REVIEW: Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: Episode 1 – Fright of the Bumblebees (2009)

A videogame by Telltale Games

The history of Telltale games is a very tumultuous ride. From humble beginnings, they went on to arguably resurrect the once presumed dead genre of adventure games, only to get too big too quickly and nearly wipe themselves off the face of The Earth entirely. Apparently they are coming back in some way in the future, more of as a “branding”, so time will tell if that’s successful. Before all the big profile games like The Wolf Among Us, and The Walking Dead, they did more traditional “point and click” adventure games like this one from 2009. Instead of the “interactive film”-like engine of later games with the illusion of branched storylines, they borrowed heavily from the likes of old Lucas Arts and Sierra games like Space Quest or Monkey Island.

After developing Sam & Max and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, Telltale Games acquired the Wallace & Gromit franchise for a series of episodic point & click adventures with the first entry being Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: Episode 1 – Fright of the Bumblebees. The game is based on the television and film series about the Lancashire inventor Wallace and his dog Gromit, including all of the hijinks a fan would expect from the series. In this first episode of four the two have to face a bee invasion. Obviously, for those that know the series a bit, the invasion is the result of one of Wallace’s hilarious inventions not exactly going as planned.

“Enter the colorful world of West Wallaby Street in a series of four cracking adventures brought to you by Aardman Animations, the creators of the Wallace & Gromit animated films, and award-winning Telltale Games. As with the brilliant Aardman films, each Wallace & Gromit episode finds the earnest inventor and his faithful canine companion embarking on ambitious new ventures laced with unexpected (and always laugh-inducing) complications.

Episode 1 – “Fright Of the Bumblebees”
Wallace attempts to save his bumbling honey business with supersized flowers. This leads to an unintended consequence – giant bees! – and Gromit must save the town from the angry swarm!”

The “Magnatronic Pullinator”, a machine that converts flowers into honey, is Wallace’s latest invention, as well as his hope to finally make some cash, as the bills keep coming in and the money’s running out. The malfunction of one of Wallace’s other works, the cheese-hunting Sniffer 3000, causes some financial trouble as the local grocery store sends a massive bill for the damage the robot has caused. Soon enough, a massive order comes in from the local grocer for the honey, with a deadline of that evening. Although he doesn’t have nearly enough flowers to make good on this order, Wallace accepts, leading to all kinds of crazy consequences.

As stated earlier, Fright of the Bumblebees is a traditional point & click adventure game. You have limited movement through the static backgrounds by using the arrow or WASD keys and will have to research the area by clicking on the different items. The direction of movement is relative to the camera angle, which can cause some problems in the beginning. Progression through the game is made by solving the various puzzles. In the beginning, for example, you have to fix one of Wallace’s funny time-saving inventions, a machine that stomps a chicken and automatically transfers the egg to the pan, by finding the missing item. The overall difficulty level of the puzzles is sadly not on par with Strong Bad or Sam & Max. I don’t know whether that’s intentional, but it looks like the game is a little bit more suited towards kids.

You’ll control both Wallace and Gromit in different parts of the story, but this doesn’t affect the gameplay at all. A missed opportunity, since Gromit, the dog, is definitely the smarter of the two. At around four hours the game is very short, and since the puzzles are the same the second time through, there’s no replay value at all. Also there’s not as much to do aside from the main game, like the extra activities in the Strong Bad games for example. Obviously this is episodic content, and it’s still available at $15.00 for all four episodes, but still a little bit more value would have been appreciated.

The best part of the game is the atmosphere. Telltale succeeds in transferring the tone of a television series to a videogame in just about every way. In this case, it means that the uniquely British atmosphere and humor that are so typical for Wallace & Gromit are very well translated into the game. The graphics look polished and the characters look very much like the stop motion original, which is a huge plus. The environments are full of nice, quirky details. Overall it’s pretty basic, but that’s more or less to be expected, but this doesn’t prevent the house and the town of Wigan from really coming to life.

The voice acting is very well done, although it’s a shame the original voice of Wallace isn’t in this game, as he was still alive at time pf production and it wasn’t too long since he worked with them. The thick British accents might prove too much for non-natives, but luckily there’s the option to turn on the subtitles. This is also helpful because the background music, which consists of brass band tunes, is often too loud in the mix. This is perhaps one of my only issues with the game, but it’s honestly probably only an issue because of my laptop speakers.

As with all of the older Telltale episodic point & click games (Jurassic Park, Back to the future, Sam and Max etc.), Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees stays very close to the original television series and provides a very enjoyable couple of hours of what basically amounts to an interactive cartoon to engage with. The puzzles aren’t very remarkable though, which is a bit of a shame since the presentation is very well done. With four hours of length it’s on the short side, but it suits the price and for fans of the series and/or the genre this is an easily digestible and fun experience. Stay tuned for more of these as I am replaying them and plan to review all four!

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