Like Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and a handful of Super heroes, Indy is one of those licenses granted to other media forms with great care and control.
Travellers Tales for example, nailed many of the licenses above, when they gave the world the Lego video game versions in recent years.
So it is with some anticipation that we approached the new Wii platform Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. A whole new Indy adventure set one year after the conclusion of The Last Crusade in 1939 – as only can be achieved with the fountain of youth magic a video game can give to Harrison Ford.
Originally to be the first example of Lucas Arts new game technology with Euphoria (the injection of life into non-player characters) and Digital Molecular Matter (realistic material characteristics, such as glass shattering) , The Staff of Kings lost that mantle to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed last year.
The development team also switched focus, dropping the expected PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Concentrating instead on the huge install base of the Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS and the,,, ahem,, PlayStation Portable.
The course of the game will see Indy chasing ancient artefacts and avoiding those every present Nazi’s and the odd large bug as he treks from San Francisco, through Nepal, Panama, the Sudan and more in search of the staff Charlton Heston used to part the Red Sea before he discovered rifles.
The Staff of Kings has been copping a lot of flak in the gaming press with its release, some of it deserved, some of it, I believe undeserved. The problem is this game does not know what it should be. And if the developers were looking for an answer, they need only look internally.
In doing so, the developers would have spied the 1992 Lucas Arts point-and-click adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. A wonderful example of SCUMM system games such as the Monkey Island series.
The Fate of Atlantis is unlocked (early, thankfully) as a bonus extra in The Staff of Kings and should have been the template in many respects for this latest Indy outing.
I say this, because, the best elements of Staff of Kings are the pixel hunt adventure pieces. Not that they are very good, they are just the best bits, the bits that emulate some of the SCUMM based masterpieces of old.
So, The Staff of Kings; its game-play breaks down into two distinct forms.
Firstly, there are the action sections, the fisticuffs, whip cracking and vehicle segments that really draw the game down. After a laborious tutorial where we work out how to use both our left and right hands to punch, use the iconic whip to ensnare baddies or environmental objects to bash them across their swastikaed brow, we are immediately thrown into a biplane in a desperate escape attempt.
It is a steep learning curve, punctuated by failure and restart, but at least the check-pointing is liberal and forgiving.
The thug fight sections quickly degenerate into a pattern of whip ‘em, whip ‘em good, and then a single punch to take them out, with the only real challenge being the Brutes – super powered thugs – that require a bit more environmental awareness during a fight.
Moving Indy around the 3D screen suffers – funnily enough – from the same problems as the Lego version of the Original Adventures that is depth perspective. In the Lego games however, falling from an unseen ledge edge only resulted in the loss of a few studs and a quick restart, not so here where stumbling into an almost invisible chasm requires an annoying amount of re-do.
The second form of The Staff of Kings is the puzzle/adventure stages. You could stand there and argue that these elements are spiritual successors to the conundrums presented in The Fate of Atlantis, but you would not be standing for long.
The puzzles are mostly illogical, solved through hit and miss, or worse, through the obvious clue system of walking up to hot-spots on the screen and being told what to do. For example, a rock can be picked up and transported from one small waterfall ledge to another, to start a hanging idol swinging and break through weak wall. Walk close enough to the rock and the ‘A’ button icon appears, indicating it can be picked up and transported. Even though there is no logical reason to move the rock, because the clue says you can do so, doing so works.
The games best puzzles – whilst there are only a handful - don’t involve this baby steps approach. Asking the player to instead experiment a little, this usually boils down to whipping everything in sight until something happens.
I include the gun-play (which there is an awful lot of, given Indy’s propensity to avoid firearms in the movies) in the puzzle sections of the game. Mostly because each shooting gallery set-piece involves more than just blasting away at a never ending stream of enemies, instead each shot must be thought out using a few on-screen clues. So order of the day is to shoot the water tower above the thug, rather than the thug himself.
It is all really just a bit hum-drum. If this had of been how Uncharted: Drakes Fortune had been presented on the PS3, that franchise would now be a distant memory, instead of gearing up for a monumental sequel.
But because it has the Indiana Jones brand, and despite the wooden voice acting, the game rises just above insta-bin status, boosted by the nostalgic addition of The Fate of Atlantis.
The least said about the co-op modes the better, especially the woeful white-water river paddle with Indy’s dad in tow. It is just horrible, unnecessary with plenty of other places the effort could have been spent.
This game had the potential to be a new Fate of Atlantis, and if A2M had concentrated on making this a spruced up point and click adventure, with better puzzles and dropping the repetitive dodgy action elements, the score below would have been much higher.