatar and that made me want to finish my Avatar DS game collection. Why the Nintendo DS versions? Because these are the versions of the games I had as a kid. It’s the ones I’ve got a connection to.

With all that introducing done, let’s dive into the very first Avatar game. Avatar: The Legend of Aang for the Nintendo DS. The game I played but never managed to finish as a kid; and even had some trouble completing now as an adult!

The narrative of the game is a unique (non-canon) story set after the end of book one. Still in the North Pole, finishing up Aang’s and Katara’s water-bending training, Team Avatar learns that a water-bender has gone missing. Soon after finding signs of a fight and a strange piece of metal, the Northern Water Tribe is attacked by the Fire Nation, Prince Zuko amongst them, and Katara is taken hostage.
Freeing Katara, the trio learns that the strange piece of metal is a part of a series of war machines the Fire Nation is developing to bring The Hundred Years War to an end to their benefit. Together with friend Haru, an earth-bender, Team Avatar set out to bring a halt to this nefarious plot.

The story of the game is fine. As a tie-in game, I don’t expect much from the narrative. What the kids who buy this game want is a recognizable experience in the Avatar world. With side characters such as King Bumi and recognizable landmarks such as Omashu and attention to getting the design of the world right, the game delivers on that front. That the game has a narrative of its own is a nice bonus; it’s something to make the game feel a bit more like its own thing. It’s not a stellar narrative, it's rather minimalistic, but it is a nice look into what book 2 could’ve been if the creators stuck with book 1’s tone and added Haru as a permanent fixture to the team. As was theorized by fans back before book 2 premiered.

Some familiar characters from the series pop-up here and there like King Bumi of the city Omashu, which you visit as well. 

Avatar: The Legend of Aang is split between 3 different gameplay styles. Exploration in an isometric overworld, combat sections and mini-games.

The overworld and the combat sections are where you’ll spend most of your time. In the overworld you run around as one of the four playable characters, Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Haru, going from point A to B, visiting shops, exploring etc. It’s fun. The different sections of the world you travel to each chapter aren’t that big but they look nice and pack more things to do than you’d think. Each area has, at the very least, one extra activity for you to do. From a mini-game to finding new special attacks. There are even some small errands that run through multiple areas. These ‘side-quests’ aren’t trackable or even that easy to find. You have to talk to every NPC and walk into every lone corner of the map to find them.

 I’m torn on if I should count this as a flaw or not. On the one hand; you can miss lots of stuff and if you forgot an important piece of information, good luck figuring out where to go next! On the other hand, it does add a sense of exploration, that there can be something hidden in every corner and incite players to explore. I can remember that as a kid, I would replay games over and over again. All these little hidden ‘secrets’ I would’ve found eventually and felt amazing for finding.
So, yeah. You can view this in two different ways. On which side it’ll fall is up to you I guess.

Combat is very simplistic. Enemies run around all across the map who, after they spot you, will hound your behind until they run into you and initiate a fight. These fights take place in their own separate screens; round arenas that have different backgrounds to match the map environment but are otherwise the same. 

For a game aimed at kids, the combat is expectedly and fittingly simplistic. You have a basic attack, a special attack attached to an energy meter and a block. Well, two blocks. The game’s combat doesn’t get more taxing than wailing on fire benders and the like with your basic attack, waiting until your special becomes available, choosing your special and occasionally blocking. And yet. And yet; the combat is outright broken. 

A look at a battle. Take note of the multiple characters on screen; you can switch between them with a simple touch on the touchscreen.

To get a bit ahead of myself, I feel that Avatar: The Legend of Aang was made by a team that put in the work but it’s still a THQ-developed tie-in game made on a budget and deadline. Edges are rough and corners have been cut. You can really feel this in combat which suffers from two problems: bad timing and high-difficulty spikes. 

High-difficulty spikes speak for themselves but those problematic invincibility frames part needs some more explaining. What the problem boils down to is that the invincibility frames the game builds in so you can’t take damage again before you can even react. In this game you can and will, as you guessed it, you can take damage again before you can even react. You can get locked into a scenario in which you keep taking damage but can’t do anything. Just wait until it's over.
And this will happen. Often. And it’s frustrating. You can use this against enemies as well, so it’s an equal opportunity type of broken, but it’s broken nonetheless.

I would also like to nag about the lack of healing options. The only way for you to heal up is with healing items which you can find, win from battles and buy in shops. Because there’s no general/free healing option you constantly have to manage your limited inventory space and money to keep your characters in good health. That cuts into the use of other items and just makes managing you’re inventory and health more of a hassle than it should be.

The mini-games are few but generally fun and harmless. From lock picking to catching fallen cabbages. They are fun little diversions and an excuse for the game to actually use the touchscreen outside of the U.I. 

Presentation-wise; the game is fine. Nothing ugly or out of place looking but a lot of the larger sprite work in the menus is rough looking. The touchscreen controls for stuff like item management are well done though perhaps not the most exciting way to incorporate them. Oh, and finally, THQ managed to not only have limited voice acting by the show’s cast in its “cut-scenes” but somehow managed to push the show’s opening sequence into the game card. Compressed, naturally, but there in all its glory nonetheless. Neat!  

The touchscreen has all the menu's on it making it easy to navigate.

Avatar: The Legend of Aang has a 3D background where 2D character sheets are laid over. Kind of like a proto ‘HD-2D’ now that I think of it. It’s a simple trick but one that works well. I always found that this game and The Burning Earth looked very nice and I still think that today. The free camera control the 3D backgrounds give you is neat as well but does come with blind spots. Especially the stealth section isn’t helped by this as you can’t get a clear view of the guards. As a kid, I never managed to get passed it and even playing the game for this review, it took me nearly an hour before I was out of the woods.

The sounds are simplistic. I haven’t heard any recognizable tunes from the show and the tunes that are here are few and heavily reused but they do fit with the game. There not as good as the OST of the show but they´re passable.  


Avatar the Legend of Aang for the Nintendo DS got middle-of-the-road reviews but was overall better than its console counterparts. I can get behind this. The game is better than you’d think when you hear ‘tie-in game for kids. The game is simplistic but it understood the assignment. It nails the atmosphere and has a neat story with some good visuals and sound.

The lacklustre, outright broken, combat is its biggest issue. It makes the fights, which are roughly half of the game, a hassle, an annoyance and a frustration all at once. It made me struggle to complete this game on time; deflated my enthusiasm for it and by the end, I was pushing through for the sake of this review and not because I was enjoying it that much. Other issues such as healing, and a bunch of other small stuff I didn't have the space to talk about, are annoying too but not as outright damaging to the game.

Back in the day, I think this wasn’t a bad choice for kids wanting to play an Avatar videogame but it would lead to at least some frustration. Now? I wouldn’t really recommend picking it up unless you’re, like me, nostalgic for it and want to give it (another) shot or want it as part of your game collection.
I´m happy I finally beat the game but I don´t ever see me picking it back up again.