Don't be put off by Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure's unwieldy title - despite some easy to forgive annoyances, this treasure hunting point and click style puzzle game is a joy to behold and, if you're a Wii owner, an absolutely essential purchase.
Unfortunately, because of the ridiculous game title (we know, they're trying to make it sound like a children's cartoon) and its quirky Japanese nature (Zakuuuu!), Zack & Wiki probably won't set the tills alight. Which is a crying shame, because Capcom has treated us to a stellar puzzler with as much charm and sweetness as a sugar coated cel-shaded James Bond.
It's also the best game the Wii has for making proper use of the Wii Remote. As the loading screen says: "Your grip on the Wii Remote is the key." And it's true. In order to solve the game's challenging puzzles you'll need to twist it like it's a key, turn it like it's a crank, push and pull it like it's a saw and generally wave it about in what feels like a hundred other ingenious uses of the Wii's controller. Tacked on Wii controls? Forget it.
While the game has a basic story - aspiring pirate Zack and his trusty sidekick, a golden helicopter monkey called Wiki that can turn into a bell (see what we mean by quirky Japanese?) stumble upon the head of legendary pirate Barbaros, who in exchange for his ship wants you to retrieve his long lost body parts, held in treasure chests dotted about the game world - it's all about the puzzles. Here you have a series of levels; each involves moving Zack & Wiki with the Wii Remote towards the treasure chest in a side-on-view that's semi-3D. Sounds simple eh? Oh no.
Zack & Wiki starts off with fairly simple puzzles, designed to warm you up and teach you how the game works. You'll be shown how to move the pointer around, check stuff out, pick up items, like boxes, sticks and umbrellas and use them with the Wii Remote. It's in these early levels that you'll also learn how to use Wiki, the golden helicopter monkey we mentioned earlier. You can ring Wiki like a bell by shaking the Wii Remote, which, apart from scaring ghosts away from treasure chests, also turns creatures into items and vice versa. Confused? You'll get there.
For example, you might come across a chasm which at first glance looks impassable. But there's a tree nearby and a strange creature minding its own business. Ring Wiki and the creature suddenly turns into a saw, with which you can chop down the tree to form a bridge. Cue an Einstein-style Eureka! moment - you'll have a lot of those.
It gets a lot more complicated than that of course. Some levels pose puzzles thinking-man's pin-up Carol Vorderman herself would need longer then 30 seconds to unravel. One of the jungle levels sees you trying to get to the treasure chest without being spotted by hungry cannibals. It took me a good while to work out that I needed to pop a mushroom into their food and send them to sleep, leaving the path clear to another piece of Barbaros' body.
In most cases you'll initially be baffled by the apparent complexity of a given level, but eventually, with a little time, you'll start to unravel a path to completion and think "how could I have been so stupid?" In one ice level you'll need to create a key using water and two lion heads. When you finally work it out you'll smile, probably laugh at your stupidity and take great pleasure in everything falling into place.
If you do get stuck you can call upon the Hint Oracle, who in exchange for items you've purchased back at pirate base will give you a clue. Using hints, or reviving instead of starting a level over, will reduce your overall score, or HirameQs (rolls right off the tongue, eh?) - like a grade on your speed, skill and overall imaginative power. Working your way through the story, going for the highest HirameQ and increasing your pirate title is what Zack & Wiki is all about, and, essentially, it's brilliant fun.
If the game has one flaw it's that it can sometimes feel like battering a door down with a little stick - or a case of trial and error-itis. Almost every level carries some threat of capture or hilarious death for Zack, be it at the hands of a King Kong-style ape, a cleaning-obsessed sweeping robot or an ice-breathing lion. It's almost inevitable that you'll die trying to work out what you're supposed to do on some of the later levels. You'll restart or revive, avoid that mistake, inch a little closer to completion then die again. Dying can be frustrating, but with a game this cute you won't be able to stay mad for long.
Zack & Wiki's replayability and length are a bit of a concern too. It's not an overly long game and, without any online or multiplayer options to speak of, might seem pricey at £34.99. But the game is worth its weight in gold when played co-op - trying to solve the game's puzzles with two heads is, as they always say, better than one.
With wonderfully varied levels, colourful, cel-shaded graphics and mind-bending puzzles that'll have you working those little grey cells into the ground, Zack & Wiki triumphantly makes its debut on Nintendo's Wii, the only console it could have appeared on. You won't see it on the PS3 or the Xbox 360 that's for sure. Dare I say it? Zack & Wiki might just be my favourite game on the console.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- Super-cute cel-shaded graphics
- Inspired puzzles
- Brilliant use of the Wii Remote
- Can sometimes feel a bit like trial and error