Staff of Kings is a fresh angle on Indiana Jones and is well suited for the PSP, but some faults keep it from shining.

User Rating: 7 | Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings PSP
The Indiana Jones games of years past have all been adventures: from the point and click fare in the 80's and 90's to the action adventures up through Emperor's Tomb in 2003. Honestly, I liked them all, and was psyched when a new installment was announced for PS3/360/etc. in 2007. That game was, sadly, canceled, and replaced with Staff of Kings for PSP, Wii, DS, and PS2. I wondered if it was just a watered down version of the canceled title.

After playing it, you can tell it's definitely NOT the same game, but a brand new style of game for the Indy franchise. Staff of Kings is an action game, all the way around, designed for quick, focused, action oriented gameplay. It features short levels with a series of simple goals, a very simple and straight foward storyline, decent but not overly gorgeous graphics, and just overall has the feel of a game designed for "light and fun" gameplay.

In short, the game tells a typical Indiana Jones story from beginning (discovery of a mysterious artifact that everyone wants), through the usual chase across the globe (mysterious object bounces from villain to villain), to its climax (no spoilers here...). The story is told in this game by setting up simple scenarios. For example, you may be in a warehouse needing to save someone, fighting a room full of thugs. After that scenario, you then change to needing to escape the burning warehouse by doing some light platforming and action-oriented puzzle solving.

Each scenario is essentially presented as a "level" in the game, and each level is meant to be solved in 10 minutes or less. Before each level starts, you receive a list of goals of various difficulty, almost like "achievements". These may be simple (save the girl), or performance based (finish the level in under 6 minutes). They also scatter a small group of "treasures" through the levels.

After the level completes, you receive a "glory point" for each accomplished goal. You accumulate and use these points by either buying artifacts (unlockable pictures, etc.) or upgrading Indy's abilities. It's a neat wrinkle. You can replay any level as many times as you want, either to do better, or just to accumulate more points. As such, you can really make the game as easy as you want it to be (though it also allows you to set the overall difficulty) by grinding easy early levels and improving Indy's abilities.

This level-based gameplay makes the game very approachable and fun in short spurts. However, the light story and simple characters aren't exactly going to pull you in and get you excited about the story.

The gameplay within levels is simple, but engaging. You fight thugs by using melee combat (with nice variety in punches and some "combos"), your pistol (which you use in a lot of creative ways through the game), your whip (used to collapse scaffolding, pull legs out from under bad guys, etc.), or even in picking up in-level objects like shovels and bottles and using them as weapons. There are creative touches, like being able to whip a chandelier on someone. You also fight occasional bosses where you use special tactics and techniques to defeat them.

Combat is fun, but can get tedious either due to endless streams of mindless enemies, or due to technical glitches in the game. These take the form of either level design issues (getting stuck on scenery), or more commonly, targeting issues. When a bad guy engages with you, the game intentionally makes it difficult to leave them. This can cause Indy to get "stuck" near a person, fighting, with an obscured camera (sometimes the camera will swing into a bad spot, and can't be moved), and people on either side of you whopping away.

The platforming/physical puzzle solving segments are pretty straightforward, and generally well done. It's not a run-n-jump affair, but you will have to dodge obstacles by shoulder-rolling, jump by pressing triangle, etc. at key points. The game will prompt you when you can use your whip or pistol to help solve a puzzle. Also, the whip and gun automagically lock-on to what they are supposed to hit, which is a great touch since you only have so many free fingers... Some segments will have you doing more unique things, like standing on a trolley, shooting tires of attacking motorcycles, shooting down street signs onto bad guys, etc. The variety is nice. My biggest issue is repetitive use of some annoying mechanics, such as the cliche "balance beam" walking where you tap shoulder buttons to keep your balance while also avoiding swinging objects -- this happens many times in the levels. Also, inexplicably the camera will lock in position when you are trying to figure your way through a mazelike level, which makes things frustrating. Indy may walk into a hole, losing a lot of life, because you couldn't see the hole behind a bookshelf, etc.

The graphics are very good -- I'd say post PS1 but pre PS2 3d character models and animation. They provide a nice variety in scenery, objects to interact with, and the overall visual style is very good. Characters look good, and move well. Aside from camera issues and occasional level design problems (getting stuck on scenery), it's well done.

Audio is good, with very "Indyesque" music throughout. Voice overs are cliche, but well done. Indy's voice is a bit of a put off at first, because the guy really sounds nothing like Harrison Ford... but that's not a big deal.

Load times are relatively short once you're up in the game, saves are frequent, automatic, and quick. You won't die often, so there's not a lot of annoying replay of longer segments (though again, most segments are over in 6 or 7 minutes).

Overall I liked this game. It is a very good "on the go" title. A little more spit-and-polish (testing and level cleanup, etc.) could've bumped this title to a little more for me. However, after about 10 levels I really became bored with the game as I fought my 100th bad guy in exactly the same fashion, crossed my 10th balance beam, and whipped my 10th chandelier. I can't say how they could've improved it -- maybe a bit more problem solving and puzzling, more story elements, or something else to draw me in deeper.

Still, if you're looking for a fun, easy to play action adventure on the PSP, it's a nice choice.
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