Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees PC, Xbox Live
Fans of the hit TV show “Wallace and Gromit” can now partake in the zany antics of the characters in “Fright of the Bumblebees.” Using the basic point and click maneuvers of traditional adventure games, players can interact with the environment to investigate, assemble, and collect sundry objects. In addition to the mouse, the keypad allows characters to be controlled within the environment in cinematic third person. The camera swivels on occasion, but it is generally stable and does not interfere with navigation. Exploring the little English town is intended to be easy and speedy; this isn’t a role playing game, after all. Wallace’s inventions have gotten him into a bit of a pickle, and he is forced to develop a means to acquire fifty gallons of honey at the start of the game. It isn’t long before you discover why all the townsfolk fear Wallace as an agent of chaos.
Both the eccentric inventor Wallace and his cynical canine Gromit are available as playable characters, and both are capable of stocking a seemingly endless inventory of items. Any item acquired is added to inventory, which can be quickly accessed and scrolled through with the touch of a button. Said item can be applied to different objects in the area to test for an effect. This makes much of the gameplay built around trial and error.
The hints for gathering items are given verbally by the characters, though they vary somewhat in terms of helpfulness. An item might be difficult to find after scouring the area, and the significance of interactive items is not always made obvious. Interactive objects and characters are highlighted in a white cursor only when the mouse reaches it, which complicates matters since important items might be small, bunched close together, or simply too innocuous for the player to take immediate notice.
Additionally, many of the tasks rely heavily on detailed memory of recent events. This will undoubtedly make the game trickier for certain audiences, particularly younger children and those who might play the game in short bursts. The menu also keeps track of events and offers some aid in determining what should be done next, but the tireless searching and experimentation remains the onus of the player. Word to the wise: Gromit tends to throw things in the tra… er, rubbish bin. A lot of things.
A combination of two and three dimensional visual effects ensures the environments are attractive and clean without taking a long time to load. Textures appear mostly basic, though some surfaces (like characters’ skin) have an interesting clay look to them. The animation is very smooth, with the exception of the mouths. It was apparently a developmental decision that resulted in characters that move smoothly like those in a computer game, yet speak with mouths that animate more crudely like their clay counterparts. The discrepancy is somewhat distracting, and almost makes me curious as to how the game would appear with an intentionally diminished frame rate to mimic the stop-motion animation of the original series. Subtle animations on the speechless canine Gromit are spot on; his eye-rolling and slight shaking of the head during some moments had me laughing out loud.
Sound is generally excellent, though there are a few areas (such as the swarms of bees) that could have done with some extra punch. Characters come to life with excellent voice acting, though the music’s default volume overwhelms dialogue in a few areas. The score remains a real treat, from the classic themes and comical cues to bombastic fanfares and brassy overtures. Overall, the sound complements the bold visuals nicely without stealing the show entirely.
Confounding puzzles aside, “Fright of the Bumblebees” functions nicely as an adventure game for just about any audience or age group. The humor is varied, the gameplay is accessible, and the challenge is substantial without being frustrating. The review build of the game had a few problems, such as its inclination to crash suddenly, but hopefully this will be patched up in time for the final PC and Xbox Live Arcade release. Buy it, enjoy it, and wait for the next few episodes to reveal themselves.