Wallace & Gromit Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees

 

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Telltale Games

Released:  March 2009

PC Requirements:   see review below

Walkthrough

Additional Screenshots

 

 

 

 

by gremlin

 

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.

A little 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.

This 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 this.

At this 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 that.

Is there a plot?

It's 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.

A 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.

Once 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?

With the 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 scene forward.

For 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.

The look 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.

The game 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.

Notable Features

A regular 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.

Speaking 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.

The rest 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.

Conclusions

So, how 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.

Grade:   A-

What do you need to play it?

Recommended Requirements

  • Operating system: Windows XP / Vista (Vista64 unsupported)
  • Processor: 2.0 GHz or better (3 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent recommended)
  • Memory: 512MB (1GB recommended)
  • Video: 64MB DirectX 8.1-compliant video card (128MB recommended)
  • Sound: DirectX 8.1 sound device
  • DirectX«: Version 9.0c or better

Also available for Xbox 360, via Xbox Live Arcade.

(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)

Note: Despite the recommended requirements stating that 64bit Vista is not supported, the game ran just fine on my setup.

Fright of the Bumblebees can be purchased via download at Telltale Games.

April, 2009

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