Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures Review (Xbox360)

When we found out we had gotten some Wallace and Gromit review code, we put on ‘Curse of the Ware Rabbit’ and last year’s Christmas short, ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’ to celebrate. Suffice to say, we were yet again charmed to the back teeth by the clever writing, the brilliant voice acting and the stunning animation. However, what makes Wallace and Gromit special is the attention to detail. There’s so much going on behind the main characters, so many little gems loaded with references to popular culture that even after the fifth sitting, you’re still noticing new things. These are the hallmark of Aardman’s creations and any game baring the Wallace and Gromit name will have to live up to the incredibly lofty quality bar set by Nick Park et al.

Sadly, after just five minutes of playing Telltales Xbox Live Arcade effort, Fright of the Bumblebees, none of the features listed above are present at all. In fact, as you control the ever faithful Gromit trying to make his master’s breakfast, you instantly feel detached from the experience: the gameworld feels empty and lifeless and as such you feel unmotivated to solve the issues at hand. This isn’t the best recipe for an adventure game.

Wallace and Gromit XBLA is fun at times, but it’s not the bees knees.
New characters are introduced and quite frankly don’t really add much to the universe.

Maybe one of the reasons why we felt instantly distant from the action was the amount of slowdown during the opening cut scene. We very much doubt Fright of the Bumblebees is pushing the Xbox 360 to its limits so the issue must lie with the developer here. We’re also hearing that this occurs with Sam ‘n’ Max XBLA too, so it looks like an engine issue. Without wishing to go on, any successful adventure game hinges on story, and in order to tell that story, the cut scenes need to be as engrossing as possible as this is where the majority of the tale is being told. So having very noticeable slow down at this juncture distracts the player from the story and atmosphere the game wishes to convey. Not good.

The voice acting too - another vital component in an adventure title - feels slightly off and very strained. It’s almost as though people are saying their lines a split second too late, so the on-screen ‘acting’ of the characters feels wooden and forced. Most noticeable, the voice of Wallace, actor Peter Sallis, isn’t present and it really does show. When you adopt a franchise you need the vital components of it in order to make it work as compromising these leaves the impression that it’s just a simple cash-in with little to no regard for what made the thing you’re trying to emulate and encapsulate successful. Another point docked.

What Telltale does do well are the puzzles. Most of them are right in front of your face but still need a bit of lateral thinking and investigation in order to solve. If you can look past the faults listed above, you’ll find that in terms of some genuinely well-thought-out puzzling, Fright of the Bumblebees can proudly stand alongside other light-hearted games in the genre: Broken Sword springs to mind.

The Major. Not Nelson.
Wallace is getting himself into trouble, again. Silly Wallace.

The background music has the same oompah-oompah of the series and serves as an adequate compliment to when you’re ambling around looking for clues. However, all you have to do is just press Y on the controller and everything worth looking at becomes highlighted. If you want a challenge, don’t touch that button. In fact, the interface is fairly well done with a quick flick of the right stick you can quickly navigate between various items of interest in the room meaning that everything of note is to hand and you’re not faffing around trying to position a cross-hair or pointer in a pixel-perfect position.

As with many well established franchise tie-ins, if you’re a big fan then you might as well invest in Fright of the Bumblees as the story and puns are very reminiscent of the work of Aardman, however poorly delivered they might be. For those of you looking for a decent adventure game on Xbox Live Arcade you might be better off trying out Sam ‘n’ Max XBLA (our review is incoming) or if you can wait that long, the seminal The Curse of Monkey Island (remake coming in the summer) that will yet again make adventure games like this one pale in comparison. A missed opportunity.

Top Gaming moment: Completing the game without assistance.

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