Name: Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures - Episode 1 Fright of the Bumblebees
Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Four episodes of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures are being developed by Telltale Games, the masterminds behind Sam & Max, Bone, and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. Being a company devoted to episodic point-and-click adventures carries with it some expectations, especially when the company in question has spent so many years creating similar products in the same genre. In a way, they're in a class of their own, pumping out episode after episode of whatever series they happen to be publishing at the time; and their titles are generally timely, polished, and well received. It's been mentioned by some that no one besides Telltale really has a grasp of episodic content, and that statement isn't entirely without merit.
In many ways, the first episode of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures is a success. Fright of the Bumblebees is a step up from the publisher's other titles, and is likely the best looking point-and-click game to date. In an attempt to emulate the films' claymation style, the entire game appears to be hand-crafted, with intentional imperfections that add greatly to the look. Character models have nicks, dents, and fingerprints, creating a tangible look and feel. Wallace's shirt in particular looks shockingly realistic, and the pattern appears to actually have been sculpted with a knife, rather than modeled with a computer.
Plotwise, it's as entertaining as could be expected. It's a typical Wallce & Gromit tale, filled with the antics the series is known for. After testing a cheese-finding robotic mouse in a local shop, Wallace is in need of money. His business, From Bee to You, isn't fairing well either, as it seems no one is willing to believe him capable of running a honey company. His lucky break comes when the owner of the shop his creation trashed ends up requiring Wallace's services, to the amount of 50 gallons of honey, and will forgive the debt once he receives his compensation. Naturally, it isn't that easy, and the player swaps between control of Wallace and Gromit while solving different typical point-and-clicky puzzles. Items are accumulated, rubbed on different objects, and hilarious cut scenes transpire.
The puzzles themselves aren't really anything different from Telltale's other games, but fit the tenor of Wallace & Gromit well. Most involve interaction with the story's characters, all of which are acted well and generally likable. It's not the laugh-out-loud humor of Sam & Max, but that's not what Wallace & Gromit are known for. It's a more awkward, cute humor, and relies on physical comedy and silly situations over innuendo and violence.
However, not all of Fright of the Bumblebees is worth celebrating, there are some...complications. *Glitches mar the experience, and the game lacks the polish Telltale is known for delivering. During play the client experienced several crashes and it was necessary to replay the same area a few times because of a somewhat inconsistent auto-save; different characters seemed to get stuck on a loop, repeating dialogue after triggered events should have silenced them; and the lack of individual audio control in the options menu is also a detriment, as Telltale didn’t think of dipping the music during characters’ speech, which causes their words to oftentimes become muddled beneath the horn-heavy score.
In order to prepare the series for its Xbox Live Arcade debut, the controls were modified to be more controller friendly and allow for movement to be player controlled, instead of reliant on mouse clicks. This works most of the time, but doesn’t always work as intended. It isn’t uncommon to spin around in circles or walk into invisible walls when trying to travel between zones. This might be better once the game makes its way over to the XBLA, but as a PC title it just doesn’t really fit.
Glitches aside, Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures - Episode 1 Fright of the Bumblebees is a great start to the season, and serves the franchise well. It's kid friendly, but has enough witty gameplay to make any fan of the genre giddy. Hopefully they're able to clean up the issues and technical problems in time for the Xbox Live Arcade release, because there's something special in this series. Telltale didn't exactly break out of the gates running here, but with three episodes left they have plenty of time to pick up stride and create something truly magnificent.
*I've since been informed by Telltale that some of the issues mentioned in the review have been fixed for the retail release.