Review: Wallace and Gromit Episode One: Fright of the Bumblebees (PC)

Wallace and Gromit Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 03/24/2009


I have to admit, I was a little surprised when we received this title here at DHGF with a specific request for me to review the title. After all, I have never seen a Wallace and Gromit cartoon. Sure I’ve seen Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep, but I’ve never had the chance or time to see a full W&G bit. I’m assuming there are three reasons behind this request:

1. I reviewed every one of Telltales Strong Bad’s Cool Games for Attractive People.

2. I’m our token Adventure guy here at DHGF (With Nate and Aaron becoming my trusty sidekicks.).

3. I used to reside in the United Kingdom, so someone assumed I must have watched every episode of W&G along with The Good Life, Jeeves and Wooster and Blackadder. Okay, I actually HAVE watched all of Blackadder…

So in order to prepare myself for this game, I watched The Wrong Trousers and Curse of the Were-Rabbit to familiarize myself better with the characters. After that I spent a little under three hours playing and beating Fright of the Bumblebees.

So how was it? Was this a typical Telltale game that was enjoyable in spite of some huge flaws? Was it a solid piece of work for once? Was it just another bad use of a license?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Fright of the Bumblebees is cute little story about MAD SCIENCE and the dangers of steroid abuse. No really. Sure the day starts out normal enough, with Wallace ordering Gromit to make breakfast for him while he tries to think of a new way to get himself out of debt after another one of his inventions has wreaked havoc on the town (In this case a robotic cheese finder shaped like a giant mouse). In order to make up for the damage and cheese looting, Wallace will be using his new honey-based enterprise “From Bee to You” to generate fifty gallons of honey for “The Sounding of the Crumpets” festival. Alas, Wallace doesn’t have enough flowers for his might bee army that he keeps in his basement, so he needs to come up with a crazy scheme to generate the honey.

So of course Wallace takes inspiration from an ad for steroids and modifies the recipe for plant usage. The recipe works and the bees are able to make enough honey for the festival. Except for the tiny little catch that the quick growth supplement actually worked on the bees as well and now there is an army of surly giant bees harassing the local residents. Ah life: checks and balances.

It’s up to Wallace and Gromit to save the town, stop the bees and return life to normal. Or at least what passes for normal with these two.

This was a cut and entertaining little tale filled with a few amusing scenes, but overall two things brought the story down. The first was the reliance on a lot of references to previous adventures which kind of felt like telltale was saying, “See? SEE? We get Wallace and Gromit. Look at these recreations and cameo appearances.” Okay then. The other is that several jokes just fall flat. Oh ho ho. There’s a teabag on a lady’s cleavage. Generally the Wallace and Gromit bits I viewed beforehand were a nice mix of whimsy and intelligent humour geared for all ages. Fright of the Bumblebees felt at times like bad sketch comedy.

I enjoyed the plot of this first episodic adventure. It was a fun away to introduce newcomers to West Wallaby Street, but compared to the actual cartoons, this did fall a bit flat.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

I was very impressed with the visuals in this game. Fright of the Bumblebees wasn’t particularly graphic-intensive mind you, but it DID look and feel like it was a stop-motion piece of claymation ala the action Wallace and Gromit cartoons. The look and feel of Nick Park’s faux-Wigan world was rendered perfectly in this game, making me wonder if further episodes of the animation will be done this way in the future or if Mr. Park will stay true to the original motif for the shorts.

There were no real graphical bugs to speak of and slowdown only occurred in the shooting game sequences. I’m still impressed with how much the game mimicked the odd motions and visual characteristics of stop-motion animation, This is definitely Telltale’s best looking game yet.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound

This is one area where Telltale always exceeds. From including classic Wallace and Gromit music to ensuring actual voice actors from the previous cartoons were in this game, Telltale really showed that they are making these episodic game series because they love the franchises and not for a quick buck.

I was really happy to hear the voice of Peter Sallis as Wallace. I know he’s getting up there in years, but it’s nice to see this prominent British actor still performing in his twilight years.

Sound effects were well done as well. You have your porridge gun, a cheese hunting robo-mouse, sound wacky bees, and more. Fright of the Bumblebees sounds exactly like what a Wallace and Gromit cartoon should sound like. You could just close your eyes and it would feel like you were listening to an actual short.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

As much as Telltale is reliable for making games that look and sound fantastic, they’re also reliable for making games that have severe gameplay issues. I was hoping after the repeat bugs and issues that plagued the Strong Bad games that this would be corrected. Instead, Telltale has made an Adventure game that plays so poorly, I might have to ranked it as one of the worst PC Adventure games engines I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through.

From playing this game it’s blatantly apparent that Telltale was concentrating of making a control scheme that would work better for the Xbox 360 (On which this game will also be released on in the near future). I could definitely see these controls working with a joystick instead of a keyboard/mouse set up. Oddly enough, Fright of the Bumblebees doesn’t allow for a joystick peripheral on the PC. Instead, those of us who are playing the game with a keyboard and mouse are given controls that just don’t work properly half the time.

Most adventure games require you to move a character with the mouse and its buttons. You would left click to make the character interact with an item or person and right click to bring your inventory of items. With W&G:E1 – this is not the case. You’ll be using the arrow keys to move which sounds easier than it really is. You also have the options of using the WASD or 4268 setup, but each of these are equally unresponsive and leave your protagonist with jerkish stop and go motions that look a bit disquieting.

To bring up the inventory, you are supposed to use the “middle button” or wheel on your mouse. What happens if you are playing this on a laptop though? You know, a computer with a built in mouse lacking this function? Well then you are required to use the shift button to bring up the menu with is so alien to this genre of gaming that I was instinctively right clicking even in the penultimate scene. I would also like to point out that the shift button also doubles as the button for skipping cutscenes and dialogue meaning this button’s double purpose can severely ruin your enjoyment of the game as you will have no choice at certain times but to lose parts of the story because you need to use that shift button to bring up your inventory. How the heck did Telltale miss this obvious massive problem? Did they just forget how many people having gaming laptops? It also makes screen captures a bitch to do for review purposes. “Oh, this is a cute cut scene. I’ll take a screencap to put in my…oh, that skipped the cut scene entirely. GREAT.” Honest to god, this is one of those times where common sense proves to not be that common after all.

The tab button is supposed to act as a highlight option for all options in a scene that your character can interact with. This has become a common trend is a lot of the better made point and click titles these days. However, unlike games like Secret Files: Tunguska and other awesome games with this feature, Telltale has chosen to move from the obvious smart choice of the space bar to that aforementioned tab button. What the heck? Why? Again, this is a decision that feels like Telltale was mixing things up just for the sake of messing with the controls rather than applying any sense or logic to the choices therein. Even worse, the tab function doesn’t actually work! On Telltales website, the following is written:

“Unfortunately, video cards that do not support the depth of field effects in Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures will not be able to show the hotspots”

I’m sorry, but I have a top of the line graphics card and it still doesn’t work for me. I also tried it on my desktop which is also a pretty powerful computer and it still doesn’t work. There are Adventure games where the minimum requirement is Windows ’98 and 256K RAM and they could still get this basic function to work. What’s going on here Telltale?

Don’t worry though! If you can’t get the Tab function to work you can just use the ability to cycle through all interactive objects on the screen with logical and obvious choices like the Q and E buttons or the 7 and 9 keys.

……………

WHAT THE HELL? I would love to sit down with Telltale and ask what kinds of hallucinogenics they were on when they came up with these controls. Man, I thought the Strong Bad games had problems.

Then there’s the actual gameplay, or should I say lack thereof. I can’t tell you how many times I would click on an object with the left mouse button to pick it up, or talk to a person or just look at something and nothing would happen. This was not an uncommon occurrence either. It was a very common mishap and I have no idea how the game was able to be released in this condition when the only real function of the mouse doesn’t work literally half the time. Pick up the toast Wallace. Pick up the toast. PICK UP THE *&%*& TOAST!

I wish I could say the horrible times stop there but we still have one big severe issue left to discuss. Like in most adventures games, each object has a range of pixels around it that count as clicking on that object. Fright of the Bumblebees is no exception. However, there are a lot of times when you move your mouse to one object and the game will instead highlight something else. I want to open a door, so I’m going to move my mouse to the door and click on it. Just like you would do in any other game of this genre. Here however, the game will somehow read this as “Talk to Wallace” or “Do something completely different from what you actually chose.” In the upper right hand corner the game shows what will happen when you click. Quite often what would be shown up there was in no way connected to where my cursor actually was even though I was on an object I was supposed to interact with. I’d move my cursor off, move it back, move it off AGAIN, move it back AGAIN, and then generally the game would realize what object it should have been focusing on instead of being the first Adventure game I’ve ever played with ADHD.

This is honestly the worst engine and control scheme for an Adventure game I have ever played. It is nigh impossible to mess one of these games up but Telltale has made this thing nearly unplayable. It is awkward, goes against every instinct one has with this genre of gaming, unresponsive, very buggy, and was a grueling chore to play. The game is lucky that the story and characters were so wonderful because the gameplay alone made me want to savage this game pretty severely. For the love of god, Telltale, I hope the other games play better than this, but considering your previous track record with the Strong bad games getting buggier with each passing month instead of better, I hope to God I don’t have to play Episode Two.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Awful

5. Replayability

Unlike the Strong Bad games which offered some post game activities, crazy scores to beat and objects to collect, Wallace and Gromit offers nothing but a one time linear two hour experience. Everything will unfold in the exact same way every time you play, and with the god awful gameplay setup, I’ll be shocked if anyone does give this a second go around.

