The next long-awaited Avatar: The Last Airbender video game is almost here — but it’s not exactly what people might expect. Considering the Avatar franchise’s playable history, that might be a good thing.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Quest for Balance retells Aang and his friends’ adventures from the original Nickelodeon cartoon, even turning some pivotal moments in the show into levels, such as the Fire Nation invasion of the Northern Water Tribe and team Avatar’s time in Ba Sing Se. But the developers at Bamtang Games designed the game specifically to appeal to younger players who might not be as familiar with the show as some seasoned fans. Remember, the original Avatar series is now 18 years old!
But the actual gameplay makes Quest for Balance less of a straight Avatar: The Last Airbender video game adaptation and more a playful riff akin to the Lego Star Wars games. The mechanics are focused on exploration and puzzle solving instead of combat, something that the developers felt was both appropriate for the intended audience and reflective of a core part of the show.
“In the series, Aang’s determination to not use violence unless it is strictly necessary is part of his identity as an Air Nomad,” lead designer Carlos Salazar tells Polygon, “and that’s reflected in the game.”
There is still combat in the game, and Salazar acknowledges that the bending abilities’ martial arts inspiration is a huge appeal of the franchise. But the team took a different approach to the fights in order to make them accessible to younger players and more fitting to Aang’s pacifist ways.
“Our combat situations require players to identify weaknesses in their opponents and choose which bending abilities or moves they should use to defeat them,” he says. “Also, certain combat encounters incorporate puzzle elements, relying on the user to vary their approach and consider the changing environment around them, so the combat experience feels very rewarding.”
While Quest for Balance can be played solo, there is also the opportunity for co-op, especially when it comes to solving some of the more complicated puzzles. It’s not necessary, but it does make some of these challenges more enriching.
“In many cases, the bending type and the order of the interactions are crucial to solve the puzzles, so we expect players to have a ton of fun coming up with different strategies when finding the best way to solve them,” Salazar says. “These puzzles were carefully designed to be the right amount of challenge to younger players, while giving parents and older siblings the chance to help them through this fun introduction to Avatar.”
Still, there’s a new angle for those who are familiar with Aang’s adventures. In this version, those escapades are told through the eyes of the Order of the White Lotus, the society of elderly Pai Sho players that includes Uncle Iroh, King Bumi, and Master Pakku, among others. “They are such strong and comical characters,” Salazar says, “so we decided to retell Aang’s story from their point of view.”
It’s a fitting choice for perspective. With the younger target audience — the newcomers to the franchise — taking up the role of Team Avatar, seasoned fans can take a step back and watch the events unfold through a different set of eyes, especially since, years later, they might have more in common with Iroh than with Zuko.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Quest for Balance is available to pre-order today on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC via Steam, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X for $49.99. The game comes out Sept. 22.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the release date for Avatar: The Last Airbender: Quest for Balance was Sept. 20. The actual release date is Sept. 22. We’ve edited it to reflect this.