Games 6/9/09: Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (Wii), Damnation, Trash Panic
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings
Reviewed for: Nintendo Wii
Other versions available for: Playstation 2, Nintendo DS and PSP
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)
“Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings” is, when its ideas are working, a crazy good time that deftly embodies the spirit of the films.
That’s a good thing, too, because when its ideas aren’t working, “Kings” is a mess teetering on collapse.
Structurally, “Kings” is attention-deficit gaming at its finest. A brief adventure sequence, which finds you swinging between and sidling along ledges, is followed by a brief brawling sequence in which you use the Wii remote to throw down with a handful of indistinctive goons. A 30-second quick-time event might follow that before the game whisks you into a brief cover-based shooting level (hold the Wii remote like a pistol), a jaunt on a plane (steer it like a flight stick) or some other means of navigation through some other set piece.
More than not, the ideas come together satisfactorily, if not necessarily spectacularly. The fighting controls are sloppy due to the Wii’s inability to always differentiate jabs from hooks, but the degree to which the game lets you use foreign objects (either as weapons or as an environmental tool for Hollywood-perfect finishers) makes these sequences a whole lot more fun than their technical deficiencies would suggest. The vehicular missions are enjoyably arcade-like in their simplicity, and once you realize the shooting bits are more like cause-and-effect puzzles than traditional shootouts, they mark a nice diversion from the rest of the action.
But “Kings” never stands more than three steps away from some miniature breakdown or another. The motion controls work, but not always, and the whip-cracking motions aren’t as responsive as they should be. The shooting cursor occasionally falls prone to jerkiness, and every now and then — be it during an adventure sequence or a quick-time event — stuff simply doesn’t respond like the onscreen example suggests it should.
A puzzling checkpoint layout, easily “Kings’” worst issue, occasionally turns these small problems into big ones. A slip can cost you five or 10 minutes’ worth of effort, and sometimes, you’ll have to watch an unskippable cut-scene multiple times before you pass a checkpoint that finally leaves it behind. The first post-tutorial shooting sequence is particularly maddening: You might require two or three attempts before you realize how these sequences truly operate, and if you die figuring it out, you have to start the entire (long) tutorial over.
That “Kings” is fun in spite of these slips is a testament to its willingness to try so much and mostly succeed. Still, those with options might wish to inquire about the Playstation 2 version instead. A review copy wasn’t available for testing, but if it’s the same game with foolproof button controls (and a $20 price difference), it likely is the way to go.
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Blue Omega/Codemasters
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence)
If handled competently, “Damnation” — which combines third-person shooting, “Tomb Raider”-style platforming, steam-powered weaponry and an alternate-reality 19th Century United States — should be able to coast by as a fun action game built atop a great premise.
But trouble slips through the front door almost as quickly as “Damnation” can open it, and it doesn’t take very long before it’s clear even basic competency lies well beyond this game’s reach.
It’s not all terrible. In fact, if “Damnation” had found some way to exist purely as an evasive platforming game, it might have been all right. As rebel leader Hamilton Rourke, you can rather acrobatically leap between ledges, backflip up the side of a building, ride zip lines and generally take roads untraveled by your less athletic adversaries. “Damnation’s” control scheme is more complicated than it needs to be with regard to pulling these moves off, but it’s something you can get used to fairly easily, and Hamilton is satisfyingly agile despite his slow speed on the ground.
Problem is, “Damnation” is a shooter first and a platformer second, and it’s a disastrously bad shooter at that. The various guns, in addition to feeling underpowered, also suffer from unwieldy aiming controls that constantly leave you vulnerable to enemy fire before you can properly fire back.
Sometimes, for no reason beyond buggy code, an enemy doesn’t even notice if you line up a perfect shot and shoot him point blank. Other times, he might mysteriously jump a few feet to the side. In both cases, you simply will have to take another shot and hope the game understands what you’re trying to do. “Damnation” is, unfortunately, full of strange and unintentionally instances of bugs completely undermining your progress.
Things aren’t helped any by Blue Omega’s staggering attempt to replicate the cover systems found in the likes of “Uncharted” and “Gears of War.” You can press a button to take cover, but there’s no way to quickly pop out of cover and take a shot, as has been customary since “Gears” popularized this genre three years ago. Instead, you have to manually stand up, then align your shot, then hope your shot actually registers before your enemies fatally pepper you. More likely, you’ll avoid the cover mechanic altogether in favor of shooting and fleeing.
Little can be done to redeem a shooter with such issues in the shooting department, and nothing about “Damnation’s” other particulars — unremarkable story, uninspired level designs that run too long, a framerate prone to stutters, sorely dated graphics and animation — is up to the task. Codemasters has shipped a game that feels decisively unfinished in far too many respects for it not to notice, and its insistence on selling it at all in this state, to say nothing of asking $60 for it, is pretty unreasonable.
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: SCE Japan Studio/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence, mild language)
Imagine a real-world implementation of “Tetris” and replace the shapes with pieces of trash, and you have a basic understanding of what “Trash Panic” is all about. The objective, as with “Tetris,” is to keep the mass of falling pieces from reaching the top. But doing so here involves not only arranging falling trash (everything from light bulbs to staplers to televisions to a giant safe) in as neat a fashion as possible, but using each object’s real-world properties to your advantage. Heavy objects crush less durable trash, while dropping a lighter near some toilet paper might set the whole pile ablaze and clear out tons of room. “Panic” throws a few additional objectives into the mix, and between the penalty for failing those and the general randomness of the order in which different pieces of trash arrive, it’s considerably (and sometimes unfairly) more difficult than appearances first suggest. Still, the premise is novel, the execution is sound, the graphics and sound are viciously charming, and the $5 asking price is more than right. All that’s missing is online play. Between two-player local multiplayer and three varieties of solo play, “Panic” has the other bases covered.