Review By: Jared Black
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I'll go ahead and confess it right from the start – prior to this game I had no prior experience with Wallace & Gromit in any form. Never played any of the previous games, never watched the movies, and really didn't know much about the franchise in general. Yet, based on Telltale's track record I expected a good time out of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, and that's largely what this first episode delivers.
Wallace is an absent-minded inventor who's fond of creating Rube Goldberg machines to perform the most basic of tasks, like cooking an egg or getting out of bed in the morning, yet seems to lack the good sense to keep himself out of trouble and think through the consequences of his actions. Thus Gromit acts as Wallace's protector, and (despite lacking the ability to talk) subtly manipulating circumstances and taking care of things behind the scenes to bail Wallace out of his messes.
With their overdue bills piling up, Wallace has decided to get into the honey making business, and has transformed his basement into a miniature bee farm. Of course it's not just any old honey farm, and in this case Wallace has created a machine that feeds flowers directly to the bees to speed up the honey-making process and maximize their productivity. His first order is a rather unexpected 50 gallon honey order though, to be filled that very same day, which leaves Wallace & Gromit scrambling to produce enough honey to fill the order in time. Wallace concocts a scheme to speed up the honey making process and deliver the honey on time, but of course it backfires (in a sense) and only leads to a much bigger mess that Gromit has to clean up.
Perhaps it was my lack of familiarity with the characters, but I didn't find the storyline to be anything special on the whole. While there are a couple of interesting twists, it's pretty straightforward and it was usually obvious to me what was going to happen next. However, the dialogue is top notch throughout, and as a result the game never gets dull. There are several true laugh out loud moments and sight gags (from obvious ones to little details in the background) reminiscent of previous Telltale titles, and the voice acting is solid for every character. I should note however that Peter Sallis, the voice behind Wallace in the past, has been replaced by backup voice actor Ben Whitehead for this game. I have no idea how close they sound to each other, but I'm betting that longtime fans of Wallace & Gromit will notice the change.
The actual gameplay mechanics should be pretty straightforward for anyone that has played a Telltale game before (or in fact any adventure game), with the lone exception being that movement is handled with the WASD keys in this game rather than simple point and clicking. This change from previous Telltale games is due to the fact that this game was planned for both Xbox 360 and PC from the start, and honestly it doesn't really change things that much. On PC the mouse is still used to select and use items (the arrow keys are also an option), and the Shift key works well as the inventory key (although I had Sticky Keys activate once and interrupt my game). The environments in general are small, so even hardcore adventure game fans not used to WASD movement won't have to do a lot of it.
The story alternates between both Wallace and Gromit several times in the 5-6 hour adventure, but using either character doesn't really change how the game plays aside from the interactions of NPCs with the player. Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures features the same progressive hint system that previous Telltale titles had, ranging from no hints at all to frequent ones. The puzzles lean towards the easy side more often than not though, so I recommend not turning hints on at all for adventure game veterans. I never came across any puzzles or situations I couldn't get past without a little trial and error.
The graphics are vintage Telltale, with a lot of color and fairly detailed environments. They seem to capture the spirit of the original claymation well, with some noticeable bump-mapping to make the surface of the characters not totally smooth. The music is also pretty close in spirit to the Sam & Max series, although in general it's more upbeat and has more of an “old world” feel to it given the franchise's British origins.
My unfamiliarity with Wallace & Gromit prior to this game may have hurt my overall enjoyment of Fright of the Bumblebees (such as not knowing the history behind Wallace and his neighbors), but nevertheless I found it compelling enough to play through in one continuous late-night gaming session. On the whole the stellar writing and laugh out loud moments prop up an otherwise predictable storyline, making Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees a worthwhile purchase for adventure gamers.
Posted: 2009-03-24 08:07:52 PST