Nearly a year has passed since the Wii's launch, and the biggest complaint has been the lack of quality titles that feature unique use of the Wii remote's technology while also containing enough depth to keep players captivated for more than five minutes at a time. Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure has been one of the most anticipated Wii titles this year, promising to deliver on some of the potential of the system. Capcom's efforts have succeeded for the most part and must be congratulated -- they seem to be the first third party to truly get what the Wii can bring to the table while taking that potential from paper to execution.
Zack is a young pirate in search of treasure (as is any worthy pirate), and his most prized possession also happens to be his best friend: a mysterious golden monkey called Wiki who can change into a bell. Upon accidentally uncovering the golden skull of a cursed pirate named Barbaros, a legend in pirate lore, the two oddball heroes set off to recover all of the pieces of the pirate king's body. With the promise of riches and a magical ship driving him forward, Zack ventures across an entire continent with nothing but his brains and his pal Wiki to help him, though a band of rabbit pirates cheers him on (with the occasional piece if advice) along the way.
Zack and Wiki's adventures are quite unconventional compared to what one would expect of the journeys of a pirate, however. Bringing back the point and click adventure genre to the console market, Zack and Wiki makes a daring move -- combine this with its unrecognizable brand name and you have a title retailers are most likely wary to pick up. This is most unfortunate, because Zack and Wiki is a brilliant puzzle game that does everything about the genre justice while correcting some of the flaws usually seen in such games.
Zack travels across a fairly decent variety of environments, each with their own quirks, but every level in the game presents its own unique puzzle, and every single one brings something new with it. A few puzzles toward the end are arguably some of the best seen in a video game to date, so don't let the cartoony appearance fool you -- this game isn't for kids. These challenges can get pretty complex. While there is a measure in place to give hints, it's highly suggested that these are used as a last resort, as the crutch of the game is figuring out these brilliant puzzles with no aid. Granted, the earlier stages may feel like a bit of a joke, but things ramp up at an excellent pace, and the easy levels will show players the "rules" of the game.
Zack and Wiki does an impressive job of communicating to players how its world works -- things that can be interacted with will turn the cursor pink when pointed at, and anytime an item must be manipulated, the game clearly shows how the remote must be gripped. The early stages quickly teach players how to get used to using the Wii remote to solve some of the puzzles, how to use Wiki's bell ability to transform enemies into items, and to always be ever observant, as a single misstep can lead to an untimely demise at certain points. Furthermore, many items aren't one-trick ponies and are used for different purposes as the game moves on.
While the puzzles themselves are mostly brilliant and the controls are executed extremely well, one feature lacking and holding Zack and Wiki back from total excellence is that some of the motion controls can feel a little off, and many are repeated later -- in and of itself, this isn't too bad, but there's not quite as many puzzles based around remote manipulation as one might hope, which makes some of the repeated motions later come off as a bit gimmicky. Either way, they still add immersion to the experience, responding well enough.
Most games on the Wii go by the policy "It's good enough" when it comes to presentation, slapping things together in an adequate but unattractive package that yields no passion or artistic design; Zack and Wiki goes above what is often expected of a third party game. While its more subtle elements like dialogue, menus, and cutscenes may not be quite up to snuff with Nintendo's own efforts, the graphical and audio presentation is right up there. The cel-shaded style brings this world to life, easily placing it among the best-looking titles on the platform.
The soundtrack has a lot of bang with full orchestral tracks rivaling any good pirate movie out there -- while mostly subdued, the music picks up right where it needs to and builds an epic atmosphere. One level towards the end of the game acts as an engaging "boss battle" in puzzle form, and the graphics and music combine to bring forth a heroic tension that most puzzle games wish they could come close to.
To top off the fairly lengthy adventure is a ton of collectible extra content featuring tons of old school Capcom references (including what is perhaps the most popular Capcom-produced song in the gaming community making a cameo appearance). Zack and Wiki will provide a solid value, though there isn't a whole lot of incentive to replay it afterwards. Still, efforts like this need to be supported if gamers want to see this level of quality put into third party games for the Wii. The potential for new levels of immersion in gaming is there, and Zack and Wiki does an admirable job at reaching for it. It may not fully reach that hopeful potential, but it's a whole lot more than what most third parties have been willing to do.
Final Verdict - 9/10
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is a brilliant title which belongs in the library of any Wii owner who has a brain to bend. Its unique if sometimes Japanese-infused presentation sports a snappy visual design and an excellent musical score, but the real hook is the superb puzzle design. While the Wii remote actions aren't always placed front and center, the devious and clever ideas at work here are refreshing and without the nonsense found in other point-and-click adventures. Capcom has created what every third party longs for: a Wii title that makes good use of the platform's strengths and rivals the big N's own work.