Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros’ Treasure
Release Date: 10/23/2007
Here’s a game that could have passed right under everybody’s nose without the help of some seriously devoted fans. This is a title that probably wasn’t on a lot of “must-buy” lists; it’s an adventure game centred on solving puzzles, reminiscent of the old point-and-click genre that was once very popular, but which now fails to elicit much excitation outside of its niche market. However, Capcom took the game to the various industry shows where it slowly gained a quiet but faithful following, which increased with each new preview build. Slowly but surely, Zack and Wiki were gaining fans without even being available to the general public.
For a while now, the game has even been the target of a campaign designed by people who played the demos to get as many gamers as possible to buy it upon its release. Many websites and blogs have made the promotion of the “Buy Zack & Wiki” campaign, to the point where the game was eventually preceded by a moderate amount of hype. This did more than raise awareness for the title: many people are now hoping this can be the sleeper hit of the year, a game that excels not only in style but also in execution.
Is this a case where the hype has put the bar higher than the game can actually handle? Or is Zack & Wiki a genuine surprise, full of originality and innovations?
Zack is a hopeful pirate, affiliated to the Sea Rabbits, which is a gang that looks exactly like what you would expect from such a moniker. They spend their time searching for treasures, usually clashing with a rival gang led by the very purple Captain Rose along the way. After his flying ship crashes on an island, Zack and his flying monkey Wiki discover the talking skull of a pirate, the titular Barbaros. He would love to get the rest of his body back, so he promises the pair his legendary ship if they are to fully assemble him. It’s now up to Zack and Wiki to search treacherous areas and clear them of their traps in order to claim the many treasure that compose Barbaros’ golden skeleton.
Basically, this is all a crazy set-up to explain why the main characters are searching for treasures. The story is explained within the first ten minutes and barely mentioned after that. However, along the way, you will encounter some very charming characters full of personality that will often make you smile simply by their mannerisms without even speaking a word. The Sea Rabbits’ pilot Johnny Style is a very good example of that. Still, it’s a shame that there is no real story development past the intro. You’re a pirate, you collect treasure and you have to watch out for your enemies. That’s it.
This is clearly a game where the story serves the gameplay and not the opposite. If you are looking for character developments in a forty hours masterpiece of story-telling with twists and betrayals, you’re out of luck. It’s still easy to appreciate the whimsical setting, which is well-defined despite the shortcomings of the storytelling itself.
Story Rating: 5/10
I have rarely seen backgrounds so colourful and attractive. It seriously was the first thing that caught my attention, before the characters themselves, which are very pretty in their own right. The scenery is simply gorgeous and if you are anything like me, the first thing you will do when entering a new stage is to press the “B” button to activate the camera and look around. Only then, once you have gone “wow, that’s impressive”, will you start playing through it. There are absolutely no blurry textures, no rough edges either. It’s just beautiful. Like I said before, the characters are also a great work of art. The whole game radiates with style, and between this and Okami, it shows that Capcom are capable of some wonderful visuals.
Graphics Rating: 10/10
The music is mainly atmospheric and fits the stages perfectly. However, it fails to be memorable. A couple of songs are a bit more upbeat and much more enjoyable, but I had absolutely no objections at putting the sound all the way down and playing while listening to more stimulating music. Another reason why the game is just as enjoyable when muted is the many annoying yells of the characters. After hearing Zack go for his “YEAH!” taunt for the tenth time in the same level after solving a puzzle, you will be irritated too. Wiki’s “voice” is nothing but unintelligible sounds which is OK with me, but the effect is both childish and repetitive, which also tends to get on people’s nerves after a while. Overall, a couple of good tunes save this category from being abysmal, but this is a game that is just as enjoyable if you play your own CD with the TV sound all the way down.
Sound Rating: 4/10
After a first year made up of shady games trying to use remote-shaking and arm-flapping as a tack-on way to control everything and then call it a Wii game, it looks like developers are finally getting a good idea of what fun controls should be on the platform. Zack and Wiki does not overdo the waggle gimmick, and instead uses it only when it seems natural. In the end, the game still uses all of the controller’s abilities, but uses them wisely.
The main way of controlling the game is by pointing the remote at the screen and pressing “A” to make Zack move there. It works flawlessly, as you can even point to a spot that is three floors above the character, and he will move there automatically by avoiding any obstacles along the way. Of course, he will still fall into traps that you haven’t cleared yet, but that’s the whole point of the game, which is something my brother did not seem to understand.
The other abilities of the remote are used to simulate fishing, twisting keys, sawing through objects, drilling stuff, balancing things and throwing various projectiles. Sawing and fishing are particularly well done, and are easy to get into, to the point where sitting next to a person trying to pull a fish out of the water can become a dangerous situation as your buddy pulls with all his might to get the upper hand. Twisting, balancing and throwing are a bit more sensitive and will sometimes react improperly. Otherwise, it is a stellar performance in this category.
