Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (Review)

The following is a review for the latest Indiana Jones game, The Staff of Kings, which I recently got for the Wii. I originally wrote it on Tuesday, June the 16th, having playing the game for a few hours. I was a little bitter at the time, but I stand by what I've written - every time I've played it since, I've enjoyed and hated it in an almost 50/50 measure.

It was first posted in a small-knit forum I frequent, where it was positively received, then on The Escapist forums, where it was completely ignored. I don't mind as much as you may think - true genius is usually ignored at first.

So another Indiana Jones game has been released, hoping to yet again cash in on a once great series. Unlike that other Lucas-owned franchise though, Indy has a much better track record when it comes to games. Not that it'd be hard to - Star Wars has been whored out so much it's practically standing on street corners 'giving directions'.

But despite a proven track record, the man with the hat hasn't been doing so great these last couple of years. There was the film, which badly needed a decent editor to stand to one side and say 'No George - that'd just be silly'. And then there's the Staff of Kings, which was originally going to come out for PS3 and XBox360, but has ended up on the PSP, PS2 and Wii instead for some utterly unfathomable reason. I've only played the Wii version, and I can honestly say that the PS2 version is superior.

Let's get the giant elephant in the room out of the way first, if only so we can stop the furniture from smelling like fertilizer. The motion controls. When they're first introduced, it's in a platforming aspect - you hold down the B button and snap the remote forward to use your whip, for example, or hold the remote upward and use it as a control stick to fly a plane. These sort of examples actually work pretty well, because they're well defined and there's no real sense of being forced to learn it immediately or die a horrible, painful death.

However, after playing through about half of the first level, you're introduced to combat, and it's here that the motion controls stop being fun. When you're up against an enemy, you don't have time to stop and think 'Ok, I need to swing the remote from right to left to punch this guy in the manner I want'. Generally you're just swing the remote in the hopes that the game will do something useful. And even when you do try and do a specific move, half the time the game doesn't even register it properly and does a different one instead.

When you consider that the majority of the game is going to involve combat, this is a major failing. And it's even more frustrating when you're surrounded by enemies and you can't hit them properly without wildly swinging the remote and nunchuck while hoping for the best. It means that the game's hyped up motion control system is, at best, flawed, and at worst, just doesn't work.

Of course a game these days is nothing if it's not pretty, so I should also give a mention to the games Euphoria engine. Graphically, Staff of Kings is a little better then the last proper Indy game, Emperor's Tomb, though thankfully Indy doesn't have such broad shoulders this time around. The facial animation of Indy is much better then that game though, and he's able to convey a wide variety of emotions just by pulling different faces. This, coupled with the lighting system, the field of view techniques and the rest of the graphics, is definitely one of the games best features. It's not exactly deep, but it is very Indy, and the developers at least get props on that account, if nothing else.

The other aspects of the game, namely the gameplay, are also very enjoyable, combat excluded. Using your whip to swing over canyons, engaging in gunfights by poking out of cover and firing off quick shots, shooting at enemies from a speeding tram and riding an elephant (see, that earlier comment wasn't completely random) are all bizarrely fun, and there's a good amount of unlockable extras. The classic Fate of Atlantis in its entirety, new skins and concept art... There's a lot of good stuff in here, but whether you'll make it through the game to see all of it depends on whether you can cope with the poor controls and the other issues.

Of the two other major problems I had with Staff of Kings, one was a re-occurrence of a long standing irritation of mine, and nowhere is it more annoying then here. Unskippable cutscenes. Yes, this is a game where you will be replaying levels at least once, and you're forced to sit through the same cutscenes every time you do so. It's tiresome and gets old quickly, and I literally cannot see any reason to force people to watch them.

But even worse then those - unskippable tutorials. Yes, during the first couple of levels Indy will frequently pause the game to have an little chat with you about how the controls work. The first time you do this it's a nice way to show you how everything goes down in this little world, but the sheer number of times you have go through these little fireside chats borders on the ridiculous, and to make matters worse you can't skip these either. So if you happen to die during a level with these tutorials, or if you're replaying the level to get the glory moments you forgot to get first time round, you have to sit through the cutscenes and the tutorials. Every time.

And along with these major problems, there are minor niggles as well. Why is there no way to exit from the unlockable Fate of Atlantis without literally resetting the game? Why doesn't the map with the red line, almost as much a staple of Indy as his whip and fedora, appear when you head to a different country? Why is the voice actor for Henry Jones Senior (originally played by Sean Connery) so bad it's almost funny? Why does the game constantly show us how to perform the same move we've done a hundred times before, and why does it take up a third of the screen when it does so? Why is there no support for the classic controller, considering this is almost the exact same game as the PS2 version and it would make many of the problems I've mentioned vanish almost instantaneously?

As I mentioned earlier, there's a good game beneath all the poor design choices and issues, but I honestly can't summon the effort to dig it out. Might be best to leave this one buried, Doctor Jones.

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