Wallace & Gromit Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
Who would have thought 20 years ago, that the general public would be enthralled by the antics of a plasticine man and his plasticine dog? When you describe Wallace and Gromit, it doesn't sound instantly endearing or particularly entertaining. A very eccentric cheese addict who creates some diabolical inventions that always go wrong, and a mute dog who can only communicate through facial expressions and body language. Really, compared to the likes of Bolt and Kung Fu Panda, it all sounds a bit old fashioned and dated. However, the critics have all been proven wrong. Wallace and Gromit have gone from strength to strength, thanks to four 30 minute shorts and a feature length film: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. For those of you who have yet to experience the delights of Wallace and Gromit, it is quite simple to describe. Every adventure starts out rather mundanely, usually with Gromit preparing Wallace's breakfast (this might sound dull, but you haven't seen how it's done) followed by Wallace having a go at making a new invention, which invariably goes very wrong, with typically humourous consequences.
Along the way, there are plenty of examples of metafictionality, or parody, ranging from high speed train chases (only it's on a toy train) to naming the latest installment 'A Matter of Loaf and Death', a nod to the classic David Niven film, as well as including various references to Aliens and Psycho; amongst many other films. Wallace and Gromit truly is multi-layered in terms of its appeal, simplistic in a way children love, but offering enough in-jokes to make adults smile. So just how well does this translate to the PC screen with Telltale Games' Fright of the Bumblebee? As Wallace himself would say 'Cracking job, Gromit!' Well, maybe congratulations should be offered to Telltale Games rather than Gromit in this instance...
As soon as you load up the game, everything looks very familiar to fans of the animated shorts. The animations have always had their own unique charm and so does this game. Even the beginner's tutorial manages to exude charm for the adults while being extremely simplistic, presumably for a younger player's benefit. Wallace explains to the player that due to the wonders of 'interactovision', you can control him and Gromit. It's only a minor touch but you can't help but smile to yourself at the developer's nod to breaking the fourth wall, allowing Wallace to reveal his awareness of his audience as it were. The start of the game is identical to that of a typical episode, with the player tasked with the role of Gromit, needing to wake up his master, Wallace, through the use of the various contraptions that fans will have seen previously (the porridge machine, the absurd gizmo that wakes and dresses Wallace and so forth). It also quickly highlights just how bizarre some of the puzzle solutions are. They make logical sense (just about), but in a quite twisted way. Think along the lines of Monkey Island and of course, Telltale Games' previous hit Sam and Max, and that's Wallace and Gromit really. I mean seriously, where else can you find the need to solve a puzzle with a cycling toy badger? Once you've settled into this slightly absurdist angle, it is excellent fun to try to figure out how to solve the puzzles.
This is ably helped by a useful, but not overly intrusive hints system which you can either turn off or turn down depending on how much help you want. Also, thanks to Private Eye writer Tristan Davies' story writing abilities, the game has a tight but always entertaining plotline. Once you have organised Wallace's breakfast, the main plot kicks off. Wallace's latest idea is to run a honey making business called From Bee To You. Doesn't that sound very normal compared to Wallace's usual ideas? Well, not exactly. In this instance, he has a machine called the Pollinator where he adds flowers one end, and out the other comes honey, and he's got a faithful hive of bees that stop work whenever their national anthem comes on to respect their Queen. Yes, all very normal really. Shortly into the game, Wallace is given an order of 50 gallons of honey required by the end of the day. In a panic he decides the best way of doing this is to grow flowers super quick with a special growth formula, then feed up his bees. Collecting up the parts was good, but bizarre, fun. Not wishing to spoil things too much, but I had to bribe a squirrel and secrete cheese upon a policeman all so that I could gain this growth formula. Weird, but fun and it certainly reminded me of why I love cartoon based point-and-click adventures.
Of course, despite eventually managing to get the 50 gallons of honey sorted, it all goes a bit horribly wrong. Poor Wallace and Gromit end up creating an army of giant bees and causing panic in the town. Cue a brief mini-game where you have to shoot down the bees in certain places to progress. It made for a nice break from the point-and-click action, despite still requiring some lateral thinking. Another memorable moment featured later in the game where Wallace is captured by a giant bee. Gromit has to save him by tickling the giant bee with a feather, typical adventure gaming logic! The game is a little brief at only around 5-6 hours but as most people would be buying the game as part of an ongoing set, with future episodes released in the coming months, it still represents good value for money. Another important thing to note is that the system requirements are relatively low, making it ideal for those wanting to play a game in brief sessions on their laptop for example. Despite the low system requirements, I still found the game lovely to look at. It captures the spirit of Wallace and Gromit perfectly and looks just how it should really. The voice talent is also expertly done despite the lack of Peter Sallis's voice as Wallace and overall, it really is the perfect package for Wallace and Gromit fans. My only real concern is that Fright of the Bumblebee is probably a little bit too simple for adult gamers experienced in the adventure game genre; but I found it so much fun that I could forgive it for its occasional simplistic moments.
Indeed, all I can do is sing the praises of Telltale Games’ first Wallace and Gromit game. It really is good, old fashioned adventure gaming fun. It is ideal for all the family to work on and I suspect most adults would enjoy it too. I sincerely hope that the future episodes currently planned: The Last Resort, Muzzled! and The Bogey Man, are all as well implemented and as enjoyable as this one. It really is a credit to the Wallace and Gromit name and I can heartily recommend it.
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