A Pirate and a Monkey

My middle son used some of his Christmas dough to purchase Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros Treasure for the Nintendo Wii. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been solving some puzzles and enjoying the game’s humorous moments. It wouldn’t be that special of a game if it had been an action-platform game or some kind of role-playing title, but because it’s carrying the flag for a long lost genre, it really stands out.

Zack & Wiki is a point and click adventure game in the mold of LucasArts greats like Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion. Using the Wii remote as a pointing device, you tell Zack where to move onscreen. Wiki, his monkey sidekick, helps you out with small hints and by turning into a bell. When you ring that bell, you can turn animals and other creatures into tools that help you solve puzzles. Zack can only carry one tool at a time, and when he uses them, you perform their motion with the Wii remote. A centipede becomes a Centi-saw. A frog turns into a time bomb. Snakes become a grabber allowing you to reach things you couldn’t otherwise get to.

It’s classic adventure game interaction, and it’s really well-designed. The puzzles reward you with HirameQ points and you get more or less points depending on the amount of actions you perform before you figure out the right one. If you get it correct the first time, you’ll get the max points, thus making it really important to consider everything before trying something. The game is also gorgeous to look at, featuring a lot of personality in the characters and locations, but the best part is the motion controls. It’s one thing to solve puzzles by clicking on an object while holding another and having the game show you solving the puzzle. It’s another entirely to build a key out of ice and then insert and turn it using real-world actions that match the onscreen motions. It’s satisfying in an entirely new way than we’ve ever gotten in the point-and-click adventure genre. It also takes advantage of the Wii’s four-player functionality by allowing other people in the room to point at things to help the person in control.

Zack & Wiki

This is one more notable game that takes an old PC genre and updates it to modern standards that you can find on a Nintendo platform. Without Advance Wars hitting the Game Boy Advance and starting a resurgence of turn-based strategy gaming, where would that genre be now? As it stands, turn-based strategy has really flourished on handhelds and home console since. Capcom has done their part for adventure gaming where Nintendo did theirs for turn-based strategy. In addition to Zack & Wiki, the Phoenix Wright games have added their own unique twists to the adventure genre. Nintendo got in the act with Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory on the DS, too.

 What do all these games have in common? They come from Japan, where gameplay always seems to be king over graphics and the realism that seems to dominate western game designs. Sure, there are pockets of turn-based strategy here, and some folks still make adventure games, but none of the major wester publishers is putting those kinds of titles on home consoles, portables or even the PC for the most part. That’s despite the fact that these games seem to do pretty decent business at the retail counters. I suppose it’s not spectacular enough to warrant shifting some resources to these types of games, but it should be.

After the inundation of gaming with shooter after shooter in 2007, it’s really time to get outside that particular box, especially for western publishers who seem to be having a hard time doing so. More titles like Zack & Wiki would really be welcome and I can definitely recommend that you get the game for the Wii if you have the system to play it on. It’s one of the highlights of last year and well worth your time.

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