Capcom gets double-extra-super bonus points for this one. Not only is Zack & Wiki one of the rare games made specifically for the Wii (rather than, you know, a cheap port), Capcom is continuing its stealthy campaign of taking the adventure genre to new and interesting places. Consider us sold.
As soon as Nintendo came up with the Wii, it was pretty evident that the long-neglected point-and-click adventure was a genre that stood to benefit from the Wii's control system - and so it has proven in this delightful, brain-teasing, puzzle-strewn title.
Previously revealed at Capcom's Gamer's Day back in April as Project Treasure Island Z, it definitely looked 'alright' at the time, but wasn't wowing anyone, put it that way. With most of us caught up with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and Devil May Cry 4, it simply wasn't the right kind of environment to debut such an unusual title. Sure, the quirky cartoon visuals and a slick art style marked it out as a title to keep an eye on, but no-one had a chance to play more than the exceptionally basic opening tutorial stage. With no more than a fleeting grasp of the control mechanics, we knew we'd have to revisit this another time.
Fast forward three months and Capcom was understandably keen for us to see the game in an environment more suited to the game's trial-and-error requirements. Armed with a near-complete build, we had had a chance to take our time over four of the game's early sections, which left us in no doubt that Capcom has a title of immense quality - and happy to find a game that uses the Wii controllers in new and interesting ways.
As the name of the game adequately spells out, the two characters at the heart of the adventure are Zack and Wiki - the former being yet another of gaming's wannabe pirates (someone call Ron Gilbert), and the latter being his pet monkey (look behind you!). And, brace yourself, they're on a quest to get hold of Barbaros' treasure - Barbaros just so happening to be a dead pirate that you need to resurrect in order to get hold of said riches. Piece by piece, as you discover various parts of his body, more treasure becomes available to you and the story progresses in semi-linear fashion.
From what we saw, the game is essentially a third-person action-adventure with a difference - innovative and unique use of the Wii remote and Nunchuk. Broken down into a series of self-contained little quests, you have several available to you at any one time via the archetypal mission-selection map. Within each of these are a sequence of missions which collectively contribute to your overarching goal of finding more body parts - but as contrasting as the scenarios are on the surface, there's a common theme within each: to manipulate the environment any which way you can to get somewhere seemingly inaccessible.
For example, the very beginning of the game puts you in an aircraft. You can move around by basically pointing on which part you want to walk to and clicking like any normal adventure. If you want to interact with an object, your pointer icon turns pink to indicate it's something you can use or look at, and you quickly find your way out by simply pulling a lever to open an escape hatch.
Soon afterwards you'll be falling to your doom, with disaster averted by finding and opening an umbrella to enable you to parachute safely down. Each of these small actions in the game requires a degree of real-life mimicry with the Wii remote, so you might utilise Wiki's bell by 'ringing' the remote. This, in turn, petrifies a creature which can be used as a makeshift saw that you need in order to chop a tree down that's blocking your path; as you might expect, making a little sawing action does the trick, and then you can continue on your way. As basic as this all sounds, it's an example of the logical train of thought it requires from you - but don't worry, because it soon ramps up to providing more engaging, ambitious and involving puzzling.
The first one we played which gave a true indication of what the game's trying to do was set in the confines of an icy temple. With a locked door barring progress, the plan, it seemed, was to build an ice key by manipulating a contraption which poured water out on one side, and froze the water on another side. So, with much trial and error, the realisation dawned on not only how to make a basic key, but how to melt the frozen one so it spilled into the shape you require. With all the clues and tools packed into a single location, eventually everything fell into place and allowed us to make a correctly shaped key and access the treasure chest in the next room - but not before twisting the key around the right way and inserting it as you might expect.
Fishing for clues
Another location required a similar degree of common sense and lateral thought. You're trying to gain access to a locked door, as per usual, but to get there involves catching a gigantic fish and meddling with the water levels so you can swim into the correct sequence of tunnels. Needless to say, finding the right bait, hooking it on, casting the line and hauling the fish out requires the sort of interactive approach we've seen in other Wii titles, but in a context that doesn't just spoon-feed you the solution.
Practically everything you do in Zak & Wiki requires you to take the time to figure things out on your own, but nothing we came across felt stupidly illogical or obscure. With a little patience, some audience participation and some experimentation things slowly come together. And if that doesn't help, then you can spend a few coins and get the game's Oracle to help you out and point you in the right direction. With built-in hints helping to eliminate the inevitable frustration factor, it's a game that should build up a broad appeal - potentially helping to introduce a whole new audience to adventure-style games.
Interestingly, although the cute cartoon visuals are among the most attractive seen on the Wii, there's a a very deliberate old-school Nintendo vibe about the design ethos, with text-based interactions and gurgly noises between characters rather than voice-overs. The humour and character style has a very early-'90s Japanese sensibility to it: childish, but with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek. It's a game that you might not initially think you'd warm to, but there's a twinkle in its eye that's hard to resist once it gets going.
What we've seen so far admittedly only scratches the surface of what the game has to offer, but the 90 minutes we played and watched it left us in no doubt that Capcom knows what it's doing. Reminiscent of the quirky spirit of adventure it infused into titles like Gregory Horror Show and Phoenix Wright, yet again it looks to be taking the genre into unexpected places. And with the Wii looking capable of becoming the most successful console of this generation, could we be about witness the first mainstream adventure success for a decade? Check back soon for our full review in the run-up to the game's release later this year.