One of the most common complaints one will hear about the Wii is that, despite its innovative controls, few of its games actually take advantage of them. At best, the controls function just as well as a regular controller, and at worst, they leave gamers missing the less unusual controllers found on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation consoles. It's not that the Wii doesn't have titles that take advantage of the controls; they're just few and far between, and tend to be mini-game-oriented, like Wario Ware. This is why Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure comes as such a surprise. As a seemingly minor title from hit developer Capcom that's being released in the middle of a massive of rush of other games, it seems destined to fall into obscurity. Yet, with Zack and Wiki, Capcom has created what is arguably the first truly great third-party Wii game.
Zack and Wiki puts you, rather unsurprisingly, in the shoes of Zack, a cheerful little pirate-in-training who is addicted to chocolate and treasure. He is aided in obtaining both by Wiki, a floating golden monkey who can turn into a magic bell. While on a routine treasure-finding quest, Zack and Wiki stumble upon an ancient locked treasure chest that can only be opened by Wiki's ring. Inside is the skull of Barbaros, the most legendary pirate ever to sail the seas. Despite being just a decapitated skull, Barbaros is alive and well, and he offers to share his fantastic treasure with Zack and Wiki if the two of them will reassemble all of his missing body parts. Nothing about this seems odd to Zack, who promptly agrees, and so their quest begins.
If you go into Zack and Wiki expecting a dramatic story of love and loss, you're going to be unsatisfied. However, the incredibly charming cast compensates for the fairly weak plot. From Zack, our mute hero whose simplistic personality still manages to be likeable, to Wiki, who is cheerfully oblivious to all the havoc his actions cause, to their cowardly pilot, the ever-amusing Johnny Styles, each of the characters is charming and likeable, and it's fun to see them in action. At their worst, they're rather generic, but that same clichéd behavior works well for Zack and Wiki. After all, the real forte of the game is in its wonderful gameplay.
Zack and Wiki is a return to the point-and-click gameplay of adventure games, a genre that has seen better days. Thankfully, unlike other recent additions such as Touch Detective, Zack and Wiki manages to capture all the fun and challenge that were present in past adventure titles. Players don't control Zack directly, but they use the Wiimote to point to locations to which they want Zack to move. Interacting with objects is as simple as pointing and them and pressing A, which will take Zack to them and "zoom in," allowing the gamers to use the Wiimote to interact with those objects.
The real fun comes when you add Wiki into the mix. Zack and Wiki technically have enemies, but most of those enemies function simply as another part of the various puzzles. You see, Wiki's bell has a unique ability: Any who hear it, besides the ringer, are turned into inanimate objects. The object depends on the creature. A bat may turn into a "batbrella," a centipede into a "centisaw" and a person into a "totem." These items can then be used to interact with the world or simply moved around and turned back into their living form, which is also used to solve puzzles. It's a charming and unique mechanic and really encourages creative thinking.
Wii interaction in Zack and Wiki is 90 percent joy and 10 percent frustration. Every action you take in the game world must be mimicked by a similar action in the real world. If you want to drop a pot on something, you lift it up with the Wiimote and then "drop" it using a special hand motion. If you need to turn a crank, you use the Wiimote as a crank handle. Most of these actions are simple and fun, and they feel great. There is much that is satisfying about actually performing these actions yourself, and it's something that couldn't be done except on the Wii. Even the items you pick up can be interacted with in this way. If Zack is holding an umbrella, you can make a "tossing" motion with the Wiimote to flip it, allowing you to use the umbrella's handle as a makeshift hook to pull at objects.
However, these controls are not perfect. There are a few annoying action-based interactions that just don't work well. For example, one of the last missions in the game involves a sword fight against zombie pirates. It sounds simple enough, until you realize that it's difficult, if not impossible, to get the sword to obey your Wiimote's movements, leading to frustrating moments when Zack gets his rear kicked because he wouldn't slash when you told him to slash. However, these imperfect interactions are infrequent, and the sword-fighting is by far the most aggravating of the bunch. It's not enough to ruin the game, but those motions are the only real blemish on Zack and Wiki's otherwise excellent design.
Zack and Wiki's puzzles are simply clever. There is no other word for them. Each puzzle is unique and different from the previous ones, and you'll rarely find yourself doing the same thing twice. In one mission, you might be setting up mirrors to reflect an energy blast into a generator, in another you'll be mixing up various potions in an alchemy lab to get past traps, while in yet another you'll be sneaking into an enemy ship to retrieve stolen treasure.
The beautiful thing about the puzzles in Zack and Wiki is that they're not unfair. Don't misunderstand me: You'll be challenged by these puzzles. Trying to figure them out may stump even clever gamers for hours or days at a time, although the game does offer "Oracle Tickets" that can be cashed in to gain advice at the cost of lowering your end-of-level rank. Yet, when you finally do figure out the solution to a puzzle, it doesn't feel like the developers were asking you to solve an unfair puzzle; instead, you'll want to slap yourself on the head and cry, "How did I miss that?!" That is the area where Zack and Wiki really succeeds. It's challenging without requiring random guessing, and that is rare, even in the best of adventure games.
Zack and Wiki are searching for Barbaros' missing pieces, but those are not the only items they'll find while exploring the world. During the main adventure, Zack and Wiki can come across a number of special treasures by either finding them during missions or sending one of their pirate allies out to search the world map for them. These treasures vary, ranging from concept artwork to soundtrack pieces, to adorable 8-bit sprites of other Capcom characters like Mega Man and Bionic Commando. Once you've finished the game, you can even go back into levels you've already finished to complete new mini-quests and unlock further treasures. Attempting to find every single item in the game is sure to keep completionists busy for a very long time, and even more casual gamers will probably have fun completing the bonus missions, all of which add a healthy dose of replay value to the game.
Zack and Wiki is just charming to look at. Each character is bright and well animated, and the cel-shading style works wonderfully for the title. The animations are rather repetitive, but in a way, that works for the characters, and it's only in a few rare cases that these reused animations don't look very natural. The stage design is great, and each level has a unique style and look. Zack and Wiki is a joy to watch in motion, and there are only a few nagging details. Once or twice during the game, I encountered frame rate drops during particularly intense moments, but they were the exception and never occurred at times when they'd detract from the game. Still, that is easily the worst one can say about Zack and Wiki's visual presentation.
Zack and Wiki's audio presentation is just as high quality as the rest of the title. The soundtrack is excellent, mixing peppy and dramatic tunes in a way that fits most scenes exceptionally well. There are a few clunkers in the soundtrack, but they're just boring instead of bad. Technically, Zack and Wiki has voice acting, but it's not on every line. Instead, each character tends to shout a quick sound bite with each phrase he or she says. This can be charming, but it can also be a bit annoying, depending on the situation. However, the charm tends to outlast the annoyance, and it's hard to not crack a smile when Sea Rabbit Johnny Styles greets Zack with an enthusiastic shout of, "Ey, Zack!"
While Nintendo has developed a number of excellent titles for the Wii console, it seems to be taking third-party companies a bit longer to adapt to the new control scheme offered by the Wii. Zack and Wiki sets a high standard for other developers to follow. It's clever, stylish, challenging and fun. It is an example of the kind of game that the Wii should have, and one that Wii owners owe it to themselves to try. Even better, it retails at the budget price of $40, which is simply icing on the cake. To put it bluntly, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is one of the best games out for the Wii, and any gamers who own Nintendo's new system owe it to themselves to at least give this title a try, if not a buy.
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