My fellow New Zealanders (and other folk of PAL decent), we have a golden opportunity. Last October Zack & Wiki was released in the States and was met with embarrassingly low sales. This wasn’t because Wiki is a bad game, in fact, it is one of the finest on the Wii, but it appears people would rather be playing updated versions of games they’ve played before. Oh, the horror of trying something new! This must be an American thing.
The opportunity we have is to rectify the ill-doing of the States by heading to your local games store and buying Zack & Wiki; quick-fast. Of course, you’re going to need a little convincing before you shell out $109 for a game on my say-so. Read on.
Plain and simple - the Wii needs more titles like Zack & Wiki. The title takes full advantage of the unique Wii hardware set and pulls it off with finesse. It’s hard to describe the game to someone who has only seen screenshots of Zack & Wiki as the game is about as unique as the controls is lives by. At its core Zack & Wiki is a puzzler masquerading as an adventure game. Each level requires you to put your intelligence to the test to solve the puzzle and get the treasure. This is a kid’s game made for adults, clever adults.
The premise is quite simple and fairly derivative but Zack & Wiki never puts its story-foot forward – Zack & Wiki is all about the gameplay. Zack is a young silent pirate with a love for chocolate bars and treasure; he’s what everyone was at some point in their childhood imagination. Wiki is a light-hearted golden flying monkey with the strange ability to transform into a bell. The duo is party to the Sea Rabbits, a pirate gang faring the sea, land and skies for fame and fortune in true pirate fashion.
Early on in the game Zack & Wiki’s airship is shot from the skies, which is convenient as the island below is loaded with peculiar treasures. The first of which is a golden talking skull who introduces himself as the head of the legendary pirate Barbaros. Promising the duo any treasure of their choosing should they find the rest of his parts, Zack & Wiki set off on their puzzling adventure.
To move Zack you don’t actually use the analog stick at all, instead, much like the adventure games of old, you move him about with a point and click (press) of the A button. Each level is a small puzzle which represents an area of the jungle over-world where a unique piece of Barbaros is held. Interacting with items is as simple as pointing at them; however, using them is a completely different matter. Much like Smooth Moves you’ll receive an on-screen prompt on how to hold an item and what motion is required to make it work. In one instance you’ll be using an item with a claw to get a key attached to a high pillar. You’ll need to move the Wii controller in order to position the claw beneath the key and hit A to close the claw. Here you’ll need to yank the Wii controller/claw to set the free the key to allow you to access a treasure room. If you’re anything like us, you’ll end up wondering what a Zack & Wiki game on the DS would be like.
Using Wiki’s bell form you can turn creatures into useful items with a shake of the Wii controller. It is totally absurd and wonderful because of it - a centipede becomes a centi-saw, a frog becomes a frog bomb, and a bat becomes a batbrella. The centi-saw can be used to cut down a tree to create a path, a frog bomb can be used to knock out guards and the batbrella can be used to slow your fall or even as a hook via its handle.
The puzzles are often devilishly clever and have no business being around young kids – some of these will stump even master adventure gamers. You’ll undoubtedly try a way to solve a puzzle and fail only to realise you’ve been thrown a red-herring. The puzzles are all about thinking outside the box, you shouldn’t at any point think no, the developers wouldn’t have thrown that in there, it’s too clever, because they have thrown that in there, along with so much more. Many puzzles will even have several alternate methods of solving them. The most fiendish offering you more points.
The overall visual design of Wiki is quite exceptional. Character design is very fresh and their animations extremely energetic. The semi cell-shaded look is great too, though at times the screen will look a little blurry, however, this may be a side-effect of playing high definition games on other consoles. It is one of the better looking titles on the Wii but is still no competition for the likes of Mario Galaxy or Metroid Prime.
Sound on the other hand is a rather mixed bag. The score is unquestionably wonderful and will make you miss the BGM Test option games in the 16 bit era used to have. Voices are quite grating, though. All of the dialogue is presented in text format but each dialogue box is presented with a word or mumble in Japanese-like gibberish from the character speaking. For most characters, this is fine, but when Wiki has a piece to say you’ll want to hit mute immediately. Hearing Wiki say “Zacku” in his helium fueled pre-pubescent Japanese school-girl voice is highly annoying, but it is a small price to pay compared to what the rest of the game offers.
With any luck, with your purchase of Zack & Wiki we can show Capcom and the rest of the gaming industry that gamers are ready to be challenged, that gamers are open to something new, and that we would welcome a sequel, or something similar – the Wii needs it.
Heck, we’d even settle for a game like this for the Nintendo DS.