Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures – Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
Having washed windows, rented spare rooms and caught rabbits for a living, Wallace and Gromit have decided to give the honey making business a go. Staying true with all of the claymation duo’s previously failed business ventures, misfortune and hilarity quickly ensue. Our heroes start the day already in the debt of a local grocer whose store was trashed by Wallace’s misguided and overly rambunctious Sniffer 3000. In an effort to smooth things over with the grocer and also jump start business, Wallace quickly agrees to deliver 50 gallons of honey to the grocer before sundown.
Fright of the Bumble Bees is the first in a series of episodic Wallace and Gromit titles from the fine folks at Telltale Games, the same ones best known for the recent Sam & Max games. If you’ve had the pleasure of walking that canine and rabbit twosome through a couple of their bizarre capers you’ll have no problem settling in on West Wallaby Street. In fact the only real difference between the two titles from a gameplay perspective is Fright of the Bumble Bees’ use of keyboard controlled character motion. Being able to manually walk Wallace and Gromit around while simultaneously mousing over the scenery is a welcome feature, but movement can become awkward while negotiating the preset camera angles.
Another feature that separates Fright of the Bumble Bees from its Telltale brothers is the ability to play as both Wallace and Gromit individually. While you don’t have the option to freely switch between them at any point or exchange items, the context of the puzzles you’ll encounter with both characters will vary greatly. As Wallace you’ll find yourself conversing with the other folk scattered on and around West Wallaby Street, and collecting various items necessary for his latest invention. Conversely as Gromit, you’ll spend a little time behind the venerable porridge gun made famous in A Close Shave, as well as cleaning up the mess Wallace unwittingly unleashes.
The other great thing about Fright of the Bumble Bees’ puzzles is that they make sense. One of the main problems found in many adventure games is getting into the heads of not only the characters but also the developers, and trying to figure out both of their logics. Working within the Wallace and Gromit universe it’s very easy to solve puzzles that involve crazy contraptions built with frying pans, robot badgers and lawn gnomes. Even if you do occasionally find yourself stuck, it’ll never be something a few back seat gamers won’t be able to help point out.
It’s also incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the games events thanks to Telltale’s attention to detail with the overall Wallace and Gromit license. Both the inventor and his canine companion are rendered with great care, featuring some shrewd texture mapping that even gives the geometry a clay like surface. Character design is also superb and very fitting when compared to some of Wallace and Gromit’s previous adventures. Best of all though, is Fright of the Bumble Bees’ animation, and most specifically lip synching and acting. Wallace and Gromit as characters are both incredibly charming on film for their own very different reasons. Wallace is as priceless as ever while he nervously engages the various townsfolk and wiggles his wrists to the thought of some nice Wensleydale cheese. While Gromit on the other hand delivers his trademark pantomimed emotions and always smile inducing eye roll. In fact the only blemish to be found while running the game on my year old laptop at 800×600 was the occasional texture flicker and a bug that caused an NPC’s character model to not render properly, leaving a pair of floating eyes.
Other then the aforementioned graphical glitches, Fright of Bumble Bees’ visuals are more than amply supported with some excellent music and voice acting. The game appropriately boots with the signature Wallace and Gromit theme music and throughout the game it’ll utilize a few variations of the theme to great success. Disappointingly Wallace isn’t voiced by the films’ Peter Sallis but only the most hardcore Wallace and Gromit fans should be able to tell the difference.
Thanks to the care of Telltale Games, Fright of the Bumble Bees ends up feeling just like another great Wallace and Gromit short. The story and hijinks found within could’ve been the basis for yet another Oscar winning short for director Nick Park and his team at Aardman, but instead are the premise for one of the most genuinely wonderful and funny adventure games in years. It really is a grand day out.