BUY THIS GAME.
I realize it's bad form to convey one's opinion of a game before the jump of a review. I don't care. I am fully willing to relinquish what little suspense might result from postponing my opinion of the game in favor of loudly stating the following, so that anyone who glances at this post will see it:
ZACK AND WIKI: QUEST FOR BARBAROS' TREASURE IS THE BEST GAME AVAILABLE ON THE WII RIGHT NOW.
Now, with that out of the way, there's a full review after the jump. It explains the game's flaws, summarizes its gameplay style, and, most of all, points out why you should
PURCHASE ZACK AND WIKI AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.
Hit the jump for the full review. There won't be any more boldface, I promise.
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)
If you own a Wii and you don't purchase Zack and Wiki, you are a bad person.
Not because you'll personally be missing out on one of the most imaginative and entertaining adventure games ever made -- that makes you stupid, not evil -- but because you won't be giving money to the only franchise in existence which has used the Wii's controls in a natural, efficient, and utterly exhilirating way. Where the Wii's library has thus far been filled with gimmicky, soulless minigame collections or crappy first-person shooters, Zack and Wiki succeeds at integrating motion control into its puzzle-solving gameplay, rather than hamhandedly forcing Wiimote gestures where they don't belong or building dozens of boring, ostentatious flail-a-thon minigames just for the sake of it. As stated above the jump, it's the best game on the Wii right now.
Zack and Wiki follows the exploits of Zack, a young, silent, chocolate-loving pirate, and his friend Wiki, a flying monkey which can (for some reason) turn into a monster-transforming hand bell on command. After crash-landing on a remote island, the duo uncovers the skull of Barbaros, an infamous pirate who sends the two on a quest to collect and reunite the 16 scattered pieces of his body. Along the way, Zack and Wiki have to deal with rival pirates, demonic iron maidens, and some of the most fiendishly enjoyable puzzles ever imagined. The story isn't anything spectacular, but by the end of the game I found myself oddly caring for Zack and Wiki; I say "odd" because Zack has no personality whatsoever and Wiki really just acts like a talkative inventory item, but somehow -- perhaps due to my unfettered enjoyment of the gameplay -- the story never struck me as pointless or silly as it otherwise could have.
I'd have to classify Z&W* as an action-puzzler game, even though nearly all of the "combat" is really just composed of several simultaneous, time-sensitive puzzles which, if solved incorrectly or in the wrong order, will kill you. It's really more of an old-school point-and-click adventure than anything else (movement is controlled entirely via an onscreen, Wiimote-controlled cursor), but the use of certain mechanics (the fact that you can purchase extra lives, for instance) make it feel like a hybrid of multiple genres, something totally new.
It helps, of course, that the levels themselves also feel refreshingly inventive. Ignoring the motion controls for a moment, each level centers around one main puzzle, one problem which can only be solved within the confines of the level. Rather than, say, Sam and Max, where you'd go to one area on a worldmap and get an item and then go to a totally separate area on the other side of the country to use it, each of Z&W's levels is totally self-contained. The focus is on the individual, small-scale puzzle setpieces -- not the multilocational conundrums you'd find in any other adventure game on the market (save for Portal, which uses the same structure as Z&W throughout the first half of its runtime). To be honest, I really prefer this puzzle solving format; it forces the player to closely examine and think about everything about their immediate environment without worrying whether or not they missed some half-hidden item in a random location three or four stages back.
The short, self-cointained nature of the levels also gives the motion controls a greater chance to shine. Each stage usually showcases one or two new uses of the Wiimote, while occasionally implementing a few from previous stages. You'll drop stuff, you'll wind stuff, you'll flip stuff around -- the fun isn't just in physically using the Wiimote to accomplish standard adventure tasks (activate this item with that item, figure out how to get around a guard without getting killed, etcetera), but in trying to figure out how you're supposed to use the Wiimote. More often than not, the player is told when they're holding the right item in any given situation; from that point on, it's up to the player to find out how to manipulate the Wiimote in order to achieve a desired effect.
Unlike other adventure games, where any method of utilizing an inventory item could be summarized by the catch-all "USE" command, figuring out exactly how to manipulate items constitutes a considerable amount of Z&W's gameplay. I can't go into too much detail about these puzzles without spoiling some of the better moments in the game, unfortunately, but by way of example:
In the tutorial, Zack finds himself falling out of an airplane. He grabs an umbrella, presenting the player with a new problem: how do I open it? Upon examining the umbrella in the inventory screen, the player will (assuming he isn't blind) notice a large, white "2" on the hilt of the umbrella. Though the tutorial has not instructed the player to do so, the player hits the 2 button on the actual Wiimote; the 2 button on the onscreen umbrella activates, and the umbrella opens.
