Will the disappointments never end for Indiana Jones fans? After last year's disappointing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie, along comes the same heartbreak in video game form. Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings for the Nintendo Wii is every bit as big of a letdown as what Spielberg and Lucas foisted onto the silver screen last summer. Awful motion controls, simplistic action, a host of dumb design decisions, and graphics so old that they could have been dug out of an ancient tomb by the whip-cracking archaeologist himself make this third-person action-adventure one of the most dissatisfying games of the year.
Story is about the only area where Staff of Kings doesn't disappoint, and that's because it rips off Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. The year is 1939, and Indy is globetrotting in search of yet another Biblical McGuffin in the fabled Staff of Moses. His big enemies are--wait for it--Nazis and yet another rival archaeologist with no scruples. About the only Indy stereotype missing is a love interest, since Dr. Jones flies solo here. Even without the presence of a Marion Ravenwood-type, the plot is a far sight better than that in Crystal Skull. However, it unfolds in a very routine connect-the-dots fashion that holds absolutely no surprises for anyone who has ever seen the original tomb raider do his thing in a movie, and it doesn't have any sense of humor even in the goofiest moments. The absence of any chuckles is kind of a drag, too, since the Harrison Ford stand-in does a great job with Indy's dialogue, and a few wisecracks would have been welcome. The only innovative plot twist here comes in the cooperative multiplayer mode, where Indy teams up with his dad, Henry, in a series of 3D platforming challenges unrelated to the quest for Moses' great big stick. Because Henry was dropped from the Crystal Skull script due to Sean Connery's refusal to reprise the role, this cameo nicely steps in to serve as an alternate farewell to a memorable character in the Indy universe.
Once you get beyond the movie homage, however, the wheels fall off. The biggest problem is an overreliance on the Wii's motion-sensing control capabilities. The control stick handles basic movement, but beyond that, every one of Indy's signature whip cracks and roundhouse punches is choreographed with wiggles and waggles of the remote and the nunchuk. Whenever you need to do something more involved than running around or climbing onto a crate, an icon pops up on the lower right of the screen indicating what sort of wrist aerobics you have to pull off. And this gets old quickly.
At first, it's kind of neat to flick the controller to punch out thugs, snap the remote forward to pull baddies into finishing moves with Indy's whip, target enemies with a pistol in carnival-style shooting sequences, pick up bats and other objects to use as weapons, and even fly a biplane. But such relentless use of motion controls for all of the action sequences in a nonstop action game wears you out, even in relatively short play sessions. The six-level jaunt through Sudan, San Francisco's Chinatown, Istanbul, and other stock pulp settings can be wrapped up in little more than six hours of play, though that limited amount of time seems awfully long and hard on the wrists when you're even pumping the remote up and down in a pretty intense manner to reload Indy's revolver. More judicious use of the motion controls for boss fights and puzzles would have been a lot easier to take than this kitchen-sink approach.
A lack of sensitivity adds to the frustration. Indy can throw a good variety of jabs, hooks, and uppercut punches, but it's a toss-up which one the controls will register, if any. So since precision doesn't work, it's best to flail about with the remote and nunchuk, paying attention only to the tougher thugs that have to be dodged before you can counterpunch. This is just as annoying as it sounds, although it sure provides lots of entertainment to spectators. Most battles are also pretty gimmicky. Indy typically creeps into a room packed with goons, then pulls off some movie-magic attacks to whittle them down to more reasonable numbers before wading into the fisticuffs. If you keep a close eye on the backgrounds, you'll find loads of places to dump exploding barrels onto enemies and pull down roofs with your trusty whip. Some of these trick sequences are awfully demanding, though. The icon telling you what to do or which button to press can flash on and off the screen very fast and can often be confusing, so Indy can quickly wind up dead when you're caught by surprise.
Combine these needless deaths with a poor checkpoint save system and say hello to a lot of unnecessary frustration. Even though the levels are strictly linear, of the sort that should lend themselves well to checkpoint save spots at regular intervals, developer A2M Games has placed them in weird spots. Many times you'll have to repeat a bunch of basic movements, like scaling walls, before you can even get back to the big showdown that has been killing you over and over again. You also can't skip cutscenes or tutorials. So if you get killed early on, you might have to sit through a lengthy tutorial sequence again. Later on, you're frequently stuck repeating the entirety of lengthy, multipart battles due to some nasty little surprise at the end. One shootout in Chinatown, for instance, drags on through a good half-dozen gun battles where you chase the bad guy by shooting various objects over his head. As if that scrap weren't tedious and repetitive enough, when you finally reach the end you have to suddenly save a kidnapping victim from being electrocuted...and of course you have to do so with some finicky remote wrangling. The surprise and the lack of good instructions on what you're supposed to be doing to save the damsel and yourself from being grilled like a hotdog on Independence Day make for an irritating coda to an already annoying action sequence.
Staff of Kings isn't a game that's able to mask any of its shortcomings with pleasing visuals. All of the background scenery is fuzzy, blurry, or some optometrist's nightmare combo of both. Animations are so clunky that Indy lumbers around like a tank and can easily get stuck in alleyways. The only frills of note here are the co-op mode already mentioned and the presence of the fantastic 1992 PC adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on the game disc as an unlockable bonus.
It has been a rough couple of years for Indiana Jones. The Staff of Kings arrived with a lot of promise, but in the end it's just another crime against this once-great movie and game icon.