James Cameron’s Avatar in Review – Yes, it really is THAT good

I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I didn’t know what to expect with James Cameron’s Avatar. I’m always nervous when it comes to movie related tie-ins as it is, but Avatar is probably going to be the biggest movie of the decade, regardless of whether it’s a phenomenal success or a cosmic flop. So what does that mean for the game? Well, for starters, I’m not sure anyone told these guys there was a movie related to this material. I don’t know what the movie is like, but after playing this game I actually want to go see the it. Normally, that’s not the case if I play the movie based game first.

Let me start off by saying that the reality is there is not much groundbreaking in James Cameron’s Avatar. It is a tried and true platform game like those of us that grew up in the 80s and went to college in the 90s are familiar with and loved so much. The game takes place 20 years before the movie, and you play a soldier testing out the first Avatar. You’re thrust into a fantastic world with bizarre creatures and magnificent landscapes, and you eventually get asked by the “locals” to help wage war against the human invaders. Not an overly deep or original plot, but it gives you something to tie all the chapters together.

As the Avatar you’ll run and jump through the landscape, some of which will actually try and eat or destroy you. The world is alive with a wide array of creatures; a few are friendly, but most can be downright vicious. The game has its fair share of platform staples, like vines to climb and swing on, platforms that move up and down, and foliage that bounces you high in the air. There are also checkpoints to save your progress and healing plants every now and again. At certain junctures you’ll even get to ride one of the creatures for a while.

Combat can be your typical button mashing affair. You will have multiple different weapon types during the course of the game, any one of which can be activated via an action button in the lower right corner of the screen. This same button can also be used to jump down and interact with objects depending on the circumstances. If you have multiple weapons at the same time you can switch between them with another button in the lower right corner. The key to combat is knowing when to join the fray and when to run. Often you can take advantage of the fact that creatures are fighting each other as an opportunity to sneak past without a scratch. Also, there are some that you can run past while they are charging their attack.

On the other hand, if you can hack it you might want to attack everything you find.  Dead creatures will leave behind essence (along with wisps scattered throughout) that help you build up your Spirit of Eywa. This spirit enables you to unleash an attack against the creatures around you that does damage equivalent to several blows from a weapon. Once this power up is activated, it can be used at will but there is a recharge period between uses.

If you’ve been playing platform games for any reasonable amount of time, you’ll know what I mean when I said there is nothing revolutionary about James Cameron’s Avatar. They just took the best traits of what platform games have had to offer over the past couple of decades and combined them into one very tidy little package. There’s also some killer level design in the game and even the parts that seem somewhat annoying are easily overcome with a bit of persistence. It helps the checkpoints are laid out well enough that you’ll never have to repeat too much of the game over and over.

I won’t pretend the game is without issues. The biggest problem is the camera. It’s not bad, but you have no control over it, and there are times where the angle is less than optimal. This can especially be a problem in areas where you really need to be aware of the depth of a platform or other such spatial details. I also found that there were times where I had problems getting the Avatar to jump from a platform. Really, though, technical foibles have been the minority of my experience with the game.

Visually, there’s probably not a whole lot on the iPhone that can touch the beauty of Avatar. The world is so well detailed that you feel like you should be able to travel to this land. There are times where swooping panormas reveal the limitations of the device in terms of pixilation and clipping, but you’ll soon forget about that as the camera zooms back in and you’re once again amazed by the gorgeous surroundings. The creature designs are also quite amazing. While the majority of the creatures I’ve encountered so far are of the quadruped (or six legged) variety, they still look different enough that you don’t feel like you’re looking at one beast with different coats of paint. I also like the fact that the cut scenes, while often zoomed in and bordered to set them apart, are clearly rendered in the same manner as the game itself. It adds a nice bit of continuity to the graphics.

I rarely get to say this any more, but the audio perfectly complements the atmosphere. Each creature has a unique sound that you will get used to such that you eventually know what lies ahead. The ambient sounds really bring the forest setting to life, and the narration is done by one of the actors from the movie, so you know that’s quality. If the music isn’t taken directly from the movie’s soundtrack, it should be the soundtrack. Some scenes are actually quiet to great effect, but when the background music is playing it’s wonderful, and it really sets the mood for the area that you’re exploring.

Hopefully this didn’t come out too gushy. I’m not usually drawn to games that are hyped up, but every once in a while I need to make an exception. If you’ve read that this is a great game, feel free to believe it. This is probably about the best platform game experience you can have on your iPhone right now. Even if you didn’t like the movie I’d suggest giving this a try, because it’s clear the developers used the movie for inspiration and backdrop only. The gameplay is extremely solid, the visuals are top notch, and the soundtrack is worth having just on its own. Avatar is one game definitely worth the asking price.


App Summary
Title: James Cameron’s Avatar Developer: Gameloft
Reviewed Ver: 1.0.6 Min OS Req: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese
Price: $6.99 App Size: 189 MB
  • Mashes the best platform game techniques into one package
  • Frequent saves keep you from repeating too much of the game
  • Visually magnificent
    Soundtrack is movie quality
  • Occasionally poor camera angles
  • Sometimes the controls are finicky, especially when jumping


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