When Han Solo is faced with unwelcome questions, he tends to distract his interlocutor (“I don’t have it with me“), then simply blast them. During the PR kerfuffle that surrounds a movie release, Harrison Ford adopts a different approach: he answers banal questions in a monotone so dull it saps the energy from all but the most demented celebrity hack. The once and future Indiana Jones only seems to perk up when he’s discussing stunt work – his respect for stuntmen and what he describes as “physical acting” seems utterly genuine.
Ford would hopefully dig Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings, since its dominant gameplay mode is “old-fashioned brawl simulator.” In its Nintendo Wii incarnation (it’s also available for the PS2, PSP and DS) the game encourages you to swing enthusiastically with the Wiimote and Nunchuck; on-screen, Indy jabs, hooks and delivers exaggerated haymakers to a horde of stereotypical heavies. With only six punches and one counter-move, it isn’t exactly Fight Night Round 4 – or even Punch-Out!! – but there are few things as satisfying as clocking a diabolical henchman on the jaw with a well-timed uppercut. Throw in some gnarly whip moves – strangling opponents, snapping weapons out of their grasp or activating context-sensitive takedowns – and it’s great knockabout fun. One of the two character types is obviously based on that hulking Nazi engineer, so it’s especially satisfying to crack him over the head with a dustbin lid.
When you’re not busting chops, you’re zig-zagging between Central America, San Francisco, Istanbul and Nepal, exploring and puzzle-solving along the way. The graphics obviously can’t compare with modern descendants like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or recent Tomb Raiders, but a combination of bloom effects, smoggy filters and convincing environmental clutter creates a respectably stylized atmosphere, aided by a lead voice actor clearly relishing the opportunity to channel classic Ford. Gunplay is limited to discrete interludes that are little more than shooting galleries, but they effectively break up the pace and benefit enormously from liberal use of Indy’s signature revolver sound effect, which makes his faithful six-shooter sound like a cannon going off. The final section of each level mixes things up with short vehicle sections, including aerial dogfights, elephant-riding and motorcycle-and-sidecar chases that, while sometimes confusing, never outstay their welcome.
Staff Of Kings is set in 1939, which means Indy can face off against a familiar enemy. “Nazis! Why’d it have to be Nazis?” he mutters at one point, and this smushing together of two classic Indy quotes neatly sums up the game’s approach: Rather than simply restaging beloved scenes from the existing films, it evokes them in new situations. For the most part, it works – who doesn’t want to see Indy retrieve his fedora at the last millisecond, or go for his revolver only to discover that it’s not there? – but the actual storyline feels rather muddled. It’s only halfway through the quest that Indy realizes what sacred artifact he’s supposed to be unearthing – the staff of Moses – and most of the supporting cast (including an aging mentor-in-peril and an Irish love interest) barely function as plot devices let alone well-rounded characters.
But if the point of an Indiana Jones game is to make you feel like Indiana freakin’ Jones, Staff Of Kings does a decent job, even if one of the most effective filters applied to the game is perhaps external: the player’s own nostalgia, constantly tickled by John Williams’ heart-quickening score. After rattling through the story mode, you’re encouraged to revisit levels to uncover more archaeological booty or perform achievement-esque tasks. (In a rather literal invocation of Indy’s Temple Of Doom mantra, these extras are categorized as “fortune” and “glory.”) There’s also an eight-chapter two-player mode that pairs Indy with Henry Jones, Sr. – after a shaky start, it offers both a decent slab of co-op fun and a legitimate excuse to perfect your Sean Connery impersonation. (“You call thish archaeology?”) And if you can’t get enough of the brawling, there are standalone arena modes to perfect your streetfighting techniques.
Perhaps the game’s greatest hidden treasure, though, is the inclusion of Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis, the point-and-click PC adventure from 1992 (only available on the Wii version). Refreshingly easy to unlock, it will hopefully herald a new wave of resurrected LucasArts games for Nintendo’s console. If I’m being totally honest, though, it took this player a while to readjust to the gameplay rhythms of such a dialogue-heavy adventure. I’m perhaps more appreciative of the idea of including the game as a nod to Indy’s gaming legacy than actually playing through it again. I guess I’m not the man I was 10 years ago … but then, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.
Bottom Line: True to the rollicking spirit of the franchise and put together with fan service in mind – Han Solo is an unlockable character! – this plucky game is a throwback in many excellent ways. Experienced players will breeze through it, though.
Recommendation: Should you get it? Derring-do.
Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. You can attempt to follow his spicy eating habits at Trampy And The Tramp’s Glasgow Of Curry.
This review is based on the Nintendo Wii version of the game.