Those delightful claymation characters Wallace & Gromit have successfully leaped from TV show to cinema and now make their debut in an old-school point-and-click adventure video game.
It took Nick Park and the crew at Aardman Animations six years to produce W&G’s first TV expedition with 1990’s A Grand Day Out.
The ambitious claymation techniques required to breathe life into mild-mannered contraption constructer Wallace and his ever faithful yet long-suffering dog Gromit are so time consuming that only a handful of TV episodes and a feature film have followed since. (with a further film – A Matter of Loaf and Death - about to launch).
Though Aardman have been busy with Chicken Run, Creature Comforts and other projects during this time, it has been Wallace & Gromit that have held the hearts of fans around the world. This rich comedic world is therefore long overdue for the video game treatment.
So up to the crease step Telltale Games, with their pedigree of Sam & Max, amongst others, to put on the table, you know you have a company that understands point-and-click adventures.
Currently Telltale have four W&G episodes in the plan, in May expect to see “The Last Resort” followed by “Muzzled” and “The Bogey Man”. But for now we have a number of hours to while away on West Wallaby St in “Fright of the Bumblebees”
The game mechanic of the game could not be simpler. Guide the bumbling Wallace as he attempts to pay mounting bills via a deal struck with a local business man, Mr Paneer.
Gromit slaps his expressive brow as Wallace agrees to delivery of 50 gallons of honey - from a single hive contraption in the basement - to Mr Paneer by sunset. This sets off a series of events that ultimately sees Wallace kidnapped by a giant queen bee.
This is classic point-and-click computer adventure gaming, in a similar vein to Sam & Max and even going back to the Monkey Island series..
The action switches between controlling Wallace, and his hound and likewise switches location, predominately between the main town and Wallace’s multilevel home.
Graphically the game almost recreates the look of the TV show, right down to a pitted plasticine like appearance of the characters themselves. Items of interest are highlighted, even when hidden behind characters, and this is in no way a pixel-hunt adventure, every item is clearly definably on screen.
There is some element of chance in the game however, not in finding the right objects, but just in combing inventory items with on-screen locations at the right time. This may sometimes take a bit of trial , error or dumb luck, but ultimately you will kick yourself for not recognising the clues earlier.
There is no item alchemy in the game, meaning, you will not need to combine items in your inventory at any point. Thus the permutations and combinations for puzzle solving are limited.
This helps in game progression, giving a satisfying feeling of success within an environment of chaotic fun.
Telltale Games have done a great job of capturing much of the W&G essence into this short episode. There is plenty of bee-grade humour throughout, a cinema poster for example, advertises upcoming flicks “The African Queen Bee”, “The Sting” and “Hive Noon”.
Then there is plenty of reference to cheese, which becomes an integral part of the puzzle solving mechanism throughout the game, crackers, contraptions and simply the characters - most of which are new - that inhabit the W&G universe. Even their home is recreated with loving charm.
Hints can be toned down or up as desired during the episode, but generally the adventure moves along nicely. There is also some clever and non-threatening real-time game play during the course of the five to seven hours you will get from this episode.
On the niggles side, I found controlling either Wallace or Gromit sometimes got a little out of hand as perspective changes during some locations, and the sound mix was definitely an issue with the review code.
Hopefully the ability to separately control background music from the dialogue is an option in the final product.
Telltale games are offering all four episodes for $34.95, this is a nice price point if the following three episodes offer this amount of game-play and charm.