Monday, June 01, 2009

Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures - Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
Video game review by Sombrero Grande

If you're familiar with the previous adventures of Wallace and Gromit on television or on the big screen, and you've played any of Telltale Games' previous efforts (Sam and Max or Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People), then you'll know about what to expect from this new episodic video game series.

For the uninitiated, Wallace is a hapless English inventor whose crazy contraptions cause all manner of mayhem. His considerably smarter dog, Gromit, aids him, usually by helping to get him out of whatever mess Wallace gets himself into. In Fright of the Bumblebees, the first of four episodes in Telltale's Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures series (out now for the Xbox 360 on Xbox Live Arcade and PC), the inventor and his dog must find a way to use Wallace's latest invention, the Magnatronic Pollinator, to create 50 gallons of honey immediately for a shopkeeper disgruntled by Wallace's previous invention, a robotic rodent known as the Sniffer 3000. However, when things go awry, as they often to for the duo, it's up to you and Gromit to set things right.

Just as with Telltale's previous series, Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures plops the player right down into a very authentic experience for the license utilized. In this case, you'll feel like you're literally inside of a Wallace and Gromit claymation cartoon. The animation of the main characters is spot-on to the cartoons and the HD graphics allow players to see the clay-like qualities of the characters themselves, from little touches like a dimple or two in the not-so-smooth surface of the "clay" figures to faked fingerprints on some of their joints.

The only detail that pulled me a bit out of the otherwise total immersion into the world of Wallace and Gromit is the fact that a different person voices Wallace here than in the movie and TV cartoons; Peter Sallis' distinctive voice is replaced for the game by that of by Ben Whitehead (who voiced Mr. Leaching in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit). The difference is very slight, but longtime Wallace and Gromit fans will likely notice it quickly.

The gameplay itself recalls a past generation of puzzle-solving adventure games, involving scouring the environments for items to take and use elsewhere to move the story forward. Fright of the Bumblebees throws in a second type of gameplay in a "shooting gallery" style mini-game that the player must complete to progress at one point.

Players of Telltale's previous games will already be familiar with the point-and-click-style of gameplay, although on Xbox 360 there's no real way to "point" as with a mouse on a PC, which leads to my only real disappointment with the game in that focusing on different items in the environment is often trickier than it should be with an Xbox 360 controller. Instead of being able to simply "mouse over" items in a location to see which are manipulatable or selectable, with an Xbox 360 controller the player is resigned to switching between items by moving the right thumbstick until a cursor highlights the chosen item. This can become a bit tricky for instance in the kitchen near the start of the game when I tried for several seconds to highlight a certain doorknob, but instead kept selecting all manner of items around it. With the environments constantly changing in the game (and with perspectives that often change within environments like the kitchen, depending on where the character you are controlling is standing) it makes it difficult to get "used to" this as the game progresses.

For true Wallace and Gromit fans who have been itching to "play" in their world for a bit, this is a great game. For others, I'd recommend checking out the cartoons or movie first. Fright of the Bumblebees costs 800 Microsoft points ($10) on Xbox Live Arcade or $8.95 for PC on Telltale's web site. While the PC version sports an easier-to-use mouse control scheme, the Xbox version sports 200 points worth of pretty easy-to-get Achievements. The choice is yours, so get cracking.


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