Wallace & Gromit: Fright of the Bumble Bees Review
Thursday, March 26, 2009 12:22 PM
Telltale Games making Wallace & Gromit? Someone's been reading my wish list again. While there are some snags here, there's nothing that can stop this game from being great fun to play.
Let's let the biggest problem into the wild then, the one that might put off some Wallace & Gromit fans but still isn't in any way as bad as it sounds - or rather, as he sounds. Peter Sallis, the traditional voice of Wallace, does not voice the character in Telltale's Game.
This isn't as bad as you might expect, since his replacement is Aardman's own Sallis stand-by impersonator Dan Whitehead, and he's often a dead ringer for the aging Last of the Summer Wine star.
Often, but sadly, not always. Still, this is hardly Telltale's fault, and Whitehead's not a bad substitute, but the problem is that he's so quiet. He's often drowned out by the background music, making joke-spoiling subtitles a must. Consequently it makes his Wallace voice seem decidedly unemotional in some the more high-tension scenes.
While we're on the subject of sound, another quibble is the rather simplistic, yet confusing, options menu. There are no separate volume controls for sound effects, music and voices like there are in most games, instead there's just one big pointless volume control (we do have those on our speakers, you know, guys). So the music can occasionally get too loud and cloud even the other actors' voices out.
Telltale are aware of this and will hopefully fix it later, but for now it's a problem. The options menu also makes no obvious mention of saving, and it took me a while to track down the function.
All that said, the rest of the sound is perfect. The other voice actors are all proper English folk, not Americans-doing-English as some may have feared, and all perform their characters perfectly. The classic Wallace & Gromit theme tune by Julian Nott makes a proud appearance, and the rest of the music is all Telltale veteran Jared Emerson-Johnson's work and up to his usual high standards.
Speaking of the characters, they're a suitably eclectic bunch with plenty of foibles, quirks and downright insane moments. Consequently they fit well into Aardman's Northern universe. It's a slight pity that the town's policeman is now PC Dibbins rather than Curse of the Wererabbit's fantastically named PC Mackintosh, but as he was voiced by comedy legend Peter Kay he was probably either busy or out of Telltale's price range. Dibbins is a really excellent replacement, though.
As far as returning characters, if you're expecting Hutch or Shaun to turn up you'll be disappointed, although there are plenty of references to the animations and a mechanical 'character' popping for a quick cameo. There's nothing related to A Matter of Loaf and Death however, as this presumably takes place before the universe-shattering events of that recent story.
I hate saying too much about the story, but here Wallace & Gromit are in the honey business and have to get a big order ready, before everything goes wrong of course.
Nothing really unpredictable happens (especially if you've seen the plot-spoiling trailer), but it's all carried over with such charm and fun that it's hard not to love it. I could say the same about all the Wallace & Gromit films incidentally, so the game's still spot-on.
Another area I was slightly worried about was the difficulty, since the game had to appeal to both 'hardcore' gamers and Wallace & Gromit fans. Thankfully the puzzles are arguably the most perfectly realised Telltale have ever made, managing to both be easy yet sometimes tricky to work out.
I can guarantee that you will overlook something critical at some point, then find yourself searching for an answer that's been right in front of you all the time. I know I did. I even had to use the hints at one point, which work just fine too.
Gameplay, unlike Telltale's other duo Sam & Max, alternates between control of Wallace and Gromit. Wallace is a very traditional adventure-gaming character, making comments about everything, but Gromit is refreshingly different as he never says a word.
Just like in the films, Gromit's expression is everything. His animation is absolutely perfect (and this goes for all the other characters too). It's just a shame that there's a large portion of the game where Gromit doesn't accompany Wallace. Never mind, it probably works better because of this.
I really cannot overstate how well Telltale has captured the world of West Wallaby Street. They've even made loads of little bee-based puns for the bookshelf titles. While there are quibbles, most of them will probably get ironed out, especially as the series goes on.
Still, we'll still be left with Dan Whitehead as Wallace. For some this will be unforgivable, and others will wish that Telltale had hired someone who sounded a little less like Sallis but could emote more and talk louder. I can get over this, but you'll have to make up your own mind as a consumer.
I can't take anything away from the rest of the game, however. It's a wonderful adventure, a perfect Wallace & Gromit yarn, and I honestly can't recommend it highly enough. While I've had moans about previous Telltale games, they've surpassed my expectations this time round.
If you can live with the faux-Wallace, I suggest you buy Fright of the Bumble Bees at once. If Telltale can keep up this quality, we're looking at some Aardman-rivalling stories coming up.
Fans should love it, but straight Telltale fans might find the script much less laugh-out-loud funny than Sam & Max, Strong Bad or even Bone. It beats A Vampyre Story, however (non-Telltale but a close stable-mate).
There, the review's over and I didn't once use the word "cracking". I feel proud.