When publisher Activision acquired the license to make a video game based on the Nickelodeon animated show The Legend of Korra, it had to find a studio to make the game. The company had a long list to choose from. It made a beeline for Platinum Games, the developer best known for action titles Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance.
"Often when you look at Platinum's games, the action is very smooth, very flashy and very cool," said Activision producer Robert Conkey. "Basically any time they've done action, there's a specific Platinum style, which people are really appreciative of. That's what we were hoping to bring to the table."
In a recent demo of the game, we were able to see Platinum's influence on Nickelodeon's hugely popular brand. The third-person action game is set between the show's second and third season and, playing as the character Korra, players have to find ways to access her four special abilities. Each ability correlates to a different fighting style. In addition, Korra also knows different styles of kung fu that she can switch between during combat.
"It's a holistic thing..."
Platinum's influence gets its chance to shine in combat. Every action performed is both visually and aurally satisfying. When Korra unlocks her water bending abilities, which are good for long-ranged attacks, she is able to throw waves of water at enemies. According to Platinum Games producer Atsushi Kurooka, the development team crafted the visuals in such a way that if the game is freeze-framed at any point, it looks exactly as it would in the show.
The earth bending ability is a slower but more powerful kind of power that can raise the earth, create craters and attack multiple enemies that are clustered together. Like water bending, earth bending is visually satisfying and feels like it has an impact in the game world.
Fire bending is a close-ranged ability, but it lets Korra move incredibly quickly. Air bending supports both long and closed-ranged attacks, and allows Korra to travel quickly.
Players can switch between the different abilities when in combat and even during combos. Conkey told Polygon the developers at Platinum Games were able to achieve a 45-second combo on an enemy with unlimited health.
"For example, they would start out with earth bending and use a strong attack that knocks the enemy into the air, then they would jump into the air and do a fire bending combo," he said. "They'd then switch to air bending to dash through the guy and land on the ground, then they'd switch to water and juggle him in the air. Right before he landed, they'd knock him up again and just continue.
"It's amazing how deep that system goes."
In addition to the main storyline and combat, The Legend of Korra also has mini-games like an in-game sport where Korra tries to gain territory over her enemies, and an endless runner-type game where she rides a polar bear-dog hybrid through narrow streets.
While these mini-games look like they could be fun in short bursts, the real meat and bones of the game are in the combat.
Kurooka told Polygon the key elements in creating a satisfying feeling in combat were visuals, sound and the feel of the controls.
"We created our own sounds based on the sounds in the show, but we had to consider what would be impactful for the player during the game," he said. "Based on that, we built it out from scratch.
"The other big thing is the controls. It sounds kind of obvious, but the responsiveness of the controls is incredibly important. You need to make sure that when the player presses the jump or attack button, it feels like they expect it to feel. It's a holistic thing. It's the combination of sound, the visuals, the responsiveness — it all comes together in one package to make it feel natural."
Kurooka said Platinum Games was drawn to the project because, despite being a licensed property, it gave the development team room to be creative in the way they explored combat.
"What really surprised us in a good way was the story and universe was so well done," he said. "It had spectacular and very well-research action. It had great comedy and romance. As a whole package, it was incredibly impressive."