Capcom brings some point-and-click puzzle fun to your Wii.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure has had a strange launch. It achieved a certain level of hype around gaming blogs and sites thanks to a grassroots campaign. Therefore, fans have been told to expect an unbelievable gaming experience. Capcom followed that hype up by barely advertising the game at all and severely under-shipping it when it was released last month. Many people had a hard time finding the game at all. So why all the hype? Z&W was supposed to be the return of a niche genre that fanatical fans have been begging for for some time: the classic point-and-click adventure. Probably the most often pointed to examples are Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion.
Zack & Wiki is less an adventure game, and more a puzzle game. The world is not continuous. It is divided up into stages that all (for the most part) have the same goal: get to the shiny treasure chest. This garnered a huge sigh from me when I first found out. Part of what made games like Monkey Island great was the consistent narrative throughout that featured all of the story arcs of a good movie. Z&W's story is basically your standard video game cop out. There are a bunch of pieces of something that you have to get. Each piece is at the end of a level. Get through a bunch of levels until you have all of the pieces.
That said, the writers did do a great job of developing the characters. Zack and Wiki have great personalities. Wiki's innocence is a perfect complement to Zack's mischievousness. You'll laugh as Wiki floats around while Zack showers in chemicals or does some other strange thing. The pirate crew full of rabbits is cute and entertaining, creating a nice way to tie the stages together at the home base. The rival pirate is classic. I laughed out loud when she drew the scar on her face with lipstick. You can tell Capcom has dreams of making these characters into franchises. It makes you wonder why they didn't advertise the game more.
The game plays out using the pointer function of the Wii Remote to point and click on objects in the level to interact with them. You can also click on the ground to tell Zack to walk there. Most of the objects you interact with require some sort of remote gesture. For example, you make a pushing motion to shake something out of a tree, or you make a sawing motion to cut down a tree. As such a core function of the game, it is here that the best and the worst comes through.
The variety of gestures and actions is great. You don't really start to feel like you are rehashing similar motions until nearly the end of the game. These motions are the core of the gameplay, and the interesting showcase of the Wii Remote is reason enough to play Zack & WIki. However, a couple of the actions throughout the game will leave you wanting to break your Wii Remote in half. Two particular examples of this really stand out as I think about my experience.
Very early in the game, you are tasked with fishing. When you land a fish, the tutorial guy in the corner (who shows you how you should be holding the Wii Remote) begins lifting the Remote up and down in a repeated pulling motion. Don't do this! I spent a good hour trying to reel the fish in in this manner. All you really have to do is hold the Remote vertically when you are supposed to be pulling. Much later in the game, you are tasked with throwing an anchor. The only hint given here is to hold the Remote vertically. It's intuitive enough to discover that you are supposed to make a lasso motion to start the anchor spinning. The trouble comes when you try to figure out how to actually let go of the anchor. I tried everything; shaking the Remote, pushing every button, actually letting go of the Remote and letting the wrist strap catch it, etc. None of it worked. It doesn't help that this all happens in the middle of one of the hardest stages in the game. The first three times I had success, but I wasn't sure what caused it. Later on in the level I died and had to start over anyway. Finally, I found the trick. You have to stop lassoing the Remote and instead point it directly at your sensor bar for a second or two. Then the anchor will go flying.
Those two frustrating moments make up only a tiny portion of all of the interactive concepts in the game. Most of the other ones are very clever and will bring a smile to your face. Examples have been intentionally left out to avoid spoiling some of the best parts of the game. While playing, if you get to a point where you know what you are supposed to do, but can't make it happen, it makes sense to go to a guide. The rest of the game is great enough that these flaws should not keep you from experiencing it.
Another clever feature of Zack & Wiki is the interaction with animals and living things. Wiki is a magical flying monkey that can turn into a bell. This bell has the power to transform living things into useful tools. For example, in order to saw a tree down, you need to find a saw. Well, that centipede like thing that is hanging out of the tree can be transformed into just that. Do you need to dig a hole? That mole can be transformed into a hand crank drill. These transformations are integral to the game and are used in many different ways, including some ways that involve the animal more than the tool. Like the character development, this is another clever idea that really lends itself to being expanded on in possible sequels.
The game is also chock full of Capcom nostalgia in an unexpected way. Being that it is a game about pirates, the secondary goal in all of the stages is to look for hidden loot. You can also send out one of Zack's rabbit cohorts to look for treasure on a big map. There are a ton of these little treasures and those dedicated enough to find them all will be playing the game for a long time. Some of them even break out of the Z&W universe. Don't be surprised to stumble on a coin-like medal in the shape of the plane from 1942, or play a rhythm mini-game to one of the songs from Mega Man. Z&W has a mini-Capcom love fest built in similar to the trophy collecting in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is one of the best single player experiences on Wii to this point. The basic gameplay is so strong that it easily overcomes a bland story and sometimes frustrating gestures. This game is just begging for a sequel, full of the same point-and-click animal changing fun. The characters are great, and they deserve to have more stories told about them.