You need to have a heart made from obsidian spikes to not like Wallace and Gromit. The crazy contraptions, the wry humour, the ‘you cannot be serious’ expression that is Gromit’s usual response to Wallace’s madcap schemes… it’s a winning formula that’s changed very little since “A Grand Day Out” first aired twenty years ago. That’s right – twenty years. In that time, they’ve grown into a pretty heavyweight brand, so it’s not really a great surprise that they’ve found a comfortable niche in videogame-land.
The plot of this particular outing is familiar fare. Wallace has a new invention, there’s a new character on the scene who seems nice enough at first but after a bit of snooping around Gromit discovers that he’s not all that he seems… so, pretty much the same as all the others, really. It’s an intuitive-walk-and-point-and-click-typa-thing, that less cynical reviewers may say ‘appeals to the younger audience’, as if the younger audience won’t be the first ones pulling off complex ten-string-combos in Tekken 6. Some of the puzzles are from the arbitrary “use the signed phtotgraph of Ant & Dec on the Mayan Ziggurat” tradition of point-and-clickers, which definitely DOESN’T appeal to the younger audience, because quite frankly it doesn’t appeal to anyone.
Watch out – here comes a spoiler. Wallace and Gromit are made from pasticine. That’s right, I know! I’m as surprised as you are. This modelling style is, I would imagine, pretty simple to transpose to the PC, and the cartoony style of the TV shows and films carries over well into the game. That said, the endearing, simplistic style seems to have been used in some cases as an excuse for laziness, as the graphics are mostly awful. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say a lot of the game is graphically what you’d have expected about ten years ago.
As I mentioned before, the control system is immediately accessible to anyone with even a passing knowledge of computer gaming (i.e. every single living human being on the planet, including Amazonian pygmies), however the directions that each of the ‘WASD’ keys send you in seems randomly-selected on a screen-by-screen basis. Which basically means you’ll be running upwards into the screen by pressing left, then suddenly you’ll be on a different screen heading down and to the right – whilst still pressing left. It’s a bit like being in Resident Evil 1 again, except instead of being chased by the walking dead you’re interfering in a pie-eating contest.
The two main characters are faithfully drawn and animated, but the fact that Wallace is voiced by a Peter Sallis sound-alike who is just not quite perfect is surprisingly distracting. Much of the background humour such as shop names, newspaper headlines, billboards and all the other tiny details that make you laugh out loud when you spot them in the films are just not up to the same standard here. Some effort has been made, of course, but it’s just not quite up to scratch. That said, the feeling of being in the weird world of West Wallaby Street is more-or-less intact. The dialogue captures the feel of things very well – the arch-villain in particular is excellent – and the whole thing is dressed up in the usual massive heap of alliteration. Gromit is always a ‘meddlesome mongrel’ or a ‘pesky pooch’.
Reviewing episodic content for a Wallace and Gromit game feels a little bit like going to a children’s party and stroking your chin whilst saying “Well, pass-the-parcel felt formulaic and derivative, much of the clown’s work was simplistic and condescending and I would expect more than three colours of balloons in this day and age”. Of course, that’s completely missing the point. When the game first starts up and the logo appears with Wallace and Gromit’s smiling faces beaming out welcomingly at you, it’s impossible not to smile back. Their world is a simple one where we happily accept that a normal man and his dog can build robotic trousers. If you approach this game with that same acceptance and tolerance, there’s certainly something to enjoy here. It’s fun to just spend a lazy afternoon with the beloved pair.