Genres don't really come and go, but the adventure game has struggled to regain relevance for years. Once common-place (for computer gamers and some NES owners with Maniac Mansion), the genre eventually dwindled to a cult-following while only select titles like Myst enjoyed limelight. With the casual gaming craze, they've made a comeback, and because of the Wii, they're going to be featured on consoles again.
Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros's Treasure is a title designed just for the Wii, and it shows in the ingenious controls. Its kid-friendly Japanese aesthetics hide a decidedly Western-style, old-school adventure game, and a damn fine one at that. Despite this, young'uns may be turned off, since it's unapologetically retro at times, and it's going to give any adult plenty to ponder.
Its kid-friendly Japanese aesthetics hide a decidedly Western-style, old-school adventure game, and a damn fine one at that.
In true brain-teaser fashion, Quest For Barbaros's Treasure pits the player against dozens of well-crafted puzzles (broken up into stages), which must be solved by completing a series of events. You're not given a list of instructions; otherwise, this wouldn't be an adventure. Rather, you'll use the same tools that get you through everyday life: a monkey that turns into a bell (who doesn't have one?), your eyes, and your brain. Oh, and your hands.
The aforementioned Wii controls aren't victimized by the Remote's limitations, instead playing to its strengths. There's a point where you'll be holding an umbrella in-game; flipping the remote makes Zack turn it over, so it can be used like a hook. Discarded puzzle pieces are lifted, rotated, and placed with logical Remote use, and you can shake that monkey bell like crazy just by waving the controller around. You'll only face truly difficult times when you can't figure out what to do, and normally, it won't be the Wii Remote's fault.
That functionality places Quest For Barbaros's Treasure firmly in the present, but its old-school traits are occasionally merciless. Unlike a lot of today's titles (popular adventures included), it doesn't hold your hand. Completing things out of order or bothering beasties can result in a “Game Over” screen; you won't always get away with a little wrist slap. This will frustrate those used to easier experiences, though it also flaunts the title's retro nature with abundant and unique death sequences. Zack can be squished, frozen, cooked, eaten, and otherwise defeated in various ways. That gives fun-loving sadists reason to play through a second time: to watch all those scenes.
You won't want to see them on your first run, as there aren't any mid-stage checkpoints. However, you can purchase extra lives that let you resume pre-failure. Hint tickets can be bought in the same store, and those options make Zack & Wiki a smidgen kinder than its brethren from twenty-ish years ago. Nonetheless, it's not a cakewalk. While child appropriate, parents will want to prepare for a challenging experience as they play alongside their kids. (This is one of those titles that wasn't made as a “kids' game;” it simply happens to be suitable for all audiences.)
You'll probably enjoy the storyline too, which tells enough to define the characters' likable personalities, but never drones on and on. Though the puzzles are the true star of the show (as they should be), the brightly-colored world surrounding Zack & Wiki is respectably robust. You're a young treasure hunter who was taken in by a clan of good-hearted rabbit pirates, and since that line should've been enough to sell you, play it to find out the rest.
Since Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros's Treasure has sold over 300,000 copies to date, it's done well for a third-party Wii title. It deserves that success as much as you owe yourself a crack at its puzzles. By testing your brain rather than your brawn, it stands out against the too-common controller-wagglers. If you think you're ready for that, and its sometimes punishing difficulty, be forewarned: The refined execution and overall originality might spoil you, leaving you pining for the hopefully inevitable Zack & Wiki 2.