The appeal is clear: crack the Wii Remote just like Indiana Jones cracks his whip in the films. Because Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings promises so much, because it means so much to so many people, interest is stratospheric. But perhaps there's more to it than that. LucasArts has kept the game carefully guarded, not allowed much of its creation to be seen in the run up to release. Children of the 80s are interested because we're not quite sure what we're going to get. We know there's no “next-gen” version, and that the Wii version is the main focus, but beyond that? Well, it's as mysterious as one of Indy's famous adventures.
Quelling the excitement, however, is a degree of cynicism. This is a Wii game, and we know what Wii games are like. Motion sensing isn't what it's cracked up to be, at least pre-MotionPlus it isn't, graphics tend to look like the rotten side of a tomato, and gameplay, well, it's often an afterthought. It's with this in mind that our first hands-on gander at the game begins – we're almost scared to look, almost frightened to discover what fresh hell LucasArts has bestowed upon our beloved Indy.
So, what did the preview event reveal? One) Staff of Kings is a third-person action game that combines boxing-esque fighting with simple puzzle solving. Two) The graphics won't blow anyone away, but they have their moments. Three) The story revolves around Indy's race-against-time search for an ancient relic, the Staff of Moses, you know, that bloke from the Bible who parts the sea. And four) It's actually good fun.
The game begins with a tutorial, one that's designed to familiarise players with the unique combat system. Indy's in a desert part of Sudan, watching some German activity from a cliff top. It's 1939, a year after the third film (so Indy's his smouldering self), and he's searching for an idol in a cave. In the cave there's some rudimentary puzzle-solving to do, some chasms to swing across, a big door to open (via setting two altars on fire) and some spiders to burn (by swinging the Wii Remote like a torch). Once the main chamber is reached, the graphics start to impress. The fire effects and lighting in particular look great, with actual heat distortion giving a real sense of temperature. Indy sees the idol perched on an altar – you have to whip it to get it. What do you know? It triggers a booby trap. Indy runs towards the camera, desperately trying to escape collapsing pillars, all the while you're alternating moving the Wii Remote and Nunchuck up and down to keep Indy going. He leaps through a closing door, his hat falls off and at the last second... yoink! He plucks it from impending doom. So far so very Indy.
Outside the cave there are Germans to fight. At its most basic, flicking the Wii Remote forwards makes Indy throw a right jab, doing the same with the Nunchuck throws a left jab. Moving the Wii Remote sharply from right to left throws out a right hook, vice versa for the Nunchuck and a left hook. Flicking upwards does an uppercut – slower but more powerful. These six punches form the foundation of Indy's famous brawler fighting style.
It can actually look quite brutal, at times. Indy can headbutt enemies after grabbing them, and pound them while they're on the ground. And there's some depth to it too: by pressing the A and B button together Indy can dodge attacks – essential if you're up against one of the stronger enemies. We faced off against a bald bruiser who looked exactly like the big bloke Indy fought by the plane in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was tough to beat, and required a few well-timed dodges to knock out.
While punching is great, (that classic meaty punch sound effect from the films is faithfully reproduced), it's cracking the whip that's got everyone excited. Here, flicking the Wii Remote forward while holding the B button makes Indy whip out his, er, whip, and do the same. Now, the point to make here is, you can't just do this whenever you want. You'll only be able to use the whip in context-sensitive situations. For example, when up against an enemy, you can whip the weapon out of their hand, or whip their legs and drag them towards you, or, if you see a whip icon above an object, for example a cupboard, you can whip it to bring it down to knock out an enemy. You can't just run around the levels whipping everything into oblivion.