When experienced gamers see anime-style characters and a title that clearly denotes a main character and a sidekick, their brains usually leap to the conclusion of “cartoony mascot platformer” and then they frequently move on to the next box on the rack. In the case of Capcom’s Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Z&W), they would not only be dead wrong, but also missing out on one of the Wii’s finest third-party offerings to date.
In reality, Z&W is a point-and-click puzzler the likes of which the gaming world hasn’t seen for quite some time, with sharp, expression-rich cel-shaded graphics very reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Using the Wii Remote, you will direct Zack, a young upstart pirate working for the Sea Rabbits, and his magical mischievous morphing monkey companion Wiki through a series of two dozen stages. Along the way, you will have to outwit and elude Rose Rock goons (members of a rival pirate gang), cannibalistic Growlin’ Goblins, and restless pirate ghosts — not to mention fiendish traps and mind-bending puzzles. Some stages even feature puzzle-based “boss fights” that will tax you to your mental limits. Your reward for solving each stage is a piece of treasure coveted by the Legendary (albeit cursed) pirate Barbaros; he has promised to give you his legendary ship if you can reassemble his various pieces — your fondest wish come true!
As mentioned, the interface for Z&W is point-and-click at its core. Various items and contraptions will be highlighted as you direct the pointer over them, and almost all of them must be employed to succeed in the current task at hand. In addition to items you find on each stage, you can also create items from living creatures by shaking the Wii remote near them; this will cause Wiki to transform into a bell that will transform the creatures both to and from item form. Ringing the bell is also useful in other situations, such as collecting coins or exorcising guardian spirits. Thanks to the Wii remote, each item and contraption is used just like you would use it in real life: keys must be turned, saws pulled back and forth, umbrellas opened via their release button, etc.. You will have to master over one hundred items in order to solve all of the puzzles and collect all of the treasure.
Each obstacle you pass scores you an amount of HirameQ (HQ) points, a sort of measure of your intellectual ability; you earn less HQ if you fail at a given task or complete a step out of sequence, but not for taking a long time, so it’s advisable to think out your situation whenever possible. Some obstacles have multiple solutions possible. You can also pray to the Hint Fairy for advice by pressing the 1 button, although you will need to have purchased a Hint Idol from Granny in the Sea Rabbits’ Hideout first, and it will cost you HQ when you complete the stage. Running afoul of traps and enemies will result in a swift — and often hilarious — death for Zack; if you have a Platinum Ticket (also bought from Granny), the Hint Fairy can rewind time to before you screwed up and you can take another shot at it (at the cost of some HQ), otherwise it’s back to the beginning of the stage you go. Sometimes you will have erred in such a way that the stage becomes unsolvable; if you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, the Hint Fairy will let you know (if you ask her). You can also restart the stage on your own at no penalty at any time.
Z&W features appropriate music for its various stages, which include a jungle, an ice zone, a volcano/fire zone, and a haunted castle among others. Sound effects bring every character, item, and contraption to life; while there is no voice acting, there are clips (in the original Japanese, “Zaku” in full effect) that accent emotions and give a little extra personality to the characters. Theoretically there is very little reading required in order to actually play the game, although the early game is filled with text explanations that will need to be relayed to anyone too young to read them. Fortunately, there is another in-game aid available for anyone who might not be able to handle the game on their own: a form of multiplayer in which up to three other Remotes can be used to point out and draw temporary lines on the screen. Only the 1P Remote can actually do anything, but this inspired decision can turn this puzzler into a group or family experience.
By the time your quest is over, you will have most likely logged over thirty hours playing Z&W; additional puzzles also show up in completed stages once you’ve beaten the main storyline for additional brain-teasing. Considering that a new copy of the title retails for a discounted $40, that’s a playtime-to-cost ratio rivaled only by epic RPGs. Unlike an RPG, however, you will be actively engaged just about every step of the way. The puzzles are always logical, although not necessarily obvious or intuitive every time. Sometimes the Wii remote’s gestures don’t respond quite like you want them to, but outside of that small problem there are few flaws to be found in this game. The Wii needs more third-party support of this superior caliber, and Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure deserves a spot in every Wii owner’s library.