I don't understand why it's so hard to make a great Indiana Jones game. The movies have ranged from very good to classic, and they're perfectly suited to be video game-ized - with their rolling boulders, hissing snakes and fisticuff Nazis: all the ingredients for fun, bang, boom.
But "Indiana" games have largely left us wanting. And speaking of being left wanting, there is this new "Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings."
I don't want to bad-mouth "Staff of Kings" too much. It's a pretty good game for a Wii game. That's what you call a "backhanded compliment," fitting faint praise, since most Wii games are much less finely crafted than this above-average "Indiana."
"Staff of Kings" begins like the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark" began, with Indy questing his way through a side adventure meant to raise your adrenalin. Playing as Indy, you wend through caves, set spiders on fire (yuck), steal a golden idol, deal with gun-toting Nazis, then you make your escape by plane.
"That was close," Indy says, but he sounds weird, since the character here is not voiced by Harrison Ford.
After that entertaining start, the plot thickens and congeals. You (the violent archeologist) are determined to find Moses' walking staff. You must also save a young woman from the clutches of some nasty little man who shoots bullets at you a lot.
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1. "Red Faction Guerrilla" (THQ) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "M" (blood, strong language, violence)
2. "Mario Super Sluggers" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
3. "EA Sports Active" bundle (EA) for Wii; rated "E"
4. "Grand Theft Auto IV" (Rockstar) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "M" (intense violence, blood, strong language, strong sexual content, partial nudity, use of drugs and alcohol)
5. "Ninja Gaiden 2" (Microsoft) for Xbox 360; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, suggestive themes)
6. "Battlefield: Bad Company" (EA) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "T" (alcohol reference, strong language, violence)
7. "Red Faction Guerrilla" for PS 3
8. "Wii Play" with remote by Nintendo for Wii; rated "E" (mild cartoon violence)
9. "Grand Theft Auto IV" for PS 3
10. "UFC 2009 Undisputed" (THQ) for Xbox 360; also available for PS3; rated "T" (alcohol reference, blood, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+")
Along the way - from Chinatown to Istanbul and beyond - you encounter and beat up hordes of villainous henchmen by punching them with jabs, uppercuts and hooks. You shoot at some. You snap your whip around their feet, yank them toward you, then punch them to death.
All of this sounds just dandy. And for the most part, it's quite fine. But there are two problems.
A) I reviewed "Staff of Kings" on the Wii (it's also available for PSP, PS 2 and DS). The Wii's interactive wands aren't always responsive. At one point, I was merely walking across a balcony when my Indy started throwing ghost punches. (A software error?) At other times, I tried to throw a punch but the game didn't register it.
B) Indy's journey here is basic arcade-esque. Unlike most games now, you don't get to explore your environs. You move along a preordained track. You must walk through this door, then shimmy up that wall, and punch these six fellows to death, and fly this plane clumsily through a canyon, then so forth.
You can't even decide to shoot some villains and punch others. The game tells you in which scenes you can fire your revolver, and in which scenes you must right-hook someone to death.
Here's a non-news flash: Regardless of our political leanings, we gamers are pro-choice in terms of game options. We're spoiled. We are accustomed to being allowed to pick between guns and fists at our whim.
So while this is a better-than-decent Wii game, it doesn't give you many choices to make on your own, and that makes "Staff of Kings" feel like an artifact of games of yore.
"Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings" by LucasArts retails for $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for PS 2 and DS - Plays fun for a Wii title, but as a basic, sometimes hard-to-control arcade title. Looks good enough. Mildly challenging. Rated "T" for mild language, violence. Three stars out of four.
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug-Elfman.html.