Now, that's one of the easiest, most obvious, and least fulfilling Wiimote puzzles in the game, so don't worry about the other motion control mind-teasers being as simplistic or banal as that one -- I only mention it to explain how this particular half of the puzzle system works. Trust me: the other puzzles are insanely fun, both in their difficulty and the purely tactile sense of joy one experiences in solving them. It's way more fun to fill a cup with water by physically pouring the liquid with your Wiimote than it would be through a simple button press.
Graphically, Zack and Wiki looks great: the quasi-cel-shading reminded me a bit of Team Fortress 2, despite the fact that Z&W is noticeably devoid of gibbing or rocket launchers. Yes, the graphics look "kiddie," but in a really, really satisfying way: the entire game feels fun and carefree, and, assuming you're not the sort of asshole who would actually avoid Zack and Wiki just because it includes a blue sky, the art style will grow on you almost immediately. Apart from an occasionally dipping framerate (especially in the later levels), the only complaint one could really lob at Z&W's graphical style is that it seems to betray the sheer difficulty of some of the later puzzles. I hold a great deal of hatred for those who would avoid this game simply because it appears to be targeted at children, but it's understandable that poorly informed gamers might, at first glance, assume that Zack and Wiki's childlike graphics match up with a childlike difficulty level.
This is not the case.
Zack and Wiki is pleasingly difficult in a way most adventure games aren't; the solution to any given puzzle will rarely be so esoteric as to send you scrambling to a walkthrough, and, even if you feel totally stumped, you can always use the ingame help system (which, thankfully, charges you money for every hint so as to dissuade you from becoming to over-reliant on them). While it's never so difficult that it's truly unfair, each level still represents a considerable challenge that the ten-to-twelve-year-old audience the graphics seem to be designed for will probably not be able to complete without a great deal of help. The long and short of it: Zack and Wiki is challenging, no matter what age you are. Don't be fooled by the graphics.
This isn't to say the game is perfect, however. A few of the Wiimote gestures don't work quite as well as they should -- most notably, the swordfighting mechanic in the second-to-last level is broken to the point of near-unplayability. Additionally, the fun factor kind of slumps for a bit in the dead center of the game's running time: for some reason, four or five stages eschew Wiimote-driven awesomeness for some duller, more conventional adventure puzzles. The second boss fight may be the worst offender in this category.
Oh yeah, the boss fights: forgot to mention those. I'll say no more, save for the fact that there are boss fights, and they do (the second one notwithstanding) kick copious amounts of ass.
In terms of mileage, you'll probably average around 12 or 13 hours with Zack and Wiki, assuming you don't go scurrying to a walkthrough everytime you run into a roadblock. The game doesn't last for a particularly long time, but you won't feel gypped by the time you reach the end. If you do feel gypped, you've either been too reliant on hint guides to speed through the game, or you're a goddamned genius who felt the puzzles were too simplistic -- in either case, I have no sympathy for you. Besides, you can always replay the levels in an effort to achieve a perfect score and unlock some promised "hidden treasure," and a few of the levels can be completed in a multitude of ways. Honestly, I've never been that big a fan of replaying games just for the sake of 100% completion, but I still find myself returning to Zack and Wiki after beating it just because solving the puzzles can be so goddamned fun in and of itself. Additionally, keep in mind that it's only 40 bucks -- pretty cheap for the amount of fun and mileage you'll get out of it.
In the end, Zack and Wiki is an absolute blast. Through a combination of normal puzzles -- though admittedly, "normal" is a bit of a misnomer in a game where you use your flying, magical monkey friend to transform deadly enemies into useful items -- and incredibly rewarding motion control scenarios, Zack and Wiki feels like something totally familiar, yet incredibly new and original. Yeah, a couple of the Wiimote-reliant bits don't work very well and the gameplay kind of slumps in the middle, but these problems are relatively minor in the face of the sheer gameplay glee Zack and Wiki has to offer. It's the best game available on the system today, and one of the best and most innovative adventure games ever made.
Don't let this become a cult classic, never to be sequelized. We desperately need more games like Zack and Wiki on the Wii.
Buy it. Right now.
Verdict: Buy It! Or Die!
*I am not calling it "Z-Dub." Whoever thought that nickname up needs to be kicked in the shins.