Version tested: Wii
Two words strike fear and loathing into my heart in the world of gaming: light puzzle. Just like some people can't read maps (like me), and some can't roll their tongues (can't do that either, actually), I absolutely, completely cannot fathom light puzzles. My brain is completely incapable of processing such esoteric concepts as angles of reflection, and every single time a light puzzle crops up in a game I'm reduced to a helpless, gibbering mess in front of my television whilst my brain tries to escape my head from sheer embarrassment at my complete and utter spatial incompetence. Usually I have to call someone up and get them to come over and do it for me. It's terrible.
I admit this to you because Zack & Wiki has a light puzzle quite early on in the game, and I had to go through this entire mortifying charade before I could progress. I've hi-jacked airships with ease in this game, figured out fiendish item-based puzzles on the first attempt, pieced together complex machinery, fooled big scary monsters, tamed baby dragons and used a Wiimote in more ways that I thought it was capable of - but present me with anything involving mirrors and the strategic placement thereof, and I'm as hopeless as someone's dad trying to play Guitar Hero at Christmas. While pissed.
Zack & Wiki follows a long tradition of excellent pirate-themed adventure games, and a not-so-long tradition of fantastically intuitive Wii games. It resurrects the point-and-click adventure in a modern, universally appealing, tactile new form, divided up into non-threatening chunks of gently demanding to outright fiendish item-based puzzle-solving. You take control of wannabe pirate Zack and his monkey companion Wiki in a hunt for the 21 bits of treasure (plus plenty more secret bits) that comprise the legendary pirate Barbaros. It combines baffling variety in its puzzles with gorgeous visuals, and along with MySims and Trauma Centre, it's a compelling reason to own a Wii for those of us who are completely sick of mini-games and ports.
The bright, clean visual style is reminiscent of One Piece - not just in its cartoonishness and happy buccaneering theme, but also in its slapstick visual humour. It's funny and likeable, especially during its comedy death sequences, which see Zack squished by giant rocks, impaled on spikes and burned to a crisp by angry mother dragons. This is actually the prettiest game I've yet seen on the Wii, except perhaps Mario Galaxy; like Wind Waker, it encompasses everything in its style so that the entire game look consistent and beautifully well-designed.
Zack & Wiki divides its world up into separate little puzzle scenarios, which can take anything from ten minutes to an hour or two depending on how fast you figure them out. They range from ridiculous to perilous, enjoyable to absolutely inspired, and gloriously, they barely ever repeat themselves - each scenario is unique, and finds a new way to unlock the instinctual fun at the heart of the Wii control system. In one, you're playing tennis with fireballs in order to get an elaborate, self-constructed see-saw system to operate - in the next, you're feeling around inside magic paintings with the Wiimote to grab helpful items from within.
The whole basis of Zack & Wiki is the use of shiny, shiny items. They're the key to every puzzle, and the source of many of its genius moments. Each scenario is full of contraptions, levers and cranks, all of which are Wiimote-operated - sometimes it's as simple as pulling down on a lever or turning a key in a lock, but more often you'll be twisting pieces around to fit into the mould of a giant key or complex machine, or pouring out measurements from beakers to make a potion.
On top of that, most living things - snakes, bats, moles, boars, evil pirate goons - can be turned into items by ringing Zack's bell with a shake of the nunchuck. At first the problems are simple - itemise a centipede to get a saw, use it to saw down an obstacle with a little Wiimote enthusiasm, bask in your incredible cleverness - but later on in the game, turning creatures into items and back into creatures again at appropriate times form the basis of Zack & Wiki's most fiendish puzzles.