It's become a tradition of the videogame industry to produce videogame tie-ins to major box-office releases, although the quality of these titles tends to be poor, given their typical rushed development cycles. Among the latest recipients of this treatment was James Cameron's major release Avatar, with different versions of its game adaptation released to different consoles, among them being the Nintendo DS version, James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, which actually follows a different storyline than its movie counterpart but proves a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Avatar: The Game's main source of inspiration seems to be The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, given total stylus control of the protagonist, Nok, who embarks on a quest across the Pandora to help a human in a Na'Vi body, Molly, whose scientist father, Dr. Ossman, has been looking for a cure for his daughter. The player moves Nok around with the stylus and can have him attack enemies with his staff with different kinds of stylus strokes. Nok also gains various tools such as a slingshot and bow and arrows to help him advance through Pandora's environs.
As Nok kills enemies, they drop experience points and occasional recovery points for his life, with the player able to spend experience points at special huts to increase his life and abilities, such as greater attack power for his tools. During Nok's quest, he gradually obtains lore he can view at said huts, giving more information about Pandora and its creatures and sometimes allowing him to increase his life and abilities with experience. Owners of the DSi can also use the camera to take photos of various colors, necessary to unlock an armor upgrade for Nok.
What really sets Avatar: The Game apart from Phantom Hourglass, however, is that it's devoid of the negative elements of that particular title, such as the endless sailing and dungeon the player constantly has to redo. There are flight sequences between the locales of Pandora, though these luckily don't take too long, and give the player an extra opportunity to obtain experience. All in all, the gameplay is easily one of the game's highlight, being fun in spite of some minor faults such as no optional D-pad control and that Nok has to stand still to switch tools.
The controls are solid, as well, in spite of the aforementioned minor faults in the battle system, with the save-anywhere feature being necessary for any game. The game also does a nice job telling players how to advance the main storyline, and overall, controls leave little room for improvement.
The story is decent as well, with the fact that the game follows a completely different storyline than the movie being a nice touch, although more links to the film and appearances by its characters would have been nice. The lore Nok obtains provides decent backstory on the game's world, as well, and overall, the plot is a reasonable driving factor.
The music is one of the weaker aspects, given the presence of ambivalent, generic tribal music like that in the movie, although it does create a decent ambience. The graphics are better, though, being cel-shaded like those in Phantom Hourglass, although some more action for the character models during cutscenes instead of portraits would have been nice. All in all, the music is okay, but the visuals are better.
Finally, beating the game can take as little as ten hours, with few sidequests aside from finding all the lore and maxing out Nok's abilities, and not much replayability, given the lack of a New Game+ or any post-game features. Even so, however, James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is a surprisingly decent movie tie-in game, with solid gameplay and decent presentation values. It doesn't follow the movie that well, but provides an enjoyable experience on the world of Pandora.
+Decent plot and graphics.
- Stylus-only control will turn off some.
-Music is a tad too ambivalent.
-Not much replay value.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours