Also available on: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Telltale Studios
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Puzzle / Adventure
Release date: Available Now
The Wallace & Gromit characters have gone from plasticine dreams in creator Nick Park's mind to internationally renowned superstars. Over a series of wonderful adventures, the inventive yet somewhat dense Wallace and his long-suffering canine Gromit have scooped three Academy Awards and countless merchandising sales in the process. For anyone longing to not only watch but also get involved with these marvellous escapades, Telltale Games has attempted to make their wish come true with Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures. Despite a few minor gripes, the first two salvos in this four-episode series really bring forth the treasured character's charm, feel and humour to make this a real treat for fans.
Telltale Studios (Sam & Max, Monkey Island) has a strong history of creating episode-based content that is both accessible and fun. However, taking on the much-loved and critically-lauded property of Wallace & Gromit is a seriously brave thing. Thankfully, the first two Grand Adventures - Fright Of The Bumblebees and The Last Resort - not only do justice to the characters, but also add a new dimension to their bizarre escapades. For anyone not quite up to speed, Wallace is a northern inventor-cum-entrepreneur who is partial to creating big vision ventures that invariably result in some bizarre and apocalyptic outcome. This usually requires his intelligent yet so often exasperated dog Gromit to step in and save the day, with Wallace generally none the wiser.
One slight disappointment in Grand Adventures is that Peter Sallis does not lend his voice for the role of Wallace, but Telltale has been able to secure backup actor Ben Whitehead instead. What is more important, though, is that the studio has managed to capture the exasperated and knowing expressions exhibited by Gromit as his master bumbles through life. This, alongside other aspects, really brings forth the distinctive look and feel of Wallace & Gromit. The voice acting is well delivered, the graphics are well animated and the compelling stories brim full with northern charm - lots of 'chucks', 'loves' and 'anyroads' - to make this a fitting addition to the series.
All action in the episodes focuses around the duo's home on West Wallaby Street in an atypical northern town believed by some to be based on Wigan. This also features a host of stereotypically humorous characters, including Asian shopkeeper Mr Paneer, insane old military type Major Crum, bureaucratic Officer Dibbins, quintessential spinster Miss Felicity Flit (with her yappy dogs Poodgie-Woo and Tinkie-Wee), big Scottish bully Duncan McBiscuit and elderly newsagency owner Mrs Gabberley, who constantly argues with the grumpy, disembodied voice of her husband.
In Fright of the Bumblebees, Wallace's From Bee To You honey business has received an order to supply 50 gallons of the sweet stuff to Mr Paneer. To hurry along production, the big-eared entrepreneur decides to use a super-growth formula. As per usual, things go rather quickly awry, resulting in a swarm of genetically enhanced super bees attacking the town. Moving on to the The Last Resort, this time Wallace has decided to build a seaside resort in his basement on a particularly grim and rainy day. He charges the local residents to holiday there, but a vicious 'thumping' incident results in Gromit having to track down the culprit and save the resort from controversy.
Gameplay uses the traditional point-and-click approach of other adventure titles, where objects need to be collected and applied to affect different outcomes. However, gamers must also move either Wallace or Gromit around the playing space using the directional or WASD keys. This adds a nice new dimension to proceedings and also makes the whole experience feel a bit fresher. Word play-based challenges also feel well placed, while the odd action challenge requires quick reactions. Overall, the puzzles are well built, offering some occasionally head-scratching moments. This is especially so when an outcome is dependent on doing something else first, which requires a bit of lateral thinking.
However, there are moments when it all feels like a bit more story than actual gameplay. Sometimes players are not really doing much apart from gently nudging the story on, which does feel a little flimsy in gaming terms. However, this is offset by the stories, which may not be Wallace & Gromit vintage classics, but they are still nicely told. Most importantly, though, is that the games really bring forth the nature, charm and style of the characters. This also extends to the graphics, which not only reflect the rather odd world of West Wallaby Street, but also gives the feel of the quirky plasticine animation that made the series famous.
Grand Adventures is available via Steam and the Telltale Games website, as well as from Xbox Live Arcade (only Fright Of The Bumblebees as yet). Third instalment Muzzled! will be released at some point this month, while the final episode, The Bogey Man, is coming out in July. All four can be bought for $34.95 (around £24) or individual episodes can be purchased for $8.95 a piece. Each one will take about four to five hours to complete, which makes this pretty decent value on balance. Indeed, for any fans of Wallace & Gromit, this will be a real treat as it basically offers the chance to take part in one of the dynamic duo's adventures without leaving the comfort of the living room. Now that's just cracking, chuck.
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