Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees is one of those games I knew I was going to love even before I started playing. It combines my love of animator Nick Park with my admiration of how Telltale Games can turn just about anything into pure adventure game magic. I knew that for several hours I would play through a fantastical adventure with two of the funniest claymation characters ever created, all in the style of an old SCUMM-style graphic adventure (think: Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island). Now that I've played through the game I can honestly say that this first episode is worth playing, but for whatever reason I didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
In case you've been living under a rock for the past decade, Wallace and Gromit are the stars of some incredibly funny animated shorts from Great Britain. Wallace is a mild-mannered inventor who seems to have a new business every time we check in on him. Gromit, on the other hand, is Wallace's pet dog, an expressive mutt who seems to be just as capable (if not more so) than his owner. Together they make a perfect team, solving mysteries and helping their neighbors in one ridiculous adventure after another.
Now these crazy adventures are coming to your Xbox 360, thanks to the creative force behind the resurrection of Sam & Max. While it might sound like a slight to say that this Wallace & Gromit game is nothing more than a reskinned Sam & Max episode, in some ways that's the truth. The game controls in much the same fashion, with you controlling one of two characters (Wallace or Gromit, though only one at a time), picking up items and solving a bunch of puzzles along the way. Thankfully there are differences, such as the game's more polite British sense of humor and the fact that you now control the character directly (as opposed to using a cursor to navigate). But, by and large, this game is very similar to Telltale Games' other adventure titles.
In an odd way that's a very good thing. While this Wallace & Gromit release isn't going to be accused of being the most innovative game of the year, it does tell a fascinating story full of memorably quirky characters and strong puzzles. These graphic adventures have always been about the narrative and giving you a lot of funny gags to laugh at, and that's exactly what Telltale Games was able to accomplish with their first stab at Nick Park's iconic claymation duo.
The story is fairly straightforward. Wallace has decided to get into the honey making business, which means that he's built a giant honey machine (complete with bees) in his basement. When a big order comes his way, a nearly destitute Wallace decides that this will be his big break. Unfortunately, Wallace doesn't have the time or the bees to make the amount of honey that has been ordered, so he devises a way to grow extremely large flowers in a fraction of the time. Of course, just like any Wallace & Gromit adventure, things go spectacularly bad for our heroes. Before long it's up to the duo (but mostly Gromit) to save the townsfolk, make the honey and battle some gigantic bees. It's a story straight out of the animated shorts we've come to know and love.
The gameplay is simple enough, you control either Wallace and Gromit (depending on which part of the game you're in) picking up items and interacting with your surroundings. Much like Sam & Max, each of the items you pick up has a use, so it's up to you to figure out what goes where and how you can use these puzzles to your advantage. Each act has several objectives. For example, in the second act you'll be forced to make a magical muscle growing formula, but in order to do that you'll need to obtain the three main ingredients. Unfortunately this means that you're going to have to solve a series of puzzles to get each ingredient. Once you have them you can mix them up and move on to the next grouping of puzzles and brainteasers.
The big difference in this game is that you directly control the movements of these two characters. Since you don't have a cursor, you can use the right analog stick to look around and see objects to interact with. This is the addition that not only makes this game user friendly, but keeps things from going into frustrating territory. The right analog stick works as a way to switch from one object to another, so you rarely have to position yourself in the exact right location to read a poster, pick up a piece of cheese (mmmmm, cheese) or pull a level. You can simply select it with your analog stick and push the action button. It's clear that Telltale Games was thinking of ways to translate the point-and-click PC controls into something worthwhile on the control-based Xbox 360.
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