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Do complex games face an uncertain future on the Wii?


During its first four days on sale in the US, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure sold approximately 30,000 copies. A week later, it had added 15,000 to that total. Hardly breathtaking figures in a nation with over 3.7 million Wiis in its bedrooms and living rooms, and the game also struggled to leave a mark in its homeland, where it is known as Takarajima Z: Barbaros no Hihou. There's no doubt about it: Capcom's splendid piratey adventure has, as much as it saddens us, flopped.

On the face of it, the game's commercial failure might seem odd. After all, Zack & Wiki earned eye-catching scores from a number of reviewers, while IGN's Matt Casamassina loved it so much, he frothed and raved about it non-stop for four months, before slapping a 90% on it come review time. Its bright, attractive visuals, cute character design, and puzzley action were seemingly the perfect ingredients for massmarket appeal. Ultimately however, it sank faster than a holed galleon.


With the glorious benefit of hindsight, numerous factors could explain the consumer apathy that faces Zack & Wiki. It might well be the lack of marketing power behind the game. It may be that everybody has been saving their pennies for Super Mario Galaxy. It could even be that it suffers from what has become widely known as "Viva Piñata syndrome": it's too cutesy for adults, and too complex for kids.

Or it could simply be too difficult, period.

Indeed, Zack & Wiki is no pushover. Admirably, producer Hironobu Takeshita has been unrepentant about including challenges that strain the noggin. In fact, it sounded as though he'd had quite enough of the moaning in one recent interview: "There are puzzles where, if you don't look properly at the hints in the start, you're going to be in trouble. You have to look at the screen -- all the answers that you need to solve the puzzles are there on the screen. There are some people who say they don't understand the puzzles, but really, they're not paying enough attention."

Yet as commendable as Takeshita-san's defiance is, there will be plenty of publishers sitting up and taking notice of his game's lumbering commercial performance, and mentally shelving any future plans they might have had to release Wii games that challenge players to think.

It's not just Zack & Wiki that may influence those with the purse strings to adopt a more risk-averse approach. Super Mario Galaxy, another hardcore favorite, was released in Japan last week, and immediately leapt to the top of the sales charts, selling 251,000 copies in its first full week on sale. That makes it far more successful than poor old Zack & Wiki, but let's not forget that the casual gamer-friendly Mario Party 8 had even greater first week sales (265,000). In such a scenario, the message being sent to publishers is loud and clear: more party, less epic.

Reggie and Shiggy, bless them, have previously taken time out to reassure the hardcore that Nintendo won't abandon them, and with Ninty's vast resources to spare, not to mention its history of catering to core gamers, we're happy to take their word for it.

Will third-party developers be as patient? Historically, Capcom has been happy to push epic games and unique content. But if you want our honest-to-God advice, don't go booking time off for Zack & Wiki 2 yet.

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