There was no Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings movie. Fortunately, this DS title still manages to deliver all the frustrating features we’ve all come to expect from games based off of famous film franchises.
The laundry list of gripes begins with the over-utilization every DS function. Staff of Kings forces you to slide the stylus, blow into the mic, and hold the shoulder buttons, sometimes simultaneously. Nearly all of Indy’s actions, from fighting to running, are done by sliding the stylus or clicking an object on screen. This should feel more intuitive than simply using the D-pad. However, maneuvers like climbing ladders, swinging over cliffs, and jumping long distances feel silly and forced by the one tap scheme.
To make matters worse, holding down a trigger button puts Indy into fight mode. This is bad news, because it means Indy does not have the ability to move and fight at the same time. Seeing the sadly statuesque Indy take down legions of nasty Nazis from a stationary position is pretty funny the first time you encounter a thug. But the game’s enemies all seem a little too eager to flaunt the fact that they have no problem with moving and fighting at the same time. They’re always rubbing it in - throwing sucker punches at you while shucking and jiving every chance they get.
It seems like the designers must have known controlling the Jones might be an issue, so they programmed him to grab on to every ledge he falls from. This can be a real lifesaver for tricky tightrope walks and misdirected stylus swoops. However the event is triggered regardless of height, and seeing Indy dangle one-handed a mere eighteen inches from the ground can be frustrating. Luckily, the level design isn’t always this nightmarish and enemy-less dungeons are almost kind of fun in a “self-induced lobotomy” kind of way.
Perhaps knowing that gamers might want a break from the messy gameplay of Indy’s world, throughout the story the creators also offer ciphers to be, well, deciphered. These challenges have Indy guiding a water bead through a labyrinth filled with tiny swords and small fires you extinguish by blowing into the DS mic. Frustratingly simple at times and hellishly disruptive to pacing at others, these cipher puzzles feel completely tacked on. You can, in theory, connect for two player Cipher challenges, but why you’d want to is anybody’s guess.
With blocky and dull graphics, Staff of Kings is lacking on the visual front too. Fight animations are jerky, and textures blend together to make walls, floors, and rooms almost indistinguishable from one another. One level in particular highlights this problem by placing numbers on the walls, which apparently helps Jones realize he is in an enemy bunker, and the gamer realize they’re walking through a poorly constructed polygonal Hell.
On the plus side, the story - as doggedly repetitive and obvious as it is - fits right in with our expectations of the fedora-wearing hero. Meet a girl, get in a brawl, explore a dungeon, find a treasure, have the treasure stolen from you - all the fundamentals are here. Even in its most blatantly obvious moments, the game’s plot is still distinctly Indy - minus that whole fun aspect, of course.
Jul 1, 2009