Even with input from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and the original John Williams film score interwoven throughout, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings for the Nintendo DS doesn't feel much like a real Indy game experience. The gameplay is awkward in places, its relationship to the story is uneven, and the puzzle elements are far from challenging. But this is an action game after all, and in that department the game redeems itself with a series of enjoyable combat sequences that combine intuitive controls with a reward-based system that has Indy performing some classic moves. But while Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings performs well given the limitations of the platform, players will still have to look very hard to find the true Indy spirit in what could very well be just another DS action title.
The top-down camera doesn't always afford you a good view of your surroundings.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings is set in 1939, a year after the events of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The new pesky arch-nemesis is Magnus Voller, a former school friend of Indy's who is now working for the Nazis. After Indy's old friend and mentor Charles Kingston is kidnapped, Indy must set off around the world to find the elusive staff of Moses before Voller can get to it. The DS version of the game will see Indy visit San Francisco's Chinatown, the jungles of Panama, the catacombs beneath Paris, a temple in Nepal, and a zeppelin named The Odin. For the most part, the story is fits well into the Indy universe, insofar as it features exotic locations, treasures, and Nazis. However, four to five hours of gameplay doesn't leave a lot of room for story development, which results in a very rough transition between these two aspects. There are certain places in the game where you'll be interrupted from play very suddenly to make way for story development; this is jarring, and it feels like you should be actually playing through these parts rather than watching them unfold in cut scenes. In one such memorable interruption, one of Indy's particularly grueling fistfights is cut short by cut scenes that show him defeating his opponents, planting a detonator, and escaping to watch the ensuing destruction, while you're left twiddling your thumbs.
Most of the game uses stylus-based navigation and combat. Players will also use the stylus to navigate by simply touching an area of the bottom screen where they wish Indy to go, and will be able to interact with objects the same way--grabbing onto ledges, climbing up and down ladders and moving objects will work this way. The navigation problems begin with the game's top-down perspective, which doesn't always accommodate for a lot of things happening on-screen at the same time. While it's always clear where Indy is, it's often difficult to make out where enemies are or what is coming up. This is particularly bad when Indy is exploring big, open environments (like the Panama jungle, or the Parisian catacombs)--the camera does not pull back to accommodate for any space outside Indy's immediate surroundings. This happens even during combat sequences where the position of enemies is crucial, and players may often find themselves attacked from behind from off screen enemies, which is a frustrating thing to experience over and over again.
The game's puzzle element differs from its console counterparts with the Cipher Mode, which involves moving a bead of water around a labyrinth to an exit in a set amount of time while clearing an increasing amount of obstacles. Cipher puzzles appear throughout the game, usually at the end of a chapter when Indy has found the treasure or clue he is looking for. These puzzles become increasingly harder as the game progresses, as the labyrinths become more intricate and include more obstacles, but do not offer much of a challenge--the only fun part is navigating through the obstacles with the DS controls, which will see players directing their water bead with the stylus, tapping stone obstacles to break them, and occasionally blowing into the DS microphone to clear sand obstacles and temporarily extinguish burning obstacles. While the cipher puzzles look daunting to begin with, they're easy to figure out after a few attempts, and by the end of the game you might wonder why the time limits for them are so generous.