Capcom's "Zack and Wiki" unfolds like an adventure game, which it is. But it's also a giant, hugely satisfying puzzle.
By contributor
updated 11/12/2007 2:11:51 PM ET 2007-11-12T19:11:51

“Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure” should come with the following warning label: “Caution: contents are extremely addictive.” This game will give you ecstatic highs and frustrating lows — and leave you begging for more.

Capcom designed this E-rated game to utilize the Nintendo Wii’s innovative controllers to the fullest, and it shows. Plus, “Zack and Wiki” retails for only $39.99 (about 10 bucks cheaper than many new Wii titles) making this a must-own bargain for all fans of the console.

Zack is a boy pirate who dreams of being the world’s greatest buccaneer, and Wiki is his flying monkey sidekick. Together, they’re on a mission to find the golden remains of the legendary pirate Barbaros that are scattered throughout the game. If they can piece the old guy together again, Zack will be awarded with a fearsome pirate ship.

The storyline — with its great locales — sets the game up to unfold like a classic action/adventure, “Zack and Wiki” is really a giant puzzle in disguise. Playing it will remind gamers of Nintendo’s famous “Zelda” series, especially the cartoony style that’s eerily similar to “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.”

Each stage tempts you with a treasure chest, and dares you to take it. Unfortunately, it’s never as easy as simply walking up and opening the lid. The levels are booby-trapped, and if you want to survive you’ll need to do some serious planning, maneuvering and problem-solving.

Instead of directly moving Zack and Wiki, you’ll guide them through the levels using the Wii’s remote. All you need to do is point and click, and they’ll head to that location. It’s a very intuitive system, with a cursor that changes color whenever it crosses something onscreen that you can interact with. It’s these interactions where the game and its Wii-specific design shines.

For instance, you can slip any switch by holding the remote upright and swinging it. You can also ring Wiki like a hand bell by holding the remote upright and shaking it, just like you would a real bell. There are a few exceptions where game control isn’t quite this obvious, but on the whole, the game is very instinctive.

Like Wiki, you can transform every animal you encounter in the game into a secondary object just by standing near them and ringing the bell. Snakes become tongs for grabbing; centipedes become saws. Figuring out how to use each animal, whether its transformed or not, is key to making it through each level.

Another key is to make sure you explore the landscape entirely. Check out every rock, vase and statue because they may reveal secrets or reward you with coins –and what good pirate doesn’t enjoy finding gold! Back at your hideout you can use these coins to buy oracle dolls and platinum tickets. The dolls can be traded in-game for hints to solve each stage, while the tickets can be used to revive you, starting you again in the spot immediately before your untimely death. If you’re out of tickets you’ll need to start over at the beginning of the level, and unless you’re a true puzzle master, chances are you’ll be restarting often.

There’s no shame in that, though, becausestarting over reveals one of the sheer joys of the game: the randomly changing puzzle. Some levels will change certain details, like the placement of obstacles, while remaining fundamentally the same, resulting in a whole new problem to solve. Other levels offer more than one solution to its puzzle, making the “Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure” a completionist’s dream.

While finally making it through a heavily booby-trapped stage can feel truly rewarding, even after a second go-round, there is one area of game that will leave you less than satisfied: the multi-player function. Up to four players can “play” at once, but only one controls the action. All the other three can do is use their remotes to circle areas of interest on the screen that they feel should be explored by the first player. Gee, thanks. You might as well just have the other people in the room simply shout “hey, look around that tree.” They’re going to do it anyway, with or without a digital crayon.

But that’s a small detail to fret about. Overall, “Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure” is a bright spot in the already shiny Nintendo Wii lineup. Try it once and you might just find yourself hooked, too.

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