Zack and Wiki
"My body parts also double as splendid items, though I'm the only one who can use them." - Barbaros, a chatty disembodied skull
Zack! Wiki! The golden floating skull of the Ghost Pirate Barbaros needs you to find and re-assemble his scattered body parts for a huge reward! What could go wrong? The only thing more fun than digging up a corpse is digging up bits of a corpse, then explaining to the police that the skull said it was OK. Despite these piratical and necromantic themes, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, Capcom's delighful new puzzle game for the Wii is suitable for both children and adults, and a system seller. This game takes advantage of the Wii's hidden potential so much that it's almost indecent. Take it easy, Capcom, you're a third party publisher. Release a shoddy port or two, pace yourself.
At first, the game seems too adorable to have much meat on its bones. The cutesy characters are too Dragon Ballsy, perhaps a bit Pokemanly. At least those cartoons have voice acting, though. Like all too many Japanese games, Zack and Wiki speak in cute but perplexing noises accompanied by English text. I get the impression they didn't try too hard to localize the game. For example, you need to avoid "angry" enemies. This is indicated by that anime symbol that looks like the intersection of four squares. You know that thing. I'm sure it has a name but I don't care. Here in the West, we depict anger with flames and steam, and our eyes are trained to easily identify those symbols, as opposed to some "cruciform throbbing vein" above a character's head. Yes, I looked it up but I still don't care.
Another hurdle was that the first few levels contain puzzles like, "I have a key, a locked door, and a magical monkey that makes noise. Now what?" (Hint: there's a reason locksmiths don't carry around a set of magic noise monkeys.) However, the difficulty soon ramps up enough to provide a decent challenge and even the occasional "aha!" moment. Once it gets going, the game resembles classic puzzlers like Gobliiins or The Lost Vikings, with a handful of solid challenges per level, a manageable number of items, and lessons learned from your own death sequences. Yes, you can die, and there are no quick saves or checkpoints. The game offers a few chances to rewind time to just before death, but they don't rewind far enough to correct serious mistakes, and it's a waste of hard-earned gold. Any self-respecting pirate saves the booty for a bootyless day. Remember, hoard like you mean it, steal like it's yours, and the only letters in the alphabet are "R" and "X."
As a Wii game, Zack and Wiki is legally required to make you flail around like a semaphore signaler licking a light socket. To use any object, simply hold the Wiimote like that object and pretend to flip switches, saw logs, turn keys, pour water, and many other surprisingly clever actions. However, every simple, repeated action defaults to good old wrist-healthy point and click gestures. Zack and Wiki is the rare Wii game that has just enough motion control. Initially it feels a bit awkward, but then I started using broad, emphatic gestures, which fits well with the game's cartoony look. Waving the Wiimote turns Wiki into a bell, and makes the Wiimote itself ring out and vibrate. I reached a whole new type of "aha!" moment when I realized that I wasn't thinking, "wave controller to use bell." I was just thinking "use bell." Eventually I got so good that I stopped thinking completely, and then I took a nap.
I'm an adventure game lover. (Meaning that I love adventure games, and also that I make love by combining inventory items.) We loyal few know that adventure games didn't die, they just evolved, and now sometimes they look like puzzle games or platformers. Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk pushed the genre forward by exploiting the touch screen of the Nintendo DS. Zack and Wiki gets much, much touchier, without ever turning gimmicky. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come for the Wii. I want a Nintendo game where on the inevitable lava level, I actually get dehydrated and smell burning hair.