Telltale Games are one of a growing number of smaller developers pushing the boundaries of episodic content delivery.
Having secured the rights to develop Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People last year, Telltale went on to deliver five episodes based on the immensely popular web cartoon. A couple of years prior to this, they'd also had a great deal of success with Sam & Max, so it's little wonder they've turned their attention towards another comedic duo by snapping up the Wallace & Gromit video game franchise.
The first episode of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, Fright of the Bumblebees, is fairly standard point, click and drag fare. The game begins with a rather basic tutorial, which is apt considering the controls won't exactly have you mapping keys or setting up macros. You'll move either Wallace or Gromit (depending on the location and occasion) using the WSAD keys, and interact with the environment using the mouse.
The story is fairly light, and is unlikely to invoke head-scratching. Essentially, Wallace is convinced that his revolutionary honey delivery service ("From Bee To You") will provide the residents of West Wallaby Street, and indeed the greater township itself, with copious amounts of honey all created in his basement through predominantly mechanical means. Fans of the TV episodes will feel reassured at this kind of madcap thinking, others may struggle with the concept of pumping honey through a collection of pipes to a beer-tap style dispenser in the corner of a room, but it's whimsical and totally befitting of the series in general.
If you spent most of your childhood watching a lot of Last of the Summer Wine on dreary Sunday afternoons (secretly hoping you didn't have school the next day) then you'll be able to swiftly identify that Wallace isn't voiced by Peter Sallis. Instead, understudy Ben Whitehead has been drafted to perform this task, and despite a few minor departures from Sallis' particular Northern inflection, he manages to pull off the performance convincingly. The rest of the cast are energetic and persuasive, and add a lot of colour to what is otherwise a pretty average script.
Each puzzle presented has a relatively obvious resolution, even if it may take you a little while to spot it. Objects can be inspected or manipulated (typically leading to a cut-scene), or picked up and stored in your inventory for future use. There's a place and purpose for everything, and most items need to be stacked with others to perform a particular task. The initial part of the game will have you controlling Gromit as he cooks breakfast for Wallace, and this requires careful placement of a squirrel, some butter, a large mallet and a chicken.
All of the action contained in this first episode is centred around Wallace's house and the small town square. There's a solid three hours or so of gameplay, which is over far too soon, in part due to the irregular pace set between the rapid-fire puzzles and the sometimes monotonous dialogue. In order to put this in perspective however, it's important to realise that this still represents a great deal of time spent within the Wallace & Gromit world, and even if the interaction isn't as deep as you'd like, it'll still keep fans happy.
Fright of the Bumblebees is a good, if somewhat slow start to what we hope will be an engaging four-part series that will not only expand on the wonderful world of Wallace & Gromit, but also provide Telltale with an incentive to continue the development of these episodic cartoon adventures. It goes without saying that fans will love it, however newcomers may want to wait for a couple more episodes to be released to see if the action gets stepped up a notch.
We're hosting a demo of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees over at GP Downloads if you'd like to try before you buy!