Wallace & Gromit, Fright of the Bumblebees is Fun, Old-School Adventure for XBLA
UPS: Brings back classic adventure-style gameplay; puzzles are clever and at times surprising; great animation and voice acting; captures all the style, humour, levity, and charm of the cartoon perfectly; seems to use original voice actors.
DOWNS: Some puzzles might be a bit tough for XBLA players who are unfamiliar with adventure gaming; version we played had some bugs that are hopefully all worked out in the final version.
BOTTOM LINE: A must-buy if you’re a fan of old-school adventure games or Wallace & Gromit, or if you’re just looking for a game to test your brain rather than your reflexes.
Available on PC and XBox Live Arcade, the first episode of the new Wallace & Gromit game brings players some light-hearted fun in the same vein as old Lucasarts and Sierra games, and is sure to please fans of the almost-extinct adventure gaming genre.
Based on the innocent and entertaining animated claymation shorts from Aardman Animation, Fright of the Bumblebees is the first in series of episodic games released by Telltale Games. For those that aren’t familiar, W&G is an animated show about Wallace, a bumbling, air-headed inventor of ridiculous contraptions, and Gromit, the dog who begrudgingly puts up with Wallace’s hair-brained schemes and does his best to keep his owner out of trouble.
Like all Telltale fare, such as the Sam & Max series and the Strongbad games, W&G is an old-school adventure game in which you collect items and use them to solve puzzles. For some reason this style of gaming has fallen out of favour since its heyday almost two decades ago, but Telltale is looking to bring it back into the mainstream. And more power to them I say; it’s always bewildered me that adventure games went out of style so badly, and I believe the adventure game genre is one in great need of a revival.
And with W&G, Telltale Games have done a fine job at bringing back this classic style of gameplay. Like any good point-and-click-style adventure game, W&G gives you a problem to solve and a few seemingly useless items, and forces you to put on your thinking cap and come up with a creative solution to the unlikely problems you are faced with.
The game is easy to get into, for adventure gamers and newbies to the genre alike. The player is introduced to the mechanics through a quick tutorial, and the controls, though not standard point-and-click adventure controls, are simple and will fit the XBox controllers very well. The tutorial, controls, and inviting style of W&G make it very easy to jump in and start playing.
The world of W&G is a perfect fit for the adventure gaming genre, with its light hearted characters, silly jokes, and wealth of crazy inventions to centre puzzles aronud. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to make a special flower-growth formula from rag-tag ingredients, or trying to shoot giant bees out of the sky with a porridge gun, W&G surprises you with creative solutions to problems that make you say “Ah-ha!” while also making you smile as the whimsical events unfold.
I don’t want to spoil anything by giving away too much of the story, but the basic premise of the game is that in his quest to deliver a truckload of honey to one of his customers, Wallace unwittingly releases an army of giant bees on his quaint English town. To get rid of the bee menace, players will use both Wallace and Gromit to solve some smart and challenging puzzles.
The story is classic Wallace & Gromit fare, and any fan of the cartoon will be very familiar with its playful style and fantastical hijinks. Telltale has managed to capture the feel and style of the Wallace & Gromit cartoon completely, with the result that playing the game is basically just like playing an episode of the show. From the characters and voices and animation style, to the very good direction and cinematic style, W&G draws the player into the game’s world and its story. Particularly entertaining is Wallace’s walking animation, in which he constantly holds his hands in front of himself like an overly-polite British person who is in a hurry but doesn’t want to bother anyone else by showing his anxiousness.
W&G also presents some unorthodox and interesting puzzles to the player, keeping the game fresh and compelling. For example, when Wallace first unwittingly releases the giant bees, the player gets the chance to shoot them out of the air with a porridge gun. But what at first looks like a straightforward reflex mini-game actually turns out to be unique puzzle that strays from the usual adventure game formula. W&G does this a few times, making the player think outside the box in order to solve some puzzles that diverge from the usual use-item-on-object formula of old-school adventure games.
The early version we played had a few bugs, which will presumably be ironed out for the final version. Also, despite W&G’s very light and charming style, some of the puzzles can actually be a bit difficult, especially for someone who just downloaded the game off XBLA and isn’t familiar with the adventure game genre. The light and cute style of the game may give people the impression that this will be a simple game, but that would be a mistake; many of the puzzles require a sort of creative thinking that most games wouldn’t involve.
But overall, if you’re a fan of old-school adventure or Wallace & Gromit, or you are just looking for a game to test your brain rather than your reflexes, or you just want a hcange of pace with an innocent and fun stroy, then Wallace & Gromit, Fright of the Bumblesbees is well worth your time. Though the game is technically the first episode of four, it actually includes a surprising amount of content. As a fan of adventure gaming, and Wallace & Gromit, and good games in general, I’m looking forward to the next episodes.
Wallace & Gromit, Fright of the Bumblebees is available on XBox Live Arcade and PC, and costs $34.95 for the entire 4 episode bundle.
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