You know those kinds of reality talent shows that involve a whole bunch of contestants/ candidates/ hopefuls/ delete as applicable all aiming for the same once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the end of the competition? Not American Idol (or The X Factor US, destroying your higher brain functions in Autumn 2011), because it’s always their dream to be on those, isn’t it? No, I mean programs like America’s Next Top Model, The Apprentice or anything slightly terrifying that involves having a date with a dude with a clock around his neck (I don’t pay a lot of attention to MTV). We’re talking about programs that put regular people who feel like they have a dream into tense situations that force some of them to realize that this path just isn’t for them, thus leaving the remaining contestants who truly belonged in the competition to flourish. (Still following? Good.)
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure is not one of those contestants that pulls out early of a race. It’s not one of those hopefuls that realizes it doesn’t belong, because Zack & Wiki is a very unique game, a game that perhaps could only have seen the light of day on Wii. While we’ve talked about how the game failed to reach the right market, even on a console that seemed ideally suited, I think that Wii is still the true and destined home of such a classic gem as this piratical puzzling adventure.
It must have seemed a maddeningly bizarre concept to base a game on. A little boy pirate, part of a crew exclusively made up of rabbits, seeks out treasure in perilous situations with only the support of his magical pet monkey who can turn fearsome creatures into convenient tools. Very few things before or since have seemed quite so off the wall in the world of video games, perhaps with the exclusion of the uber-trippy Doshin the Giant for the ill-fated Nintendo 64DD, and from the very outset the game seemed to instill skepticism in gamers. The Nintendo IGN team started a “Buy Zack & Wiki” campaign, and critics largely applauded this devilishly difficult but incredibly pleasurable cartoon romp that seemed to put off many potential players.
The game didn’t sell particularly well. The art style was blamed for alienating mature gamers (gamers prefer guns; who would have thought?) and a thoroughly absent advertising campaign forced the game into the bowels of video game history as an intriguing yet baffling footnote. To this day, I’ve yet to be so frustrated by a game that appeared so engaging at first yet proved mercilessly difficult whenever you put a foot wrong. I’m not sure how many players returned their copies after Wiki floated across the screen wailing “Zacku!!” in his high pitched squeal after the player’s four hundredth horrific and brutal death.
In 2008, Capcom shot down rumors of a Zack & Wiki sequel happening any time in the near future, perhaps signaling an end to this promising and quirky franchise. But would the game have fared better on any other console? Sure, Zack & Wiki could have been feasible on any home console, especially with the advent of Kinect and PlayStation Move, but perhaps Wii was the only home for such a creative and abstract game as this. Was the hardcore experience wrapped up in a candy colored shell of inclusion? Perhaps, or perhaps we’ll never know. For now all we can say is: Zack & Wiki, only on Wii.