Indiana Jones and the Game of Mediocrity

Indiana Jones pretty much tops my list of favorite fictional action-adventure heroes. Besides the fact that he’s been put into motion by Harrison Ford, his dual life as a stalwart professor and swashbuckling archeologist, makes for some fine entertainment….as well as plenty of um, eye candy. But I digress…

Indy’s adventures have been translated into video games since the Atari 2600, to varying degrees of success. We didn’t meet in game form until the 1990s when I played a Shareware demo of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It was a very pretty point-and-click games that I…well…don’t remember very well. But I’m sure it was plenty fun. Fast forward a decade and some to the release of the LEGO Indiana Jones series, and I’m in blocky, archaeological heaven!

After I completed the LEGO games, with my Indiana Jones high back in full swing, I decided to explore some other Indy titles. However, unlike a good archaeologist with a nose for finding just the “right spot,” I started at the wrong spot. A very wrong spot –LucasArts’ (RIP) Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (2009).

Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings cover art © LucasArts, Nintendo (source)
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings cover art © LucasArts, Nintendo (source)

You know how nice it is sometimes to dig into a big bowl of cold ice cream on a hot day? Well, imagine after that hot day that you go to your bowl of ice cream and it had not only melted but was then lapped up by the dog. That was Staff of Kings for me – sad and angry. I mean, who let that dog in here anyway?! And, OH MY GOD, who finished ALL the ice cream??

Set in 1939, Staff of Kings presumably picked up after the events of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And that’s where any possible or probable similarities ended. Okay, okay…to be fair, the game did have Jones, a personal enemy, a kidnapping, and a race to find a relic…so it covered those tropes rather well. The relic was the Staff of Moses. The kidnapping was that of Indy’s friend, Charles Kingston. The personal enemy was Indy’s friend-turned-Nazi Magnus Voller. And Indy was Indy…mostly. While the idea of navigating Indiana Jones through another adventure sounded quite appealing, the end result was anything but. I rented to DS version of the game. It was the shortest Gamefly rental I ever kept. One week. Done.

I see neither fortune nor glory here... (source)
I see neither fortune nor glory here… (source)

Staff of Kings on the DS suffered in ways not quite as bad as those I read later of the Wii version. But it still suffered. Problem 1: Cut scenes. No, they didn’t look terrible or anything — but they were long and, in the worst cases, very intrusive. Oh, you’re going to start the game? Well here’s a five minute scene explaining the situation. Oh, you’re going to start exploring that jungle? Well, here’s a five minute scene explaining the situation. Oh, you’re going to fight that important boss? Well, here’s a goddamn five minute scene explaining the goddamn situation. Yeah.

Problems 2 and 3: Controls and layout. Some games worked really well using the DS’s stylus. Staff of Kings was not one of them. Staff of Kings offered a slightly angled top-down view – not the worst perspective in the world – but it was very…limited is the best word I can think of. Like, Indy had no peripheral vision and you couldn’t scan a level to see what was coming.  Your overall navigation was hampered by this small view of the world. And tapping on the screen to do something like climb a ladder or go in a door didn’t always work.  The camera problems made exploration a chore rather than an adventure. I constantly felt like I was going back and forth trying to find objects rather than progressing in any meaningful way. Also, my copy was quite glitchy. Might have had to do with it being a rental, but it certainly didn’t relieve my overall exasperation, that’s for sure.

That's still a "no" on the fortune and glory thing... (source)
That’s still a “no” on the fortune and glory thing… (source)

Problem 4: Combat. The same control issues went for combat. Call me stupid (go ahead…I dare you) but it took me several levels to get a handle on the stylus-based combat. And even once I figured out how to do an uppercut instead of a jab, the combat became boring and rote. The only thing that made combat even remotely interesting were special objects that sometimes appeared during a fight, like a bottle or a chair. In moments when those items glowed, Indy could utilize them. Fun? Well, more fun than once again punching an enemy when you intended to tackle him.

Staff of Kings also offered puzzles, which were neither awful nor very enjoyable.  While it was nice to deal with a puzzle as a break from the action, the puzzles weren’t very challenging or varied. Most involved moving a bead around a maze with the stylus. Eh. Fine. Some puzzles required blowing into the DS’s microphone. Need I reiterate how much I HATED have to do that in any game? (Stupid blowing on my handheld. It was like Spirit Tracks all over again.)

I don't think you know what either "fortune" or "glory" means... (source)
I don’t think you know what either “fortune” or “glory” means… (source)

If the Staff of Kings had anything going for it, it was the graphics. The game looked really decent on the DS. A little pixilated, maybe, but Indy’s fedora was clearly recognizable. Guns looked like guns, leaves look liked leaves, ladders looked like ladders. And even the five minute cut scenes looked and played alright. There, I said something positive. You happy now?

All in all, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is a perfectly skippable Indiana Jones video game. You’d be better off playing Fate of Atlantis or, hell, just watching the movies, yes…even Crystal Skull. Well, maybe…if you skipped through all the Shia LeBoeuf scenes. And the alien stuff.  And Cate Blanchett as a Russian. And…okay, so just watch the scenes with Ford, Allen, and Winstone, I mean, those are pretty good. Better than Staff of Kings, anyway.

Jesus H. Fucking Chris...FINALLY (source)
For the love of…OKAY (source)


  1. “Playing as “Indiana Jones” doesn’t mean you have to play as Indy.”

    I agree.

    You can find traces of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade in Uncharted 3, like when Drake rides a horse through a desert canyon in search of his friend. But there are also references to James Bond (The Living Daylights) and The Mummy. Talk about a pastiche. I wrote a short post about it:

    We may not get good video games based on movies. But we can still play “original” games like Uncharted and feel like James Bond, Indy or Rick O’Connell, etc.


    1. You’re certainly right about the connect between Last Crusade and Uncharted 3 — that canyon scene felt like it was practically ripped from the movie!

      Nice post, by the way. When games draw good influences from good movies, well…it usually makes for good combinations.


  2. “You’d be better off playing Fate of Atlantis or, hell, just watching the movies…”

    I think people could also try Indiana Jones substitutes. The Uncharted series is a good example because it has treasure hunts, adventure, exotic locales, great characters and setting. Also, Uncharted looks amazing and it’s fun to play.


    1. I couldn’t agree more! The Uncharted games offer a fantastic take on the Indiana Jones model, without a doubt. While I have my issues with Uncharted 3, Uncharted 2 remains one of my most favorite games of all time. We also just got the new Tomb Raider, which follows very similar lines. Playing as “Indiana Jones” doesn’t mean you have to play as Indy. 🙂


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