The Indiana Jones franchise is one I hold very close to my heart. Even more so than Star Wars. Yeah, I said it. You see, there’s just something about an adventuring archaeologist fighting Nazis and exploring our world that speaks to me. I ate up everything Indy-related when I was growing up. Of all the TV shows I watched as a child, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones was the only one I had to see every week as soon as it came on. I still think part of the reason I enjoy the “gets worse every time you watch it” Boondock Saints is because it stars Sean Patrick Flannery, who I so desperately wanted to be growing up. New Indiana Jones gaming experiences are few and far between, so when the chance to don a digital fedora came up with Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, I jumped at the opportunity. Disappointingly, like the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this Indiana Jones adventure was better in idea than it was in execution.
The problem with stories in the Indiana Jones universe is that they can never seem to find a MacGuffin as interesting as the ones featured in the films. In this game, Indy is trying to recover the staff of Moses. While that’s a pretty important biblical artifact, Moses’ staff lacks the wow factor that something like the Arc of the Covenant has, despite how closely they’re related. That said, the actual adventuring that you’ll do as Dr. Jones in hopes of recovering the staff before the Nazis is mildly engaging. Staff of Kings starts you off searching for an idol in Sudan, and along the way you’ll have stopped to shoot it out in San Francisco, plunder with a pachyderm in Istanbul, and mosey with Moses in Nepal, before the final motorcycle race through parted seas. During his travels Indy will meet up with a few less-than-memorable characters that pale in comparison to the compatriots so beloved by fans of the films. It’s tough to live up to the rich tapestry that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have created, and while A2M tries really hard, the final product lacks the heart of the classics.
Gameplay in Staff of Kings is where everything really starts to fall apart. Using mostly Wii-centric waggle for just about every task is one of the less appealing factors of this game. I honestly had no problem swinging the controller and nunchuck to throw punches, whip people, or throw objects. Sure, after a few hours your arms start to feel the burn, but the combat is pretty solid. The issue comes in the form of quick-time events. Certain sequences will have you flailing both arms in an effort to get Indy to dodge incoming boulders or hoist himself up from a ledge. It wouldn’t be such a big issue if the game had any consistency in recognizing these motions as you do them. If you go too fast, too slow, or don’t stop and start exactly when the game tells you to, you are forced all the way back to the beginning. I can’t tell you how often I failed because I didn’t stop waggling in time. Never before I have I played a game that penalized you for shaking the controller too much. It’s terribly annoying, and ruins any of the fun you were having. Occasionally you’ll have to use the controllers to mimic the controls of a biplane or motorcycle. The nicest word I can think of to describe these moments is frustrating. The one bright spot in Wii-centric controls is in the gunplay, which in and of itself is rather mundane, but within the confines of this game is fun, and provides players with something to look forward to.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is by no means a pretty game, but it doesn’t look terrible either. It lacks the polish and polygon count of some upper tier Wii games, but looks better than many other third-party titles on the console. Compared to the other two versions of the game (which is also available on the PlayStation 2 and PSP) Wii owners definitely got the best-looking version. All of the animations look good, but not great. Indy looks right handling the whip, but enemy combatants seem to rely on the same set of moves, with only occasional differences. The voice-work is pretty decent, except for Henry Jones, Sr. I know how hard it must be to do the voice of Sean Connery justice, but the actor here falls into the parody column a bit too often. And this guy is no Darrell Hammond. Since this game bears the Lucasarts name, the score is up to snuff. Any time I heard those seven famous notes I got a little excited. Then I remembered I was still playing this game, and all that excitement washed away.
There’s a bit of multiplayer here, both co-op and competitive, but neither are really worth your time. The co-op has Indy and Henry, Sr. working together to get through some platforming levels, but not through the main story. It’s not awful, but it’s not all that interesting, and it would have been nice to enjoy the regular story with a friend. The competitive mode puts you into either tanks or biplanes, and is actually pretty painful to play. There are some costumes to unlock, like the ability to play through the game dressed like Han Solo. Sadly, the only way to get that costume is to complete the game and collect all the fortunes, so you won’t even get to use the costume unless you want to play through the game a second time. Thankfully, the best unlockable, a playable version of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, only requires that you complete the first level to get it. The game is a classic, and utilizing the Wii controller as the mouse makes perfect sense. Everything is restored perfectly, and the game even boasts a slight graphical upgrade. If there was ever a reason to get Staff of Kings, it’s this feature.
The world could really use an awesome Indiana Jones game. Sadly, Staff of Kings is not it. There was an opportunity here for A2M to sneak a third-party gem onto the Wii, but instead, gamers are left with yet another disappointing game on a console that desperately needs someone other than its manufacturer to make good games for it. Since this mediocre game does come bundled with one of the best Indiana Jones games ever made, it’s certainly worth trying out. Maybe one day Lucasarts will give the current generation of consoles an Indiana Jones game worthy of the fedora. For now, we’ll have to settle for 17 year-old PC games.