Saturday, November 07, 2009

Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures - Episode 3: Muzzled!
Video game review by Sombrero Grande

While its emotionally-charged storyline carries the potential of allowing Episode 3 to be the best of Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures, Muzzled! is muzzled by several setbacks that leave it just average.

In the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave, the duo save a flock of sheep from certain doom, and along the way grow so attached to one of the wooly fellows that they end up naming him "Shaun" (Shaun has since gone on to become popular in his own right as a result of the short, leading to his own series of cartoons).

In Muzzled! the same sort of thing happens. When an unscrupulous shyster named Monty Muzzle arrives in town, claiming to be virtuously doing charity work to aid homeless dogs while really imprisoning them to work in his fair, Wallace and Gromit grow attached to the pups Monty muzzles and one in particular, a timid runt, they name "Twitch."

For the first time in the Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures series, I didn't just want to finish the game for the sake of completing it; I wanted to give Monty his just desserts and save the pooches! It made me realize that what's been missing from the other episodes of Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures is the emotional resonance that can be found in cartoons like A Close Shave.

Unfortunately, several flaws in the game prevent the story from achieving all it could have been.

First off, there's the same issue I had in Episodes 1 and 2 of controlling Wallace and Gromit with an Xbox 360 controller. The controls in this series are a strange departure from Telltale Games' other Xbox Live Arcade offerings like Sam & Max Save the World and Beyond Time and Space. Instead of moving a cursor around like a mouse on a PC (the platform on which these episodes were originally released), players move the characters around with the left thumbstick and select items with the right.

Holding down the Y button darkens all areas of the screen except the things that are selectable, which makes it easier to spot important items, but moving the little white brackets that select an item with the right thumbstick while still holding down Y is incredibly awkward. Pressing A to bring up your inventory of items being carried while holding Y and moving the right thumbstick is even a contortionist's nightmare.

There were several points in the game where the controls were particularly frustrating when they had no foreseeable reason to be. One was at the fairgrounds, a donut-shaped environment where I sometimes had a remarkably difficult time getting Gromit to walk in a manner that didn't appear drunkenly. Rounding several corners, even though I had the left thumbstick pointed in the exact direction I wanted Gromit to move, he would inexplicably get stuck walking into a booth or wall or heading in the opposite direction I wanted.

In the last Act of the game, there is a single screen that features several selectable items (apparent when holding down Y), yet being able to select most of them seems nearly impossible. Without getting into spoilers, let's just say there's a moving item that I ended up selecting over and over again while trying to select stationary items toward top and left of the screen. There is absolutely no reason for this part of the game to be as difficult to as it is with just trying to interact with the environment and shows very sloppy design work.

Another frustrating aspect of the game is the length of the non-interactive "cut scenes" wherein characters simply to talk to one another to advance to story, and they go on and on and on and on. Monty has particularly long monologues that ramble endlessly and had me wanting to defeat him simply for his long-winded bullshitting, regardless of the the scamming and dognapping.

Lastly, Episode 3 feels shorter than the others. I'm not sure if it's because the puzzles are easier or if there's simply less than needs to be done, but I was able to finish the entire game and get all 12 achievements in about three hours. For achievement-whores (you know who you are) that may seem great, but for a gamer looking for a fun adventure game, Muzzled! isn't the most sound $10 investment when the more robust Sam & Max games offer up five or six times the amount of gameplay for only twice the dough.

Muzzled! costs 800 Microsoft points ($10) on Xbox Live Arcade or $8.95 for PC on Telltale's web site.


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