Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure
What happened to videogames that made you think? Sure you get the occasional brain buster – Portal was a wonderful breath of fresh air in a year stuffed full of shooters. But we seem to be at a point in time where blowing something into a million pieces with nothing but a gun already in hand, is more often than not the correct solution. The space for creative thinking has been dulled and given to us in such concentrated doses that any kind of challenge is met with groans. The majority of videogames in one way or another rely on the player moving from point A to point B, and as we’ve hit the current generation of consoles, this route has become all too predictable and unexciting. It’s debatable that the ‘death’ of point and click puzzle adventures – or its long lasting coma since the ‘90s – has attributed to our current situation. A genre that was the bastion of thinking for yourself and revelling in a good old fashioned ‘challenge’ – a word that may be lost in the videogame industry these days.
Meet Zack & Wiki: the former, a generically spiky haired would-be pirate, and the latter, a flying golden monkey and part time bell. After a skirmish with some renegade pirates, the twosome crash land on a seemingly deserted island until they come across a treasure chest containing Barbaros – or at least one part of him anyway. The remaining pieces have been scattered across the game world and he tasks Zack & Wiki with finding the rest of himself. It’s your typical pirates and secret treasure-esque storyline and one that doesn’t really do much other than to leave the player to their own devices. The two main protagonists are hardly the next videogame personalities, and compared to the likes of Jak and Daxter, they won’t be setting the industry alight with future spin off titles. But they do carry enough colour and charm to be likeable.
And it’s the game’s charm that makes this adventure such a welcome addition to the current generation. The character models are delightfully vibrant, the levels and stages themselves are always brimming with activity, and while the voice work is stocked full of cheese, it’s a nice break from beefed up marines in dire need of a strepsil. Technically, it’s hardly a tour de force, but it’s a testament to what good quirky art design, level variety and upbeat sound can do for a game lacking in polygonal muscle. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything that looks quite like Zack & Wiki on the current market, anyhow.
There isn’t much to Zack & Wiki – each level is one giant puzzle with the odd mini puzzle within itself here and there, and it’s up to players to figure out what to do with the items at hand and the environment around you. What sets it apart is its complete and total reliance on the Nintendo Wii’s motion sensing control – something that has been somewhat of a gimmick in most third party Wii titles. Moving your plucky hero, or operating instruments are all done with the point and shake of the controller. In the way it must have felt for our earliest ancestors discovering how to use tools, paving way for the dawn of man, learning and mastering the correct hand gestures to get your utensils functioning must be equally as satisfying – and may produce similar, ape-like grunts of accomplishment, much to the bemusement of anyone that happens to be passing your bedroom door at the time. For the most part, it’s all very accurate and it is this kind of implementation of the motion sensing controls, that gamers all around the world had been fathoming when the Wii was first displayed to the public. Zack & Wiki is truly an example of a videogame that could not be accomplished anywhere else.
Trial and error is definitely something players will need to come to terms with if they are to get through the game without any popped blood vessels. Some puzzles and stages are fiendishly difficult and obscure, and while players can take advantage of hints at the cost of the in-game currency, some of the pre-rendered deaths can at times seem cheap and unfair. However, the jubilation at finally conquering a certain point in a level is exactly the kind of ecstasy this genre produces in spades – and while you’ll repeatedly smack yourself in the face for being so seemingly stupid, it’s a feeling that you won’t soon grow tired of.
If Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure leaves any lasting legacy once the dust has well and truly settled, it’s that there is a need for something different. That simplicity and charm go a very long way in this industry clouded by games boasting hyperrealism. This ‘legacy’ may just be a small splash in a very big ocean, due to poor advertisement and an irrational sense of unease towards cute puzzle adventures, (the game’s title is hardly appealing in itself). But it’s a splash worth noticing.