Control Rating: 9/10
Not a whole lot to do once you finished the game once. Some stages have more than one way of being solved, but there are no real incentives in going back. Even if you do find the other way to get to the treasure chest, there are no real rewards. There are secret treasures to find, such as music pieces, images and other unlockable arts, but many of them are found by paying one of your co-Sea Rabbits to go at it while you are busy with your main mission. There’s also a music game included, which is basically your standard rhythm game, but with a bell as your instrument. The only real reason why I have found myself replaying the game is because it really is a lot of fun to challenge your friend to see how far they can go through a stage you already cleared. Up to three other players can guide and help the first player by drawing and pointing on the screen, which can lead to some funny moments as everybody starts to argue with each others and arrows drawn in opposite directions cover the player’s view.
Replayability Rating: 4/10
All in all, this game goes everywhere on the difficulty spectrum: you have puzzles that can easily be solved in about five actions, while you have real brain ticklers that can require up to an hour and a half the first time you play through it (at least in my case). Sure, if you ever play through the game again, even the most difficult puzzles will look obvious, but for the first try, some of them are devilishly hard. Thankfully, the game lets you buy platinum tickets that enable you to restart just at the place where your character died, without having to go through the whole set-up again. My advice is to buy as many as possible and use them wisely. My only complaint is the way the game is layered. You would expect easy stages, with the difficulty slowly increasing over time. However, what you get is an easy stage, one that will make you rip your hair off your head, then two easy ones, then a gauntlet of many difficult stages in succession. It all seems very random, but hey, having a short and sweet stage every once in a while makes for a nice break when your head starts spinning from thinking too hard.
Balance Rating: 8/10
Sure, point-and-click adventures where you get to solve mysteries and puzzles are nothing new, but it’s the first time the concept works so well on a console. In fact, I don’t even think it has been attempted before, but my research on the subject could be wrong, so don’t take my words on this. Anyway, this game fills a void in the console market by exposing it to a genre that used to be a PC exclusive. The whole way the game plays out with animals transforming into tools feels very fresh, and the level design is clever and full of surprises.
Originality Rating: 8/10
This one is a mixed bag. It’s addictive in the sense that once you start a stage, you will not want to stop until you have found the solution. While playing Zack and Wiki, time becomes an afterthought, and a stage you started just before going to sleep because you thought you had time for a last one will make you an hour and a half late on your schedule because getting to the treasure wasn’t so obvious after all. On the other hand, this is not a game that you will play in huge burst. Playing it in long, continuous periods become tedious after a while because it can be mentally exhausting. Instead, you will often finish a difficult level with a great sense of satisfaction, but then turn off the console to relax a little bit because you just can’t take on another one like that.
Addictiveness Rating: 5/10
More people know this game than I actually expected. Would this be the case if it wasn’t for the “Buy Zack and Wiki” campaign? Early players spreading the words about the game’s fun and originality played a huge role in getting its name out, but on its own, I don’t think it would have appealed to as many people. Point-and-click adventures already seem like a niche market on PC, so we can safely think that it would be even more obscure to console gamers, which are used to much different products. Add in the fact that these are new, unknown characters, and the entire concept looks like a gamble on the publisher’s part. Still, the colourful characters and interesting pirate-themed premise could get some parents to pick it up for their children because the cover just looks so damn cute, and anything that has something to do with pirates is pretty hot at the moment. Still, I applaud Capcom for going ahead with a game that tries something different.
Appeal Factor Rating: 5/10
Even though it is not really multiplayer per say, I found the game to be very enjoyable when played with friends. Up to three helpers can join to draw on the screen and point at things you might have missed, giving the game a great interactive feeling. Sometimes, being more than one brain working on some of these puzzles is very useful. It’s a small feature, but the way it works is simple and fun.
I also want to tip my hat to the developers for the superb puzzles that make this game so much fun. Even the hardest ones are logical, and the solution never looks like it came out of nowhere. It is possible to stumble on a solution by pure luck, but even then, you will probably slap your forehead because it looks so obvious afterward.
Finally, I suggest that you all pay attention to the many ways Zack can die or fail. Each one has a different animation, some of which are hilarious. There’s no way you can stay mad after seeing Zack being thrown into your TV screen and slowly slide down.
Miscellaneous Rating: 9/10
Average Rating: 6.7
Final Score: 6.5 (Fair)
Short Attention Span Summary
It’s not a perfect game, but it scores where it counts: it’s really fun! Oh, and it’s beautiful too. It’s a great effort from Capcom, it’s truly original and despite its shortcomings, I still have to recommend it. The game looks like nothing on the outside, but it’s been a while since I have played a game so challenging. Thumbs up!
By the way, I know this is going to seem random, but if you say the sub-title out loud fast enough, it’s going to sound like “Quest for Barbra Streisand”. At least it does with my French accent.