Wallace & Gromit Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
”Wallace and Gromit” is a highly beloved series of claymation shorts from England that have been popping up on a sporadic basis for 20 years now, in the forms of short film clips, commercials, and feature films. This lovable man and dog duo are no strangers to video games either, however this new series “Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures,” of which this game “Fright of the Bumblebees” is the premiere episode in, is the first time they’ve embarked on a completely original game plot. Developed by Telltale Games, Wallace and Gromit takes the new approach of episodic content delivery and this first Xbox Live Arcade offering is a great kickoff.
The game is a throwback to the old “point-and-click” adventures of the late 80s/early 90s. I personally grew up with these games on the computer and hallmarks of the genre such as “Sam and Max,” “Kings Quest VI,” and “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis” remain some of my favorite games to date. The jump from flat 2D animation to modern gaming technology is both a blessing and a curse though, but it didn’t take me long to get to the new scheme of controls. You are given control of either Wallace or Gromit in each of this episode’s four acts. The plot is driven by your interactions with characters (through pre-scripted dialogue; no unique dialogue choices here sadly) and the environment in an effort to solve a variety of puzzles.
I have to hand it to the designers in terms of puzzle design as there are some truly clever and sometimes frustrating offerings thrown out here. While modern gamers may feel this sounds like its boring and repetitive, in actuality its much more unique than it sounds. The puzzles are for the most part are all different in design and get more difficult as the game progresses. The story driving this chapter is also a large reason why the complete experience ends up being good old-fashioned fun. The humor and charm of the series is well translated here and appropriate for all ages.
While the adventure itself only lasts around three hours on a first run-through, the 800-point price tag feels about right and if the other episodes follow suit, fans will have received a 12-hour adventure/puzzle game for $40, something that can’t be said too often these days. In terms of replay, while its entirely possible to get all achievements in one sitting, you’ll likely find yourself revisiting the game at least once to complete them and uncover some more of the unique dialogue which the game is full of.
The game is not without its negative aspects though, primarily mildly clunky controls and a few game ending glitches. As I mentioned above, going from the point-and-click style to actually controlling the character was a bit of a shock for me and there are times that the characters move in a fashion reminiscent of Jill or Chris in the original “Resident Evil” game. Your range of actions is highly simplified compared to the old computer game style. When you select an object to interact with, there is one default action. My only reasoning for this limitation is the designers were shooting for a slightly younger age of accessibility, as I will admit without hesitation, the old computer point-and-click fare was heavily wordy and could be much too complex for the single digit crowd.
Sadly, the one factor that really causes this game to suffer are a few occurrences of objects disappearing resulting in game ending glitches if the player has set off on a path where these items become a necessity. The item I lost, while not essential to completing the game (in fact avoiding it is an achievement), forced me to restart since I had put myself in a position where I had no choice to but to use it. I was able to get back to this point in about 35 minutes through skipping dialogue, but the result was still highly frustrating. If Telltale patches the game to fix these problems or at least offered a manual save system, this problem would be minor.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, “Fright of the Bumblebees” does things right. The game captures the simple but very unique and distinct look of the shorts. While the characters don’t look at all like clay, I was able to pull myself into their world with ease and the more animated look came off smoothly. The games environments are all very colorful and decorations never fade into obscurity. The character models interact smoothly, most of the time, but there are a number of moments were the animation slightly stuttered. All in all, this little outing is one of the better-looking Live Arcade titles.
In the sound department, I have nothing but praise. Backup voice actor, Ben Whitehead, voices Wallace and the result is excellent. He brings life to the beloved character as do the other voice actors who make this world feel very much alive, despite their animated setting. Sound design is unique and accentuates the action as does the fun, lively score.
Game crippling glitch aside, “Fright of the Bumblebees” is a strong entry into this new series of four adventures. The game definitely left me eager to try out the next entry “The Last Resort” (which just hit PCs last month and will hopefully be making its way to Live next month) and further take part in Wallace and Gromit’s aptly titled “Grand Adventures.” I fully endorse this episodic content and am excited that Telltale is bringing their highly successful episode Sam and Max adventures to Live this month and later this year will be revitalizing the Monkey Island franchise along with a modernized remake of the original Monkey Island adventure. If these other franchises bring a bit of the complexity from their early 90s incarnations along for the ride (mainly unique dialogue choices), I could see a whole new generation getting hooked on a great genre of gaming. At the very least download the demo of “Fright of the Bumblebees,” if you have any interest, the $10 price tag for this episode is a much better alternative to shelling out $40 for a complete package if this were released in the store. Recommended.