Fifteen Tools for a Dead Man’s Chest.
Actually, the number of available ‘tools’ in this game goes considerably farther into double digits than fifteen (and while we’re at it, “dead man’s chest” has here at least two different, equally-viable interpretations). If there was any lingering, halfway-defensible shred of cynical doubt out there as to the value and versatility of the Wii and its gesture-based, motion-sensing ways, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure should pretty well be the final nail in its coffin—and you even get to wield the Wiimote like a hammer, to drive it in. Right poetic, that is.
[image1]Zack is a go-getter kid who would be hailed as the world’s #1 treasure-hunting pirate, and Wiki is…um…his golden, flying-monkey-thingum and sidekick. You are not here for the story. The first thing you’ll notice even before you crack the disc-case is that this game has a cartoonish, cel-shaded, happy-go-lucky look to it that makes some of the more earnest Zelda moments look like Black Hawk Down by comparison. But do not be misled: This game is out to twist your head off, and there is little of anything “Kiddie” about it beyond the E-for-Everyone, candy-colored presentation.
At its heart, Zack & Wiki is a point-and-click adventure straight out of the old school, constructed from the ground up to take full-ranged advantage of the Wii’s gesture-based technology. Indeed, much of the gameplay is rooted precisely there—in figuring out exactly how you’re supposed to use the Wiimote to manipulate the objects (and flora, and fauna) in the game-world to conquer an increasingly-involved series of environment-based puzzles. The various treasure-chests you’ll plunder are just sitting there, after all, ready to be opened; it’s getting to them that’s the issue.
Shot out of the sky by a rival band of pirates at the start of the game, Zack and Wiki find themselves in possession of the skull of Barbaros, famed pirate. The rest of his pieces—literally—and other treasures are scattered hither and yon about the Treasure Island world, and it’s your job to guide Zack and his airborne pri-matey to the various treasure chests in search of fortune and fame.
Like I said, it’s a classic adventure game at heart, and you’ll spend lots of time hotspot-hunting with the Wiimote, waiting for that rumble and change-of-cursor to let you know you’re onto something. Before you’re through, you’ll become familiar with dozens of tools and ways of manipulating them via the Wiimote.
[image2]Shake your controller like you’re ringing a bell and Wiki turns into exactly that—clanging away which causes various forms of ambient wildlife in the game (moles, centipedes and frogs, just as a ferinstance) to be magically turned into useful implements (in this example, drills, saws and bombs, respectively) which are used according to proper gestures with the Wiimote.
Pick up the metal-toothed tool which used to be that centipede, for example, and use the Wiimote in an appropriate sawing motion to fell a nearby tree (which you also may have shaken for its goodies beforehand, throttling the Wiimote back and forth like a skinny tree-trunk). Use the controller in the expected fashion of a hammer, and crack open some onscreen destructibles for coins; manipulate the controller like you’re throwing a lever; turn it as you would a key in a lock; sweep a broom; bang a gong, get it on... You get the idea—and much of the challenge in the game is, in fact, to simply get the idea. How many different ways can you use the controller to affect the game-world? There are more than you might think.
The map of the world is broken down into themed areas (including the expected but perfectly serviceable standbys like Lava, Jungle, Ice and Haunted House realms). In addition to the component parts of Barbaros himself, there are stashes of other treasure to be found in the world, and players who are having a rough go of it can spend some of that booty on oracles (hints for solving puzzles) or Platinum Tickets (which can ‘fix’ a puzzle that you’ve otherwise totally buggered—although the most ambitious pirate-player will want to avoid using these, in a bid for better overall scoring).
Since most of the game is in figuring out what to do for each puzzle (and there are usually multiple ways of going about it), it wouldn’t be right to give away any procedural specifics beyond the obvious lessons of the initial, simple challenges. The puzzles quickly become multi-staged (and in some cases rather surreal, redolent of the Monkey Island and Luigi’s Mansion days of yore). And of course, there’s some brawn required with your brains as well, since there are boss fights waiting to obstruct your quest for treasure. If you’ve got the weakest strain of perfectionist in you, Zack and Wiki’s freeform, meta-puzzle world also offers a ton of true replayability.
[image3]The neatest thing about Zack and Wiki—beyond the sheer ingenuity of the puzzle-solving—goes, for the most part, unsung: This is a game that first and always uses and needs the unique input of the Wiimote to shine; if you were simply selecting from some lame list of manipulation choices (on, say, a more traditional console or a PC), the game would quickly lose a massive chunk of its charm and playability.
The second-neatest thing is the fact that while the game has no ‘multiplayer’ per se, it’s a semi-cooperative experience for a roomful of participants: If you simply can’t figure the logic of the next puzzle, there’s a good chance somebody else in the room can offer some armchair treasure-hunting advice. To this end, the ability of other Wiimotes to point out things on the screen is a nifty bonus.
It’s a ‘reach’ to find much more than minor flaws—quibbles, really—with this game. Finding hotspots with the Wiimote can get a little pixel-hunty certainly—but it’s in the nature of this type of game, and it’s not at obnoxious levels. There are a limited number of gestures/solutions that are more clunky than others, but they’re decidedly in the minority.
When showing this game to other people, the closest thing I’ve heard to a universal ‘complaint’ usually falls into the “Hey, this isn’t a kiddie game at all!” category… and if that’s the dullest, most nicked-up coin you can find in the chest, I reckon you’ve found yourself a real treasure.