- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (from LucasArts for Wii, rated T for teen, $49.99).

The famed archaeologist returns to the gaming arena through Nintendo’s magical console in a third-person adventure game. A player uses a very hands-on approach to control Indy as he travels the globe to find a relic of biblical significance.

What’s the story: It’s 1939, and the world is on the brink of war. The Third Reich is searching for the Staff of Moses, the most powerful treasure humankind has ever known. Only one man stands in the way - as long as he can keep his hat on.

Play the role: As Dr. Henry Jones, a player gets a complete complement of moves, including use of a whip, gun and fists. The story drips classic Indy pulp, with jungles and deserts to explore, featuring escapes from collapsing temples, fires, large boulders and bridges filled with spiders.

Indy runs into 30 characters and some familiar friends, including agent Sophia Hapgood and mentor Charles Kingston, as he travels (sometimes by elephant) in the Sudan, San Francisco, Panama, Istanbul and Nepal to stop the Nazis and fortune hunter Magnus Vollar.

Get to the action: The Wiimote and Nunchuk act as extensions of the player’s hands as he controls the hero. Move hands to deliver hooks, jabs and uppercuts. The player also can hold objects to use as weapons, throw and grab foes and push them into objects, and use his shoulder to knock down doors and ruin walls.

A snapping motion controls Indy’s famous whip to ensnare and disarm an opponent, swing across chasms, climb up walls, set off traps and even use as a tightrope. Indy commands his famed six-shooter in specific parts of levels to take down bad guys. Wave the Wiimote off-screen to reload and use it to target (a slightly difficult maneuver).

Unfortunately, Indy’s skills as a pilot are pretty bad because of using the sensitive Wiimote as a flight stick.

Memorable moments: One of the best is Indy on a San Francisco streetcar, shooting at vehicles on his tail. During the cooperative game, one player drives a tank and the other mans the guns to chase down an armored vehicle and then fire at an airplane. I also loved John Williams’ score, which is heard throughout, and the great imitation of Harrison Ford.

Violent encounters: When Indy dies, it’s back to a cut scene: His hat rolls into view, and he plops it back on his head to continue. Also, there’s no gratuitous blood loss by anyone on-screen; they just dissolve away. The volleys of grunts and groans from Indy do sound painful, and the hand-to-hand combat, with the occasional head butt and knee to the groin, look brutal.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics brings Indy to sequential-art life. For another clash between Indy and the Nazis, check out the four-issue miniseries Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods ($2.99 each). The trade paperback ($14.95) arrives in July.

Pixel-popping scale: 5.0 out of 10. The Wii is not very kind to Indy. The game suffers from a serious lack of visual punch, leaving the player stuck in a very murky world with characters that look as if they would fit much better in a PlayStation 2 universe. I want to watch my hero in high-definition splendor, but the presentation often cripples the varied action. Most folks who walked in while I was playing couldn’t believe how fuzzy and pixilated the game looked.

Extras and unlockables: This is where the game really shines. Perform and accumulate special glory moves (hang from a pipe to kick at enemies, for example) to unlock a combat arena to fight waves of thugs as well as a multiplayer mode for up to four players to shoot it out in tanks and biplanes.

Collect a certain number of the 38 artifacts hidden throughout the environments to see trailers from the movies and play the game as Henry Jones Sr. or Han Solo. A less realistic big-head option, available immediately, makes the poor visuals much easier to digest.

Under extras, an eight-level cooperative game teams Indy and his dad as they take on more Nazis. Puzzles, raft rides and an encounter with a zeppelin all embellish the story.

The entire 1992 Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis game also is included. The click-and-explore adventure looks just like the original and includes all of the corny sound effects and narration. It’s a joy to play using the Wii system and even offers a way to adjust the graphics resolution.

The bad: Aside from the look, it’s a shortlist. It would be nice to bypass cut scenes, and the contextual hint icons scattered all over the terrain take away from the cinematic possibilities. Also, the game froze twice during my first six hours of play.

What’s it worth: Despite the hefty package of extras and fairly successful use of Wii interaction, I couldn’t get past the mediocre visuals and some of the repetitive level difficulty. It’s hard to believe the company that came out with Jedi Unleashed on the Wii could not find a better way to present Staff of Kings. It has all the history and fun of an Indiana Jones adventure but is just too hard on the wrists and eyes.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks) or on Twitter.

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