E3 07: Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure Preview

On my way to the empty seat in front of a PlayStation 3 during a recent Capcom event, I was intercepted by a friendly young PR rep who wanted to show me one of the company's new IPs. "It's ok," I thought to myself. "I'll be here for a couple of hours, plenty of time for Devil May Cry 4." Two seconds later, I was standing in front of an adventure/puzzle game for Wii, laboriously entitled Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure.

From the information I gathered, it appears as though Zack is a budding pirate anxious to show his mettle--not in the sense that he will be swashbuckling his way through legions of enemies, but in that he plans on going down in history as the greatest pirate the world has even known! In order to acquire this celebrated title, Zack and his hovering cohort Wiki must locate a legendary pirate ship by solving numerous puzzles. Each level features puzzle elements to be solved in the correct order that, when unraveled, reward the player with a glimmering chest containing one piece of Barbaros' titular treasure.

If you are like me, the thought of playing another collection of puzzle games on the Wii is about as exciting as watching an Uwe Boll flick, so I was pleased to discover that the puzzles in Zack & Wiki are neither tedious nor simple. Rather than being presented with individual mini-games, the player is free to move Zack around a 3D world and interact with various objects in the vein of a PC-style graphic adventure. Since locating and opening the treasure chest on each level is the ultimate goal, traveling from one point to another is no easy feat! Every level presents Zack with different challenges to impede his progress, ranging from traversing giant gaps and fire traps to finding keys and objects to dealing with unusual enemies.

At the start of each level, you are presented with a quick camera overview which provides a basic idea of what to do. You are then set free to explore the level and figure out how to reach the treasure chest. Several different themes--including jungles, ice castles, and volcanic caves--govern the backdrop for each set of levels, and they becomes progressively harder. Early levels consist of not much more than a few puzzles, such as cutting down trees to create bridges or turning cranks to make statues change shape. However, down the line, the player will have to avoid enemies while figuring out more challenging puzzles that contain multiple steps.

For example, one of the first levels that I encountered consisted of just one large room with tall ceilings in the freezing cold ice castle zone, and I had to figure out how to get through a locked door to grab the treasure. Sounds easy enough. Two large slabs of stone containing giant key molds were in the middle of the room, and a noticeable ray of sun was shining close to the left one. The right key mold looked like it created a blank key shape with no teeth, and the left one looked like it created a regular-looking key. With the Wii's motion controls, I was able to pull a handle that filled the blank mold with water, which subsequently froze solid in the frigid air. What to do next, since I cannot fill the other mold with water? After removing the freshly-made ice blank, it seemed to fit snugly into the other mold. If I could just get the ray of sun to shine on the frozen blank, it would melt, and then refreeze as a useable key. Five seconds later, Zack was holding a frozen key that opened the locked door with ease. Arrrr! The treasure be mine!

One of my favorite puzzles is set in the jungle, and forces the player to use the motion controls in more intricate ways. The initial flyby showed Zack on a small plateau on the left side of the screen, with the treasure chest on a solitary platform in the middle. Dancing around the platform on ground level were several cute native headhunters--the Wind Waker-esque visuals in this game are adorable--ready to attack anyone they didn't know. A large moving wooden basket was strung up between the left and right plateaus, and it passed right by the platform. A Capcom rep told me that the dancers would immediately attack if I tried to move across the platform in plain view, so I had to figure out a way to distract them. To the left of the dancers was a scalawag stirring a gigantic stew pot full of discolored liquid, and every couple of minutes the dancers took a break to fill their bellies. A mushroom was lying at my feet on the upper level, and a giant snake was in a hole on the far left of the screen. At first, this puzzle seemed so overwhelming that I thought my brain was goin' to 'splode.

I decided to follow the advice from one of my favorite movies, "What About Bob?" and take baby steps. Beyond being a glorified hood ornament, my inhuman pal Wiki is able to magically change certain enemies into necessary tools by attacking them--odd, but then again, this whole game is rather strange. I jumped down in the hole with the snake, but it attacked me! Starting over, I tossed the magic mushroom down into the hole first, and the snake fell asleep as soon as he ate it. I took Wiki down into the hole, and shook the Wii remote from side to side, causing Wiki to bitch-slapped the snake, which turned it into an extended grabbing arm. Cool, but what could I do with that? I could only hold one tool at a time, so maybe I could use it to find something else. Spotting a giant wooden spoon beside the native chef, the answer suddenly hit me. Waiting until just after the dancers had a grub session, I snuck down a vine out of the chef's sight, then used the remote to extend the grabbing arm and snatch the wooden spoon from its perch before I scooted back up the vine. After the natives finished masticating once again, I tossed another mushroom down below, scurried down the vine, picked up the mushroom with the giant spoon, and, with motion control, stirred it into the foul stew. Now, it was just a matter of waiting until the tainted brew knocked out all of the natives. Once that happened, I entered the wooden basket and used a cranking motion on the remote to turn the crank that moved me towards the treasure chest. Not only was the puzzle solved, but I also had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

In the end, Zack & Wiki turned out to be much more fun that I had expected. Even when playing Capcom's more heavily hyped Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and Devil May Cry 4 at the same event, I kept thinking about how to solve Zack & Wiki's other puzzles, and how to beat levels faster than before. There may be no ninjas to keelhaul, but the game's focus on challenging the brain more than reflexes is refreshing and enjoyable in a third person adventure, and it is done in visually appealing style. If a puzzle game can appeal this much to an action gamer, then it has the potential to charm just about anyone.