Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures PC, Xbox Live Review
Wallace and Gromit have enjoyed more than their fair share of antics over the years, expanding from their clay-mation short film origins into full-length feature films and video games. Telltales Games assumed the helm of the duo’s digital reappearance, and the result has been nothing short of spectacular. From the visual design right down to the tongue-and-cheek humor, Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures have everything needed to satisfy the most ardent of Aardman fans.
Interaction in the game world is simple enough for casual gamers and younger audiences to grasp without confusion. The keyboard is used for directing the character around the environment, while the mouse enables interaction with objects and other characters. Interactive objects will become highlighted when the cursor hovers over it, although this still preserves the challenge of locating smaller objects. Scrolling the mouse wheel enables any object in the inventory to be utilized or combined with other points of interest, such as giving an item to a character or putting the final piece of an invention in place. Frequently you’ll have moments of sudden insight, remembering a key object or a hint provided by someone in the game. The repeated theme of “invention” makes for many a satisfying puzzle solution, particularly in the later episodes.
For those unacquainted with the adventures of Wallace and Gromit, this four-part series serves as an excellent introduction. Wallace is a dainty fellow with a penchant for green sweaters and exotic cheeses. He makes his livelihood through all manner of clever inventions, often to the dismay of his more practical housemate, Gromit. Gromit is arguably the show stealer in most circumstances. This is partly because he’s an anthropomorphic dog, capable of ambling about like a cute, floppy-eared quadruped, or rising to a more humanoid posture whenever the story demands it. As one might expect, he’s usually the one who cleans up after his human master, who frequently makes a mess of things.
Together with the residents of West Wallaby Street, the pair embarks on any number of absurd tasks and outings. The neighborhood is fleshed out with a small, but highly entertaining cast of characters. Whether it’s the overly officious Officer Dibbons or the ceaseless bickering of the Gabberlys, each one will usually have something useful or interesting to share. By the end of the series, you’ll feel like you’ve known them for years, right down to their individual tastes in food.
The first adventure is “Fright of the Bumblebees”, which centers on a get-rich-quick scheme that doesn’t go quite as planned. Some quick thinking and questionable chemistry help Wallace climb out of a sticky situation, only to find he’s opened up a whole new can of worms. This premier episode serves as a nice introduction the characters, and is especially indicative of the relationship between Wallace and Gromit. Although Wallace’s ideas and inventions are often outlandish, they tend to be at least partially successful.
Sadly, the weight of his failures usually falls upon his canine companion, who not only carries out most of the legwork, but also receives none of the credit when the adventure concludes. Such are the perils of living as a mute mutt. This episode also establishes Wallace’s reputation on West Wallaby Street, as it becomes instantly apparent why he’s often loathed and feared by others. The player utilizes both Wallace and Gromit in order to overcome one obstacle after another, even mixing things up in a brief shooting-gallery sequence. The episode is a zany, charming, and rewarding experience, though the ending may cause a few eyes to roll.
While the pace of the first episode is generally slow, things seem to pick up substantially with the sequel, “The Last Resort”. Right from the start, the action is more intense and completely unexpected. Already one may begin to notice the occasional homage to a previous adventure, not only from episodes in the game world, but also tracing back to the show’s roots in film. Unlike its predecessor, “The Last Resort” doesn’t center itself on a single unifying event. Rather, it feels like a series of short episodes within one episode. Some would argue that this makes the objectives feel more arbitrary, but I found the change of pace refreshing. The final moments encapsulate a classic “Whodunit?” although in classic non-violent fashion, the victim has not been killed, merely “thumped” by an unknown assailant.
Players will also be introduced to a new character, Duncan McBiscuit, a crude Scotsman who desperately tries to court Felicity Flit, Wallace’s prissy neighbor. That these supporting characters should offer such amusing exchanges is testament to the hard work and careful scripting of the developers, who clearly demonstrate that there are no small characters, only small voice actors. Indeed, the voice work is each episode is outstanding, and you’ll hardly even notice that Wallace’s original actor is absent.
Perhaps some of the best thespian work of the series can be found in the third episode, “Muzzled”. This story plays out in the conventional, unified narrative format of the first tale. The self-proclaimed philanthropist Monty Muzzle visits West Wallaby Street, announcing the opening of his famous carnival to help raise money for homeless hounds. Naturally, Gromit is the first person to see through Monty and his ruse, so it falls upon him to rescue a group of puppies from the villain’s callous clutches. The premise sounds like a cheap gimmick to drum up an emotional response from the player, but in actuality, the presentation is what really sells it. Each dog has its own unique personality, with one in particular that will surely tug the heartstrings of even the most cool-headed player. Contrasting their credibility is Monty Muzzle himself, a throaty-voiced schemer who is brought to life through outstanding delivery of intelligent dialogue. He is clearly rotten to the core, and this makes his final downfall all the more satisfying to carry out. Rounding out this adventure is a climax that actually had me clapping and laughing aloud; it is certainly one of the best endings I have ever encountered in a video game.
While “Muzzled” is certainly my favorite of the tetralogy, the final episode would come in as a close second. “The Bogey Man” is, as you may surmise, focused on a golf theme and makes use of an entirely new location for the gameplay. Some players may dislike the lack of variety in locations through the series, but I found it admirable just how much the developers managed to achieve in a relatively small space. Even so, “The Bogey Man” offers a considerably expanded range of real estate for players to explore. The story takes place immediately where the previous episode left off, and Wallace must once again find some clever means of escaping an unpleasant situation. He finds relief in the form of a very exclusive golf lodge, though things aren’t exactly as they seem. No actual skill with golf is required to play the game, all you need is a keen mind and a sharp memory. “The Bogey Man” has some of the best puzzles of the entire series, and with any luck, the technical glitches I experienced won’t be in the final build of the game. In any event, they didn’t upset the experience in this concluding episode, which will only serve to leave fans begging for more.
All told, Telltale did an incredible job with this series. Each episode stands nicely on its own, and they only become more enjoyable as you explore each one. Although you don’t need to play them all, I would strongly recommend purchasing all four. There is simply too much wit and clever fun cramped into each scene, it would be a crime to ignore a single one. If I had to find a complaint, it would be the lack of replay value in the series. This is often a problem with the genre itself, not really the fault of the developers, although I am hoping that Telltale will be able to release a Wallace and Gromit role-playing game as a future release. This is one of the best adventure games I’ve come across in a long time, so if you have any interest in the genre, I encourage you to treat yourself to this utterly charming series.