PALGN Review (Australian Gaming Website)

edited March 2009 in Wallace & Gromit
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Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures
Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees Review

PC Review | Cracking!

We're sure everyone loves Wallace and Gromit. The claymation couple have starred in their very own series of Academy Award winning short films, as well as the big-screen adventure Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you're as big a fan of their work as we are, then you'd be equally disappointed that the duo have not had the best track record when it comes to videogames. This is probably because their British humour and ineffable charm are hard to translate to the standard licensed-game mould. But here's where Telltale Games come in, the developers of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and the revived Sam & Max games. Once again bringing their episodic format to the license, they've created four downloadable adventure games featuring Wallace and Gromit for PC and XBLA, starting with Fright of the Bumblebees. So is their first attempt like a well-scented slice of Wensleydale, or a cheap off-the-shelf cheddar?

In Fright of the Bumblebees, Wallace and Gromit have found themselves running a honey business out of their basement, using one of Wallace's trademark wacky inventions to mass-produce the sweet substance. Unfortunately, it hasn't proved to be of much success yet, and the bills are piling up. What's worse is that due to a malfunction of one of Wallace's other works, the cheese-hunting Sniffer 3000, the two also have a massive repair bill for the local grocery store. The game begins by Wallace having to figure out a way to get their honey-making back on track to pay off their debts, but eventually things spiral even further out of control, as they tend to do for the poor chap. The story is fairly low-key, with things only really taking off in the last third or so of the game, but the British wit and charm of the Wallace & Gromit films is brilliantly replicated here. The new characters fit perfectly within the established universe, although perhaps the only slight detraction is that there are far fewer double entendres than one normally expects from the two.

Probably our favourite cameo in the game.

Just like their past games, Telltale have styled Flight of the Bumblebees as a point-and-click adventure game, although the controls have been considerably altered. We reviewed the game on the PC, where the W, A, S, D keys or arrow keys control Wallace or Gromit's movement, while the mouse is used to direct their attention towards various objects and to select them. Holding down the shift key brings up the inventory. The system is kind of a cross between the usual Telltale fare and Grim Fandango, and can be confusing from time to time. For instance, your character's movement is relative to the camera, and while the game does have a a large number of interesting camera angles, this means that you'll have to keep orienting yourself and adjusting. This quibble aside, the game also makes things a little easier for adventure game newcomers by showing a bounding box around any item which you pass your cursor over, to show you whether its selectable, and it also tells you in what way you can interact with it. One other slight annoyance is that while you can turn on in-game puzzle hints, these hints often take the form of visually highlighting an object with a new camera angle or cut-scene, which can occur frequently and wreck the flow of the game (and are thus perhaps best turned off).

This episode lasts around four hours, which is a little longer than some of Telltale's previous episodes. However, there isn't a whole lot to explore, as there are only two major locations - Wallace and Gromit's house, and the Town Square. The only other location is West Wallaby St., outside of their home, which becomes unavailable after a certain event in the game. This does make the game feel a little limited, not unlike the first episode of Sam & Max: Season One which had a similarly small space to explore, and we hope that like that series these new episodes open up a bit more. Where the game does shine is in the puzzles which are presented, which start off simple but do delve into more complex territory through the game's length, creating a reasonably challenging episode. There are a couple of shooting mini-games that are included as well, that are neither compelling nor necessarily un-needed. They're just kind of there, and at least they figure into the puzzles.

Gromit knows. He knows.

One look at the screenshots and you'll realise that the best thing about Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures has to be the presentation. Telltale have nailed the look of Wallace and Gromit's world, from the quaint British locations, to the impressive character models that look like they were lifted out of the claymation films - they even have fingerprints and various imperfections visible in their plasticine texture. The mouths of the characters even have an intentionally lower frame-rate than the rest of the game, to replicate the effect of the films. The voice-work in the game is also top-notch. While it's disappointing that Peter Sallis isn't present to reprise his role as Wallace, his replacement does a surprisingly fantastic job, as do the rest of the cast, even those who are only heard as angry British voices shouting from windows. The music is also classic Wallace & Gromit fare, and suits the tone perfectly.

Fright of the Bumblebees is a good start to yet another Telltale episodic adventure game series. While a lot of the good will we have towards this game can be attributed to the incredible charm it exudes, the game also has a fair amount of challenge behind the brilliant presentation. There are some hiccups along the way, and we would have liked some more variety in the locations we explored, but the Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures series is off to a grand start.

The Score

A brilliantly British and charming but cheesy title. There's room to improve, but there's still a grand old time to be had here.
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