Review By: Andrew Joy
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Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure is not going to have an easy time at retail. The game features a silly name coupled with the look of a Saturday morning cartoon, and – whether to intentionally mislead people or as a decision so the developers could focus on more important things - it all seems by design, a design echoed right down to its premise. In the game, you play as Zack, a zany little character who dreams of being the world’s greatest pirate, and Wiki, his magical monkey pal. To help get their start, the eponymous duo joined the Sea Rabbits, but before the dream could be realized, a rival pirate group shot them down. After surviving the crash, they stumble upon a sealed chest containing the skull of Barbaros, a legendary pirate. In exchange for freeing Barbaros from his curse, the pirate has promised to give our heroes his equally famous pirate ship and lead them to Treasure Island. Unfortunately for Zack and Wiki, breaking the curse is easier said than done, as it involves collecting the more than a dozen pieces of Barbaros’ body that have been scattered throughout a handful of worlds. Each world is broken into smaller levels and culminates with a boss fight, though each one involves solving a point-and-click puzzle in order to reach the chest at the end.
Right now, I’m sure one of the biggest questions a lot of you are asking is: how hard is this game really? After all, given the family-friendly look of Zack & Wiki, I’m sure there is a lingering fear that the puzzles may be geared more towards children. That thought should appropriately be met with Admiral Ackbar screaming, “It’s a trap!” Certainly the game starts out easy enough, practically holding your hand for the first couple of levels (enough so, in fact, that it may even put some people off...apparently Capcom’s never been warned about first impressions), but that just gives you the groundwork for playing the game. Soon after that, the puzzles ramp up, pushing right through head-scratching territory and into applying ointment to the areas of your scalp where you’ve pulled out chunks of hair in frustration. Could a kid play the game? Sure, but I seriously doubt that they could get very far without a parent or someone else, and there may even be a few adults who can’t progress without a little help. Of course, when a puzzle does stump you to that level, it is extremely satisfying when you finally do solve it on your own...with one notable caveat, that is.
While I have no intention of undermining the overall difficulty of Zack & Wiki – as I have been stumped by it a number of times, fair and square – there are some puzzles that seem harder than they really are because the game is suddenly asking you to do something that is completely unprecedented and, in some cases, won’t ever be required again. I’ve found this to be especially true of the boss levels, where you must start out assuming that any superfluous characters are essential to the puzzle at hand in some way. Of course, this is nothing compared to the task of wrapping your head around Wiki, Zack’s faithful companion slash magical bell, who can turn almost any living thing – from a worm to rival pirates – into an inanimate object. But you must, as you’ll be required to use almost everything – no matter how out of place it may seem – to reach the treasure that is your ultimate goal. And that is where we run into the biggest problems in Zack & Wiki: you are trying to solve logic puzzles in an illogical world.
In the dozen or so steps it takes in the classic board game Mouse Trap, you crank a lever to kick a boot that knocks over a bucket, sending a metal ball down the stairs, through a pipe and into the hands holding a rod, which sends a bowling ball rolling in and out of a bathtub and onto a diving board, launching the diver into a pool and triggering the cage to fall onto the mouse. Sure, it is a bit impractical when you look at it, but you can still see how it works and exactly what needs to happen. Things aren’t so straightforward in Zack & Wiki, where you’ll start out in a little art gallery and have to – and, oh, potentially huge spoilers coming – reach into a painting and pull out a broom, sweep the dust off a painting of a locked door, brush away the clouds out of a painting of a moon and then move the painting of a ghost into the moonlight to free the key...and that’s only to start! If this was, say, a puzzle game set within The Legend of Zelda universe, things might be different, as we’d have some background to go on and know what to expect, but being a new franchise, the game is on something of a slippery slope.
Whether to compensate for such an obvious and worrisome shortcoming, or to simply help you along on some of the more genuinely difficult puzzles, Zack & Wiki does offer some help. While you are at the headquarters of the Sea Rabbits, where you start practically all your missions, you can use your gathered treasures to purchase the annoyingly expensive Oracle Dolls and the equally expensive Platinum Tickets. If you get stumped, you can call forth the Oracle, offer up one of the dolls and get a hint for the level you are on. Unfortunately, as you don’t often get stuck in the very beginning of a level, the vague hints provided by this system are even more useless, as they don’t always correspond to where you are in the puzzle (meaning you may have to sacrifice more than one just to get anything relevant). Much more useful are the Platinum Tickets. If you’ve made it through a substantial portion of a level and just happen to make a mistake, an oh-so-fatal mistake, you have the option of either starting over from the beginning or using a Platinum Ticket to be revived at some point from before you met your untimely end. Of course, for those of you who are perfectionists, it should be noted that use of either an Oracle Doll or Platinum Ticket denies you that perfect end-of-puzzle ranking of “Unpuzzleable” by costing you precious HirameQ (or HQ), a seemingly nonsensical system by which puzzles are rated and the player rewarded.
Another level of difficulty is added by the controls in Zack & Wiki. As far as the basic controls of the game, they are, well, basic: you point to wherever you want to go and simply press the A button to go there. In fact, the game is so easy to pick up in that respect that I think it could very well be a model for single Wii Remote play (without the Nunchuk, that is), much like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is said to be for the Nintendo DS. Actually, the game is a lot like a Nintendo DS game, providing on-screen icons that you can click (again, with the A button) to use to pull-out or zoom-in the camera or inspect an item that you are holding. Of course, there are a few problems with the simple point-in-click nature of it, since you might accidentally interact with something when you are just trying to move or move when you are just trying to zoom the camera back in (as it tracks with the cursor even as you move to that upper right hand corner). And, even if you don’t activate something with such an unintentional blunder, there are rare occasions when you’ll be docked HQ just for inspecting it early. But, that is just the tip of a very troublesome iceberg.
Posted: 2007-11-12 20:08:54 PST