Thursday, May 29, 2008

Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is a wonderful, charming game that's recommendable to all Wii owners, and you need to keep that in mind as I rip it to shreds below.

Zack is a young boy who wants to be a Pokemon master mighty pirate. With the aid of his electric mouse flying monkey he journeys the land on an epic quest to collect Pokemon treasure, while outwitting the dastardly forces of his rival, Team Rocket Rose Rock.

Zack & Wiki is essentially a point-n-click puzzle game, of the sort where you use the crowbar to flip the lever to make the boulder roll onto the switch to release the snake from the cage to scare the frog into the hole. Instead of carrying your inventory from area to area, each stage is a single self-contained puzzle. There are about 20 stages and each one will take anywhere from three minutes to half an hour to complete.

It's a well-dressed game. The levels and items look fantastic, and the various piratical characters are so cute you'll want to pinch their thieving little cheeks. The music is top-notch, featuring both stunning original compositions and a selection of tarted-up Capcom nostalgia. The visual interface is great and it's easy to tell relevant items apart from the background.

The puzzles are mostly well-designed; most interactions are reasonably logical, and the things that aren't so obvious (like the food chain of snake-eats-frog-eats-worm) are introduced slowly and carefully. Every so often you're thrown into a boss battle, which are normally tighter and more focused stages where the aim of the puzzling is to deal damage to a single oversized enemy. The boss battles are some of the best stages in the game.

For all of the above reasons, Zack & Wiki makes an excellent first impression. Unfortunately, in the late game it makes a left turn into Stupid Street and proceeds to take a long frustrating stroll towards the National Nun-Punching Championships.

Reason number one is that you can die. It only takes a single stab to Zack's internal organs to send him to the hereafter, and as the game wears on the stages are packed with more and more ne'er-do-wells who would like nothing better to explore Zack's intestines with something pointy. Plus, there's a whole mess of lethal traps, and the game isn't consistent about warning you before sending you plunging towards a spiky doom. Death means restarting the level or spending an expensive "golden ticket" in order to continue on with a permanent penalty to your score.

Secondly, you can mess up the levels. You can work levels into a state where it's impossible to complete them without restarting the stage from the beginning. The game doesn't give you any indication that you've done this, so you can spend ages trying to solve a puzzle that can no longer be solved before you realise that the game has been busily sodomising you for the last hour.

The third reason is that the game is a fan of unique motion controls. Early in the game it's kind of cute when you have to pull the wiimote like a lever in order to actually pull a lever. But later on the required motions get steadily more obscure with little real guidance, and when you're developing RSI from failed attempts to throw an anchor during a timed boss fight you'll be wanting to cry like a little girl and pay hitmen to wreak bitter vengeance on the developers.

Those three problems are some fairly significant defects in the game and they're almost enough to ruin it. Almost. But the game's just so damned charming it's hard not to forgive it. There's something about pirates who are also rabbits who are also Elvis impersonators that will grab your heart and not let go.

There's nothing else quite like Zack & Wiki available for the Wii, and it's absolutely the sort of game we want to see more of, so grab a copy, enjoy as much of it as you can, and then start waiting eagerly for the inevitably improved sequel.

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