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Game Review

Back in the summer of '81, I walked into the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark quite by happenstance, knowing zippity do da about archeologist Indiana Jones and his deeds of derring do. I walked out a full-blown fan. Years later, I laid down big bucks when the original treasure-hunting trilogy came out on that cutting-edge format, the VHS tape.

So when I heard at the E3 gaming conference in 2006 that LucasArts was creating a new Dr. Jones game for the next-gen platforms Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, I was pumped—eager to digitally slip into the doc's famous leather jacket and weathered fedora, and whipcrack my way into gaming bliss. At the L.A. conference, the game's designers crowed about grand graphics and a new animation engine that would keep repeated play fresh and unpredictable. Well, after many delays and years of back burner pauses, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings has finally been released.

But it's not exactly what the marketers made it out to be.

Now You See It, Now You Don't
First of all, the HD platforms were forsaken, for whatever reason, and the PS2 and Wii became the main consoles of choice. That means that the graphics ended up looking blockier and more rough-edged than I'd expected. And the game mechanics are a bit more commonplace than advertised, as well. Think of it in terms of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie that recently plopped our hero back on the big screen. It was whiz-bang and all, but just felt a little long in the tooth.

Fortunately, those are my only real grumpy grumbles. I found the rest of the title to be pretty inviting rolling-boulder fun.

Gamers play as Indy, of course, and the third-person action is set in a nicely stylized 1939, jumping around the world to destinations that include Panama, Istanbul and even a fireworks factory in San Francisco's Chinatown. The storyline is a highlight of the game and feels reminiscent of the original Raiders movie. Between the John Williams score and voice acting that sounds amazingly like a young Harrison Ford, there are moments here that will bring a "that's cool" smile to any fan's mug.

What's Indy doing this time around? He's putting clues together to find the biblical staff of Moses. And throughout the search he must match wits with archeological nemesis Magnus Völler. He also has to compare his fisticuff skills with the scores of Nazis Völler is in league with.

Sweatin' to the Oldies

The lion's share of the gaming action, then, is made up of piecing together minor puzzles, winging to exotic locales and balling up your virtual fists to throw jabs and uppercuts in every direction. On the Wii version of the game, that translates to some serious shaking and thrusting of the motion-sensitive controllers.

In fact, it was somewhere in the midst of my fourth battering battle that I realized the gamemakers may have gone a little overboard with the motion-sensing action. Between picking up objects to fling, flying a creaking biplane, disarming attackers with a whipcrack, throwing a barrage of punches and frantically clawing my way out of crumbling underground grottos, I found there was lots and lots and lots of controller waving going on.

Of course, I guess there's nothing wrong with a little upper body workout in the midst of my video gaming. If Indy's gotta break a sweat, why not me, too? But it does put you in the mode of a fighter quite a bit as your clenched fists make contact with your opponent's clenched jaw.

For those wondering just how messy things get, the answer is not very. There is quite a bit of violence. Characters are pummeled, shot, kicked through doors, blown up, smashed onto table tops and even electrocuted, but there's no blood or gore. Indiana has a few third-person shootouts. However you can only use his gun in specific sections and many of the designated objectives are to shoot things such as streetlights and neon signs that fall on a bad guy's head instead of just blasting the people themselves. (Vanquished foes drop to the ground and disappear.)

And Bonus Games Make Three
There are a couple bonus sections woven into the Wii version of Staff of Kings that are definitely worth mentioning. A short and enjoyable two-player quest teams up Indiana and his dad, Henry Jones. They go to South America where they stop even more Nazis (man, those jackbooted guys are everywhere!) from stealing precious antiquities and gold statues.

And a classic point-and-click PC game called Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis can be unlocked and played, as well. It's a 2-D title from years ago that was lost to the gaming graveyard until now. The presentation has its own old-school charm; the puzzles are challenging and the overall adventure is loads of fun.

So, while I can't say that Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is the tomb-raiding masterpiece many fans were hoping for, I can report that the whole package is satisfying without being too head-bashingly violent. A little trap-dodging excitement. A bit of whip swinging. Some puzzle solving and Nazi smacking. I guess just saying it's classic Indiana Jones probably says enough.

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Bob Hoose

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