Don't panic! It is not December, you haven't fallen into a coma and woken up on Boxing Day; much loved plasticine duo Wallace and Gromit now appear in video game form. Telltale Games, creators of the new Sam and Max Adventures and Strong Bad's cool game for attractive people have released a point and click adventure based on Nick Park's award-winning, stopmotion-animated films. Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures will be digitally distributed over four episodes: Fright of the Bumblebees, The Last Resort, Muzzled and The Bogey Man. These will see the madcap inventor and his intelligent, trusty dog get into comedy scrapes across a variety of settings. The first instalment tested here deals with the dark issue of steroid and growth hormone use in farming.....bee farming.
Visual style keeps faithful to the Wallace and Gromit animated films: the quaint, eccentric world of the beloved duo has been replicated lovingly. Characters look just like their clay counter-parts, and for the most part have been animated in a way that mimics the stopmotion artistry of Nick Park. The huge range of emotions expressed by the mute dog Gromit almost certainly mean that Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures can claim stake to the greatest eyebrow acting seen in a video game to date. Telltale Games have clearly been careful to ensure they do the source material justice; British writer Tristan Davies has been involved in the project to ensure authenticity and a number of characters and inventions from previous adventures will be recognisable in the game.
Throughout the game player control switches between Wallace or Gromit depending on the situation. Classic point-and-click control scheme is in operation: arrow key are used to move your character and the mouse to interact with objects. Generous on-screen brackets highlight objects that can be interacted with when the cursor is hovered over them. Thanks to brightly coloured and uncluttered environments it is usually fairly obvious which items are going to be active in a given puzzle.
So, like the source material this game is clearly aimed at younger gamers. A user-friendly interface, generally quite simple environments and a complete lack of chainsaws contribute towards making this game suitable for children. Hints integrated into the dialogue prove useful in suggesting where you should be looking next without giving anything away, the frequency of which they appear can be adjusted at any point as a kind of difficulty setting. Solutions to puzzles are typically zany but have enough logic to prevent players resorting to random item-testing. Having said that, only a few are totally straightforward.
Pacing of the story is possibly too pedestrian at the start, after a couple of hours play you might start asking yourself “when is something interesting going to happen?” Early challenges start mundane, like frying an egg (using a convoluted contraption of course), move on to odd - such as liberating a mechanical mouse from prison - and escalate to the kind of surreal action sequences that only Wallace and Gromit could find themselves in.
Those who know Wallace know he likes cheese and this game represents a dangerous precedent for frequency of cheese referencing. Even a short period of play left me with serious cravings. A potential health risk to our children? Or an antidote maybe, to the Wiifit athletes showing us all up in public? I'll let the relevant censorship boards decide.
A word of warning to hardcore Wallace and Gromit fans: the talents of British actor Peter Sallis are not used for the voice of Wallace, someone else has been called in. This is immediately obvious and an imposter in the shoes of a instantly recognisable character may grate on the ears of a few people, but to be fair, Sallis is 88 and this game was developed in the USA. Bar a few slightly muddled accents, dialogue from shopkeepers, police constables and neighbours are typically charming and will more than likely raise a smile. The pre-release version played for review had some audio balancing problems: the incidental music sometimes drowned out dialogue, something the option to adjust each level separately would have easily fixed – had it been included. This is a pretty basic no-no, hopefully this issue will be remedied by release date or in a patch.
The four episodes in the series offer about six hours play time each and are priced at total cost of $34.95 (£25). If Vickram has 9000 yen, shouldn't he just buy the Monkey Island box set? In fairness Fright of the Bumblebees is not as funny or well-crafted as the point-and-click adventure greats such as Sam and Max or Monkey Island, but Telltale cater to their target audience well and the package is reasonable value for money. Younger gamers and fans of the films are going to love getting into new stories based in the Wallace and Gromit world.
By Gideon Heap