This week on Zero Punctuation, Zack & Wiki and a whole lot of dongs.
Long ago, in the mists of time, when main characters didn't need to have biceps bigger than their faces and when bump mapping was just something cartographers did to their wives, there lived adventure games. This shy, thoughtful tribe was known for its great storytelling tradition, and ruled the great PC Gaming Plains for many years before mysteriously dying out around the onset of the Quake Era. Some blame the aggressive expansion of neighboring first-person shooter tribes, but personally I think it's more to do with the fact that most of them were shit.
Most of your average adventure game experience was spent carting a truckload of miscellaneous knick-knacks around, patiently rubbing them all one by one against everything else in the hope of hopping on to the train of logic unique to the game's designer. For every decent adventure game, like Monkey Island or Grim Fandango, there were five excess-baggage-fests driven by moon logic, funnily enough all designed by Roberta Williams. So the genre popped its unintuitive clogs. Not that adventure game fans have ever been able to accept that. Attempts are constantly made to revive the genre by jumping on its gas-bloated stomach, but this rarely causes more than a feeble squirt of pungent fluids from one of the less wholesome orifices.
Now it's Capcom's turn to take a wholehearted, two-footed bounce on that poor, defiled body with Zack & Wiki, an adventure game for the Wii featuring Western-style point-and-click controls and inventory puzzles. But that's where the internationalism ends; if you find the Japanese offensive, then you'll find this game offensively Japanese. The main characters are a brash youth with no voice and stupid hair and his aggressively cute monkey friend, voiced by some painfully shrill Harpy thing. And the antagonist is a hot, angry girl in a miniskirt. Now all it needs to do is dispense used panties and oppress the Chinese!
Another thing this game doesn't have in common with '90s Western adventures is a connecting storyline, or indeed much of a story at all. Wack & Ziki uses a mission-based format, breaking the adventure gameplay into manageable, bite-sized chunks, plonking down a couple of obstacles between you and a treasure chest and leaning back, folding its arms, waiting to see what you do next. And this is the point where the game shines, because the point where you figure out that you're supposed to put the key in the door, or perturb the angry sloth with the frighteningly large dildo creates the same smugcock, "Ooh, look at me, I didn't have to consult GameFAQs" good feeling that I've always liked about adventure games. And the fact that there are only a handful of inventory items that you use repeatedly, rather than a billion, each with one - und precisely von! - application, removes one of the major things I don't like about adventure games.
But then of course, Zim & Spacky breaks the cardinal sin by making it possible to die. Not just as a result of insistently clicking on a grizzly bear six times; often without warning, as a consequence of simple curiosity, or in some cases just letting your mind wander for a few seconds too long. And if you do die, you have to go buggering right back to the start of the mission, meaning you'll have to repeat all the spastic Wiimote flailing you've had to do to get to where you were.
Which links me neatly to my next paragraph. Once again, the Wii proves itself some kind of patron deity of gimmicky pointless bullshit. Every time you use a tool or item you have to make an equivalent gesture with the Wiimote, but half the time the movement of the onscreen tool bears only rudimentary similarities to the gesture you're expected to make. The one that sticks out in my mind is when I was expected to turn a big, horizontal wheel, and none of the movements that seemed obvious caused the damn thing to budge an inch, so I ended up randomly waving the Wiimote around like it was an uppity bat, trying to find out through trial and error which of the many possible movements the game was thinking of. I would say that I'd have preferred the game to not showcase the Wii's exotic abilities, but I'm pretty sure that was the whole idea.
Come to think of it, Wank & Sticky is a game with a lot of needless attachments, like the fact you can buy hints (totally useless while the Internet still exists) or the practice of awarding points based on how quickly you solved puzzles, which I frequently took personally. But if you complain about unnecessary additions, you're just being a tosser. It's like complaining about, say, a perfectly good hot dog, because the vendor is the Boston Strangler; you can still enjoy the hot dog and just try not to make eye contact. And overall, I enjoyed Zack & Wiki; it's fun and original and has a lot of charm, as long as you can tolerate a slightly childish tone. Which, on reflection, you probably could if you're an average Wii owner, because statistically you're 8 years old.
Oh yes, and some people might find the characters' pseudo-verbal grunts and squeaks a bit annoying after the first few hundred times. I didn't, but my roommate said it was like having his ear canals raped by a man wearing a sandpaper condom. Not in those exact words, obviously.
Very much aware of the hypocrisy, thank you: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
My measure of a good adventure game is one that has that puzzle where you stick a piece of paper under a door and poke the key out of the lock
And Rock Band doesn't come out until May if you can believe that