Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is one of those games that I was interested in but fully expected to be bad. When the bad reviews came out I wasn’t surprised however it is also one of those games that I was interested in playing despite all the negative press. In a way, I was determined to enjoy it as I love Indiana Jones and have been hoping for a truly great game for years.
The Indiana Jones franchise has had very mixed success in gaming. If you’re a fan of the LucasArts adventure games then there is the Fate of Atlantis and the Last Crusade. If you are interested in an action/adventure game with Indy then apart from a solid SNES platformer, your choice is limited and mostly mediocre. Despite its flaws, I quite enjoyed Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. It had many issues but the combat in particular was very satisfying and a little more polish could have made it a classic. When approaching the Staff of Kings, I was hoping for a similar experience and I didn’t get that.
One of the first things that got me worried about the quality of this game was the PS2/PSP/Wii release. It can be bad to generalise but generally games released for these three only means that the Wii version will be the same, only with motion controls. The Staff of Kings follows this trend perfectly. I don’t want to go into the graphics too much but they look no better than an early PS2 release and are especially bland in the first few levels. There are a lot of last gen titles that look far better than this.
The motion controls are used in abundance. In fact as you play the game you will begin to notice that you can do little outside of move or pick up objects without them. The first two levels contain tutorials at certain points that specifically show you the different motion controls. Motion is used for fighting, shooting, puzzle solving and generally for any environmental interaction.
The motion controls do nothing to enhance the experience but work quite well for the puzzle and environmental interaction. In combat, they are bad. The tutorials show you what appears to be quite a deep set of motions for combat. However in practice you will rarely pull off what you want to. A good example would be punching. You are able to do left and right hooks and uppercuts but in practice, it is difficult to get them right when you want to. You are also able to pick up weapons and use tables, bookcases, fish tanks and pots to knock around the enemies. You can grab most enemies and I usually found it easiest to do this and either knock them into furniture or hurl them down pits and then use weapons to dispose of the more difficult enemies. By the second level I was avoiding direct combat with the enemies as much as possible. The fighting mechanics do work but they aren’t reliable or intuitive so I dreaded the fighting sections completely. The only mild enjoyment is in using the furniture to hurt enemies and even this can become annoying if you are having multiple enemies ganging up on you.
The shooting sections are a little better but not by much. The Wii is clearly well suited to rail shooters but the sections in this game are very short and rarely exciting. The best one is probably in San Francisco on a trolley car. The problem is the aiming reticule moves very slowly and you are only able to cause damage when it turns green. Even when green, I sometimes missed enemies. The other problem is actually one of my pet peeves: scripted events. There were some times when I wasn’t actually allowed to shoot enemies because the game wanted me to shoot a lantern, a fuel barrel or a water tank. When you first start the game this can be really confusing as the most obvious thing is usually to shoot an enemy; especially one who is frequently exposing himself to gunfire. However, that enemy is effectively invincible unless you shoot what the game wants you to.
The puzzle and general exploration parts of the game work the best but as stated, do nothing to enhance the experience. It is basically Tomb Raider-lite during these sections. You will learn very quickly not to do anything unless the game gives you an on-screen indicator. Jones only has to fall a short distance to die and the design doesn’t allow much option in how you progress. Unfortunately you get used to this and there are some moments when there is no on-screen indicator and it usually results in trial, error and death. The puzzles themselves are extremely straightforward. I am actually reluctant to describe them as such since I was only ever stuck for a few minutes.
There is also a flying section where you hold the remote like a flight stick and use the trigger to shoot. It takes a little getting used to but probably works best of all. The game also includes some quick-time events and they sometimes involve motion as well. There were quite a few times when I died in what I thought was a cutscene.
Something that really compounds the Staff of Kings flaws are the checkpoints. While they are fairly regular, there are many that are placed just before unskippable cutscenes or in the worst case – a tutorial. I had to go through the very obvious shooting tutorial about five times. Three times after dying while trying to shoot an enemy when I was apparently supposed to shoot fireworks and another two after I buggered up a jumping section.
As frustrating as the game can be, it doesn’t last long. On average you are probably looking at about five hours for the main game. There is a hard difficulty but given how frustrating the fighting sections are, few would want to go through them with enemies that cause more damage. There is also a combat arena, the usual collectables and there are some multiplayer components including a co-op quest and death match modes. The best bonus is the inclusion of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis which is also luckily unlocked early. This is only on the Wii version and has been updated with Wii controls.
The best thing I can say about the Staff of Kings (apart from the inclusion of FoA) is that many of the ideas in the game are great. The San Francisco trolley car chase, the aeroplane escape and indeed some of the puzzles are very good. It is just a pity they were implemented better and that there weren’t more of them. The basic premise for the story is much better than the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings could be considered the epitome of what is wrong with Wii development. It has the typical gimmicky motion controls that don’t improve gameplay. It doesn’t take any advantage of the Wii’s processing power and most tellingly, I was constantly thinking about how much better it would have been with a normal gamepad . In addition to this, there are unskippable cutscenes, poorly placed checkpoints, annoying scripted moments along with a whole lot of bugs.
The Staff of Kings really should have been a big budget PS3/360/PC release. Given the continued popularity of the series and the recent film, it is beyond me why LucasArts hasn’t put money and effort into a solid Indy release. The franchise is perfectly suited for action/adventure games and it is ridiculous that we’ve yet to see a truly good one and that I’ve been compelled to called an Indiana Jones game Tomb Raider-lite.