The Wii has had its share of success stories since its initial release over a year ago, but the majority of those successes have come in the form of Nintendo's first-party titles, such as Zelda, Metroid and of course Mario. While Nintendo certainly have a handle on the unique controls of the Wii remote, other developers haven't experienced the same success, with controls that feel like a novelty and ideas that don't always translate so well to the motion-sensing style of the Wii. Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is the exception. Using simple and intuitive controls combined with stylish graphics and surprisingly challenging puzzle-like gameplay, Zack and Wiki stands out in the crowd and is one of the most creative and effective Wii games released so far.
Zack and Wiki is a story about a young pirate with aspirations of being the best pirate there is and his flying golden monkey companion, Wiki, who helps him along the way. Through a series of cleverly designed puzzle stages, your goal is to get to the treasure in each level and eventually find all of it, becoming the most rich and famous pirate in all the land. What makes Zack and Wiki so unique in the mass of adventure games on the market is that it's entirely done via 'point and click' using the Wii remote. Pressing A on any part of the screen will get Zack to move to that spot, just as selecting specific points of interest will cause Zack to either manipulate the object somehow or investigate it further. It works quite well, and being able to view the entire map at any time with the press of a button helps in giving you ideas of what to do or where to go next.
An important element of the gameplay is the fact that when shaking the Wii remote, Wiki transforms into a bell that gets rung by Zack. This may seem a little weird, but it becomes an important part of the puzzle-solving process. When you ring the bell while you are near a beast of some kind, the beast will literally transform into an object that can be used by Zack to help him out. Without spoiling too much of the fun that's found in the discovery, a centipede may be turned into a saw of sorts as well as other creatures that can be made into useful items such as a weight or an umbrella, which are all integral in completing each stage. Picking up one of these items is as simple as clicking on it, and Zack can only carry one particular object at a time, adding some more strategy to the decision of which items should be used first.
The Wii remote is used intuitively and often when actually using the specific items, and you'll have to change the way you hold the Wii remote depending on the action required. Using the saw will require you to move your hand backwards and forwards as if actually sawing something, and turning the crank of a switch will require you to wind your hand in a clock-wise motion. There are plenty of different objects that you'll encounter in the game, and even though you'll be given a brief explanation of how to use each one, it's not even entirely necessary, as most of the actions come naturally. There is enough variety in the items that it never gets stale or repetitive either, and so is one of the most successful games so far in using the Wii's controls well without any awkwardness.
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure sails very successfully on the fine line of looking very much like a kids game on the surface, but offering imaginative and deep gameplay that's more easily suited to an older audience. There's certainly something for everyone with some puzzles easier than others, and almost every single scenario offering a different set of challenges that must be completed before getting to that lovely gold treasure chest at the end. Finishing each puzzle is genuinely rewarding, and the game never gets hard to the point of frustration. Everything is quite logical when it comes down to it, and even though you may find yourself stuck at times, eventually working out what to do is extremely satisfying. Some of the more complex puzzles that feature in later stages also have multiple ways of getting them done successfully, which means that going back to replay some of the puzzles can be worthwhile, just to try everything.
There are more than twenty levels to get through in Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, and while this might not seem like a massive number initially, some puzzles will take you upwards of half an hour to complete. We got stuck scratching our brains during a number of levels, especially some of the challenges later in the game. Then factor in some inevitable retries with most stages and also the fact that each stage can be replayed to try and get the highest score possible (by doing things quickly and not making mistakes), and you have yourself a game that should definitely last you around 15 hours, unless you're an absolute puzzle genius. While some puzzles do offer a variety of ways to get them done, many of the stages are quite linear in the sense that there is only one sure path to completion. While this isn't so much an obvious problem, it takes some of the fun out of replaying levels, because you'll already know the only solution.
The cel-shading seen here is glorious and colourful and the game features a number of different environments so that levels never look too samey. There is plenty of detail in all of the characters and stages, combined with some great lighting and particle effects that make the game similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker in terms of artistic style. Apart from some occasional dips in frame-rate, the whole package looks simply delightful. The storyline is told via blocks of text on screen, as is all the dialogue spoken by the characters, with no detailed voice-over work. It's a little disappointing, but not a crucial loss. The sound is also simple but effective, with cartoon-like sound effects and a happy soundtrack that round out the experience nicely.
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is certainly one of a kind. While some may find retrying certain sections repeatedly due to some of the puzzles being genuinely challenging a little bit annoying, the entire game is so compelling that you'll more than likely just be more inspired to give it another go when you happen to make a mistake. The art style is gorgeous, the gameplay is ingenious and the puzzles themselves are some of the most entertaining and interesting pieces of game design that we have ever had the joy of playing through. Don't be fooled by the name here, people - Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is easily one of the smartest games available today, and has set a very high standard for creativity. If you own a Wii, pick this one up with no hesitation.