Since we’re taking a casual look at casual gaming this week, I casually sauntered over to my game collection to casually peruse all of the casual titles I own. Had enough casual yet? Well, how about a game that looks casual and yet isn’t. I am, of course, referring to the horribly under-appreciated Zack & Wiki: The Quest For Barbaros’ Treasure.
The adventure game genre has long been the refuge of casual gamers. Since computer gaming birthed the genre with such stellar examples as Zork (“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.”) and the King’s Quest series (“Take everything that isn’t nailed down or too heavy.”), it seemed that casual gamers ate up these pieces of interactive fiction. Oh sure, there are difficult parts of adventure games, but what is easier to understand than a story that you are a part of? Sort of like one of those “choose-your-own-adventure” novels, only on a computer.
But as alluded to the last time I came within 20 feet of this topic, yesterday’s casuals birthed today’s hardcore. Those business men and housewives of yesteryear grew tired of playing those newfangled PC games and gave their old computers to their kids– kids who may not have been huge fans of adventure games. For one reason of another, one of the most dominant genres in gaming quietly faded into the background. Why play an on-rails adventure game like King’s Quest or the Kyrandia series when you could take control of actual characters and buff them up any way you wanted to in RPGs such as Ultima or Final Fantasy?
Wii, however, has been a godsend for the genre (along with DS), reinvigorating old classics (Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templar), providing new sequels (Tales of Monkey Island series), and bringing new classics to the genre (Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People series). You’ll notice that I didn’t mention one should-be classic that isn’t: Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. In a field where the adventure game can flourish, which is also the refuge of cutesy characters, there’s only one reason I can think of why Zack & Wiki could fail: Poor controls.
If you’ll remember my dialogue earlier, one of the selling points of adventures games is their ease of immersion. Point-and-click is a great mode of control for someone who doesn’t want to learn how to use a bunch of buttons. And Zack & Wiki follows this convention, with one minor flaw. The game requires motion controls for using the items you pick up. It’s a pretty standard solution for many games on Wii, and one that has been successfully implemented in hundreds of casual games.
For some reason, though, occasionally a motion control section is introduced that just didn’t control fluidly. It’s a small complaint that most gamers would ignore, but it’s also an integral part of the gameplay and creates a threshold that casuals will not cross. Case-in-point: when I first had the game I let my family try it out. The consensus from those people I love who do not regularly game was that the game was too hard. These are the same people who first introduced me to King’s Quest.
In my opinion, this is the entire reason that Zack & Wiki didn’t succeed. Oh, you can blame poor marketing, lack of customer awareness and whatever else you want to, and they definitely contributed. When it comes down to it, though, this was a game that was casual in conception and hardcore in execution, and no amount of marketing would fix that. I do wish it had sold better though, as a second game in the series would totally nail it.