Monday, February 4, 2008

Column for Feb. 2, 2007

This week's column written by Star Sports Copy Editor John Dietrich.

The makers of Capcom's "Zack & Wiki" don't respect you.

At least not yet.

If you want their respect, you'd better prove that your gaming skills extend beyond button mashing, hand-eye coordination and combat strategy. You'd better stretch your brain out because "Zack & Wiki" will totally twist it.

'Z&W' is a point-and-click puzzler with a bunch of party-game Wii-motions — such as sawing logs, turning cranks, etc. — thrown in. The story starts with you (playing the role of Zack) wanting to be the world's greatest pirate. You and your enchanted monkey friend, Wiki, get shot down on an island and stumble upon the enchanted remains of Barbaros, a legendary pirate who's now a ghost. He makes a deal with you: Recover his remains and he'll give you his legendary ship.

The best thing about 'Z&W' is that it's so different from almost everything out there. Most of the puzzles involve about eight or nine steps, but the game's guiding hand is very light. It rarely points you in any direction and takes about two "A-Ha!" moments per puzzle.

All the usual stuff that good video games do well — graphics, sounds, music, etc. — is all done well. However, everything is very, very … childlike. This is a game small children would love looking at or watching you play because it's very colorful, loud and happy.

You will feel like a child, and that does impede the game's fu factor. This game is all about pushing yourself and working your brain in ways that most video games avoid.

Some of the early puzzles are designed to see if you'll cut it. In one, the key moment is realizing you can drop something somewhere (even though that didn't work the first time I tried it), so your sense of pride in figuring it out isn't that high. Once you get past the first few puzzles, though, the programmers figure you can handle it and let you really think outside the box. Then you get your ego rush.

Speaking of those programmers, their voice is easily represented by Wiki, who's also among my favorite video game characters ever. He's a magical flying golden monkey ('nuff said) who acts as your primary tool. He'll turn into a bell to transform objects which are essential to solving the puzzles.

The best thing about him, though, is that he's a smart aleck (to put it politely). He'll comment on your predicaments ("Gee, Zack, you sure are rushing to the ground pretty quickly") then giggle about it. Being that he's magical and all, he knows he's in no danger ("You better figure out something, Zack, or you'll be pizza. It's a shame you can't fly like me").

He might annoy many gamers, but his tongue-in-cheek comments and useless advice cracked me up. I could totally envision one of the game's programmers perched on my shoulder, making the comments as I tried to avoid the tribe of pirate-eating natives.

In short, this game is very good, not great. Four out of five buttons.

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