What is it?
Is it me,
or have episodic games suddenly come of age? Perhaps it's just that
Telltale Games have really gotten into their stride now, with Bone, Sam
and Max, Strong Bad, and now Wallace and Gromit. This new series is known
as Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, and I've got my grubby paws
on the first episode (of four), Fright of the Bumblebees. The
remaining three are due out monthly after this first one.
background: Wallace and Gromit are the stop-motion animated heroes of four
short films (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close
Shave, A Matter of Loaf and Death, and one feature film, The
Curse of the Were-Rabbit). They are the best-known creations of the
Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park, of Aardman Animation. Wallace is an
imaginative, inventive chap from Lancashire (North-West England) who loves
cheese, his dog and inventing, not necessarily in that order. Gromit is
his dog -- the real brains of the outfit. Wallace's inventions and
business ideas lead them into wild adventures (travelling to the Moon,
catching a master jewel thief, rescuing kidnapped sheep, foiling a serial
killer, and saving the local country fair), and Gromit is generally the
one that gets them out of all the trouble in the end.
isn't the first computer game based upon Wallace and Gromit, but as I've
never played any of the older games, I won't make any further comment on
point, I must admit to being a great fan of Wallace and Gromit, ever since
The Wrong Trousers first aired on the BBC in 1993. In fact, The
Wrong Trousers remains my favourite of their adventures to date. Let's
see if the change of medium to a computer game can make any difference to
Is there a plot?
inevitable that a game inspired by TV and film stars will have a plot. The
question is whether the plot is an authentic Wallace and Gromit story. I'd
say that Fright of the Bumblebees definitely scores highly here.
Aardman Animation and Telltale Games have clearly worked hard to give us a
story that successfully brings life at 62 West Wallaby Street, Wigan, to
our computer screens.
signature element of the Wallace and Gromit stories is that they begin
with Wallace being extracted from bed by one of his own inventions: a
tilting bed that drops him through a trapdoor to his seat at the breakfast
table. And this is indeed the way we begin this story.
Gromit has dealt with making Wallace's breakfast of egg, toast and honey
(aside: I'm still waiting for the morning where it's Wallace's turn!!),
the main thrust of the plot is revealed to be that Wallace and Gromit are
starting a new business supplying honey to the town from a mechanised hive
in the unfeasibly large basement of their small house in West Wallaby
Street. However, a local merchant is holding an annual festival and needs
50 gallons of honey by the end of the day, at which point we discover that
the hive has run out of food. From there the problems just get bigger and
more and more complex.
How do you play?
exception of one arcade scene, Fright of the Bumblebees is played
in the third person. You guide Wallace or Gromit (the game decides which)
through the game in a hybrid keyboard and point and click control method.
You use W, A, S, and D keys to move Wallace or Gromit, but use the mouse
to click on highlighted objects. This felt clumsy to me, until I switched
to my gamepad, and suddenly it made sense - movement with a joystick, and
interaction with objects with a button. I must admit I would have
preferred the controls to drop the W, A, S, D keys altogether and go for a
complete mouse-based approach on the PC, but I can see how this would have
complicated having the game engine support both PC and Xbox 360. I found
that for much of the time within a given location, I could get away with
only using the mouse... then suddenly I'd stumble as I realised
nothing was happening when I clicked at the edge of the screen to move the
most part, the save game system in Fright of the Bumblebees is a
simple save of your current state. I never really felt the need to do
explicit saves, except when leaving the game, at which point the game
auto-saves anyway. However, I later discovered that you can save at other
times, but the menu option is not called save, but 'bookmark' instead.
of the game is very close to the look of the so-called claymation
technique used in the Wallace and Gromit features. 'Claymation' is a
neologism that conflates the medium (modelling clay) used to make actors
in the features with the technique used to make them move (stop-motion
animation). The environments in which the action takes place are
reasonably realistic looking, but the characters are clearly caricatures
of humans and other creatures. The game sticks to the same look, even down
to fingerprint scuff marks in the 'clay' of the characters' bodies. The
modellers have done an excellent job of accurately reproducing not only
Wallace and Gromit but the whole look and feel of the films.
play consists of a variety of inventory, dialog and action puzzles. There
are no sliding block puzzles, mazes, colour separation puzzles or
difficult maths -- this is not Schizm or Myst. However,
there are a few sequences where timing is important. Not that we're
talking hair-trigger first-person-shooter reaction times, just swift
movement between actions.
