Wallace & Gromit:
Fright of the Bumblebees
Are you ready for adventure? Are you ready for mayhem? Are you... feeling a bit peckish? Then grab your favourite brand of cheese and get comfy in your favourite sweater vest. Telltale Games, developers of the equally tasty Sam and Max games, has just released the first adventure in a new series plucked straight from the popular British cartoon and movie. Wallace & Gromit: Fright of the Bumblebees is the first in a series of episodic adventure games, and it's point-and-click gaming at its finest with everyone's favourite cheese-loving inventor and his beleaguered pooch.
Wallace & Gromit are entrepeneurs, of a sort. Wallace is continually applying his abstract inventions to new business ideas, and his latest is honey — "From Bee to You". After breakfast one morning, Wallace is commissioned to produce fifty gallons of the stuff for an event to be held that night — a tight deadline even if he had more than one hive of angry bees. Wallace being Wallace, he comes up with a scheme to produce an enormous amount of honey in a short amount of time, but he's neglected to take into consideration that science and nature don't normally mix.
Depending on where in the story you are, you'll have control of either Wallace himself or his long-suffering canine companion, Gromit, both of which can walk around using the [WASD] keys. Move your mouse over an object and if white brackets appear around it, you can click to interact. Using an item is as easy as holding shift to open your inventory, clicking on the item, and then clicking again on who — or what — you want to use it with. Make sure you come back and check on items when you switch characters, too, as Wallace & Gromit interact with things in different ways.
The hints and walkthrough on the official site definitely come in handy from time to time. A lot of the puzzles are abstract to say the least, unless you're one of those people who instantly knows what to do with a badger, a tennis racket, and a stick of butter. Since the game generally tries to provide items to you when you would need them, however, it scales back on the frustration of other adventure games which have you trying to use an item over and over throughout the course of an entire game. In general, the puzzles are more diverse than the standard bring-this-item-to-this-character variety; when was the last time you had to use advertisements to craft a suitably scathing insult?
Analysis: Fright of the Bumblebees is just beautiful. Let's get that out of the way right now. I spent a great deal of gameplay just marveling at how gorgeous everything was and how near-flawless the animation is, shot from every angle. The titular characters are lovingly rendered so close to the original series that their designs even incorporate little fingerprints and cracks to make them resemble the clay sculptures. The game is packed with the show's signature style and unique appeal, down to the so British voice acting (Wallace himself is voiced by the official backup actor, Ben Whitehead) and the roly-poly orchestral soundtrack. The spoken dialogue is only in English, but subtitles are available in several languages. Gromit's expressions, of course, need no translation. The downside is that this means older computers might have trouble running it smoothly, so make sure to check yours against the specifications.
Wallace & Gromit is one of those things that you either get or you don't, and the appeal of the series' goggle-eyed characters and their implausible adventures is largely dependent upon your appreciation for unabashed silliness. If you can accept that a dog can grow a prize-winning giant cucumber, or that a man can have his brain swapped with a rabbit, then you'll do just fine. If reading that sentence caused your brow to furrow, you might encounter difficulties. The game is a lot of things, but serious isn't one of them, and the very British humour is much more dry than everyone might be used to. The jokes are kid-friendly, but not so watered down that adults won't get a giggle or four out of them.
As the first in a planned series of four adventures to be released monthly, Fright of the Bumblebees is, in my opinion, worth every penny so far. The price of which includes, incidentally, the three upcoming adventures as well. Often games that are based off of established shows tend to feel very commercial, or just consist of a basic gameplay system with token nods to the source material. By contrast, this game feels like a real labour of love. If you've ever wondered what butter has to do with catching squirrels, or where Strongium comes from, you owe it to yourself to check out this game. And even if you haven't, it's still worth a look.