Replay value is generally an Adventure game’s worst enemy, but Fright of the Bumblebees has it far worse than other games in this genre simply due to length and awful controls. It’s a shame too, because the story is cute and the graphics and sound are an outstanding combination. At the end of the day though, all you need is to play this once and you’ll get all the Wallace & Grommit goodness you can from this game.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful

6. Balance

Fright of the Bumblebee is a fairly standard point and click. However, it was nice to see a few changes from the usual puzzles, such as two first person shooting sections that were part of larger puzzles (Bee trapping and well…more bee trapping I guess.) Some of the puzzles had obscure solutions, but no more so that any other game in this genre. Everything is fairly straight forward and even if you do get stuck, the game has a built in hint feature which can give you clues at regular intervals.

The only real puzzle whose solution doesn’t make any sense is the one for getting the purple pansies. “Mild gentleman?” That’s a crushing insult? Okay then.

Fright of the Bumblebees is obviously designed for Adventure gamers of all ages. As such the puzzles are never truly taxing, but they are nevertheless fun.

Balance Rating: Above Average

7. Originality

Telltale has been working the episodic adventure game racket for a while now. We’ve seen Sam and Max, the Homestar Runner, crew and more. Although using the Wallace and Gromit setting, style and visuals, FotB is just another point and click title using the same format.

As well, this isn’t the first game to feature Wallace and Gromit. Project Zoo and Curse of the Were-Rabbit have also featured these bastions of British animation.

That’s not to say there isn’t any innovation here. As much as I hated the gameplay and control scheme for this title, Telltale did break the trappings of the conventional point and click with this game. That’s something positive that can be said about this aspect.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

Because this is a short game that you can beat in less time than it takes to watch a summer blockbusters, addictiveness is a bit slanted here. I played the game straight through in one sitting and had a lot of fun with Wallace & Gromit’s latest madcap antics.

HOWEVER, there was many a time I wanted to put the game down due to the awful click detection issues and the controlling of Wallace and/or Gromit. If this game had been any longer, I probably WOULD have just said, “Sorry, this thing is too awful to play with a keyboard and mouse,” and walked away for a few hours.

It’s sad that I had such a love/hate aspect with this game. Some things were brilliant, while others made me want to track down the developers, sit on their chest while they were sleeping at night and then bitch slap them awake asking what in god’s name they were thinking when they made this.

Fun characters, funny story and a god awful engine makes me glad that this game was as short as it was so I could keep the positive in perspective.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

There’s no doubt that Wallace and Gromit are two of the most popular animated characters to come out of England (I actually prefer Duckula, but hey…). Hardcore fans will no doubt rejoice over the fact there will be four new interactive episodes available at a cost of approximately $8.75 per episode (when you purchase the bundle). Of course that’s how much the Strong Bad collection cost and there were five games with that bundle instead of four…

Whether you are new to these characters or a long time fan with a room filled to the brim with Yorkshire themed merchandise, Fright of the Bumblebees will win you over with its pseudo-claymation and its silly all-ages story about science gone horrible awry. Even with the awful click detection issues and control setup, gamers will still be able to beat this game in two to four hours and because of the nature of the title, people who aren’t professional critics will be able to overlook the fact that more than one out of three clicks won’t respond properly or the weird wobbly walking.

If you’re a fan of W&G, then all you need to know is that the overall package pays proper homage to the source material, even if it’s a little weaker that the actual shorts and feature film.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

As a gamer that really doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to yet another 100 hour epic ala Dragon Quest VII or the desire to 100% my copy of Disgaea 3 (especially with new characters that keep popping up) I really enjoy Telltale’s take on short games for only a fraction of what the full length a sense of accomplishment and a fun story.

I do, however, have a bit of a problem with the fact that there’s one less game in this set compared to the Homestar Runner games and I have a pretty big problem that this game was designed more for the 360 than the PC when the PC has always been the preferred system for adventure games, leaving this series to flounder a bit with the actual ardent Adventure fans, who also happen to be European, one of the areas where the 360 was, until recently, in last place in its battle with the PS3 and Wii (unlike the States where it is doing quite nicely). This is just a baffling business decision all around, but hey, it’s Telltale’s mistake to make.

It’s also a shame that this particular game didn’t offer any after game extras like their last series of games did. As SBCGFAP proved, a little replay value goes a long way towards standing out from the pack of Adventure games that are released each year. By being shorter, more expensive and lack any frills from the Homestar Runner games, Fright of the Bumblebees feels lackluster and shallow, and ultimately – disappointing.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Great
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Fright of the Bumblebees boasts visuals and vocals that seem like they were ripped directly from the Wallace and Gromit shorts, the mouse and keyboard controls are arguably the worst I have ever seen in an Adventure game, and it is nigh bloody impossible to ruin a point and click game, so Telltale gets a dubious congratulations there. The story is a whimsical fun for all ages tale that stays true to the W&G format well, but with no extras, bells and whistles or any frills at all, this came is decidedly inferior to the Strong Bad games Telltale put out just a few months ago. Let’s hope the next three installments do a better job overall.