Connoisseurs of Wallace's inventions should be pleased to see a number of
his Heath Robinson style creations make their way into the Fright of
the Bumblebees. Some of them have already been seen in the animated
features; some are new. You need to use some of the inventions to complete
puzzles in the game, but this is not difficult -- the controls are simple.
I was a little disappointed to find that there are no opportunities for
creating new machines, though it would be a mistake for me to second-guess
what Aardman and Telltale have in store for the remaining three episodes
of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures.
feature of modern Telltale games is the built-in hints system. In the
Options screen, you can control how frequently (Never, Rarely, Sometimes,
Often) the game will give you nudges if it detects that you're not making
progress. Most of the time, this is pretty subtle in that the hints are
delivered as dialog lines by characters in the scene -- and they make
sense in the context given, of course. But if you get really stuck, the
repetition of the same hint or hints over and over again will bring it
home that you're being prodded in specific ways, even if hint doesn't tell
you precisely what you need to do next.
of dialog, one of the issues any game adaptation from film or TV has to
cover is that of the casting of actors. Can you get the actors from the
film or TV to do the voice overs for your game? In the case of Wallace and
Gromit, they're rather like Penn and Teller (the magicians); Penn does all
the talking, whilst the brains of the operation, Teller, is entirely
silent. In our case, Wallace does all the talking, whilst Gromit (again,
the brains) never speaks, though he does very occasionally make dog
noises. So we need a voice for Wallace. Who else should do the voice but
Peter Sallis, a veteran British actor with a very recognisable regional
accent. Actually, his accent is a Yorkshire one, even though Wallace lives
in Lancashire, but it's a subtle difference that few people outside
Yorkshire and Lancashire would notice, let alone care about. Then again,
if you are from Yorkshire (where I was brought up) or Lancashire,
it is noticeable, and slightly jarring. But we're adults now and can put
petty differences like the 15th century Wars of the Roses (1453 - 1487)
behind us. Besides, Peter Sallis does such a good job of voicing Wallace!
Unfortunately, Telltale haven't been able to get him to do the job for the
game -- instead we have Aardman Animation's stand-in actor, Ben Whitehead.
To my ears, he does a very good job of it. There were very few moments
when I heard anything that reminded me it wasn't Peter Sallis.
of the scripting and voice acting is excellent too. It seems that Telltale
have realised just how important it is to the Wallace and Gromit stories
to use an authentic sounding script and accents. I understand that all the
voice recording was done in the UK, which no doubt helped here, and
Aardman were consulted on the script on a regular basis. It really does
show, as I've never come across such an accurate regional flavour and set
of accents in a game from a US company before.
One of my
favourite names in the games business, Jared Emerson-Johnson, is
responsible for the original music in Fright of the Bumblebees. Of
course, the very memorable theme tune of Wallace & Gromit has been used as
well, which he didn't write, but having heard how the rest of the music
meshes with the feel of Wallace and Gromit, I could easily believe that he
did. Jared is also 'guilty' of writing the music for that other great
series from Telltale Games, the Sam and Max seasons.
to conclude this one? Well, it seems Telltale have worked well with
Aardman Animation to get Wallace and Gromit just right. I know I'm looking
forward to The Last Resort, and the rest of the series. My grade
for this game is an almost-perfect A-. If the controls hadn't gotten in my
way as often as they did, I would have been happy to go for full marks.
What do you need to play it?
Operating system: Windows
XP / Vista (Vista64 unsupported)
GHz or better (3 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent recommended)
DirectX 8.1-compliant video card (128MB recommended)
8.1 sound device
9.0c or better
Also available for Xbox 360, via Xbox
(I used a
custom built 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP1 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64
X2 Dual 5200+, with 6 GB RAM, and an XFX nVidia GeForce 8600GT 256MB video
card with mother-board sound card)
Despite the recommended requirements stating that 64bit Vista is not
supported, the game ran just fine on my setup.
of the Bumblebees can
be purchased via download at