Review: Wallace & Gromit: Fright of the Bumblebees

fright of bumblebeesMy GameHounds co-host Commander Tim has it to me so many times in the past: “Adventure games can never be good on a console.”

He’s not the only person to believe so.

And who’s to blame him? The adventure game flourished in the days when only the PC could provide the graphics, interface and processing capacity to do the job. The whole genre was developed with the mouse in mind.

Today, it’s not only possible, but some consumers are practically demanding that classic adventure games come to the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii. I would be one of them.

Enter Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Episode 1: Fright of the Bumblebees from Xbox Live Arcade, a pure classic-style adventure game starring Aardman Animation’s famous cheese-eating tinkerer and his sidekick dog.

In this first of four currently scheduled episodes for the Xbox Live Arcade, Wallace begins a honey business, only to find more orders than he can fill. In an attempt to supercharge his hive, he unintentionally creates giant bees that swarm the town. Of course, Gromit (the real brains of the duo) must save the day.

There’s a lot of good to say about Fright of the Bumblebees. It offers slick graphics and a great organic feel — thank goodness, since anyone even remotely familiar with Wallace & Gromit’s films will easily eye differences between the films and this game. The character modeling looks so dead on to Aardman’s claymation technique you can practically see irregularities in the clay.

And the animation is spot on. As you play alternately both Gromit and Wallace, camera changes as they move from room to room or indoors to outdoors flow easily with no hitching or glitching.

The movement has an almost liquid-feel in its ease and look, and surprisingly enough, I’ve yet to get stuck in a nook or on the edge of a door! No small feat for any open world game, much less one on the Xbox Live Arcade.

Equally flawless are the flow of cut scenes as you successfully progress through the game and the story. Not only do they look great, the voice talent is good enough and the script is well written and deep enough that I found myself tapping unnecessarily on certain characters just to hear what they had to say.

And the clever, well-told story lives up to the high standards of Aardman, which might have been the kiss of death given that the Oscar-winner animation studio made its fame with charmingly quirky shorts like Creature Comforts and feature films like Chicken Run. Flight of the Bumblebees does its pedigree justice.

Is it perfect? As a huge fan of Wallace and Gromit (see: My refrigerator covered in W&G magnets) I would love to say so. But, no. In the end, I have to somewhat agree with Commander Tim: Adventure games can be good on a console, but not great.
In the opening moments, you’re taken though a tutorial where you learn to control the characters and manipulate items in a room. Character movement is controlled with the right joystick, and item selection by the left joystick. Alternately, you can scroll through all items in the room by using the bumpers.

Almost immediately you’re struck by now difficult and time consuming it is to select items. The game identifies which item is currently selected with small white brackets around the target, which are sometimes nearly impossible to see. It’s clear this game was tested on a screen a few short feet from the viewer’s nose, not in real-life conditions where the television is across the living room.

Making matters worse, the joystick targeting control is infuriatingly sloppy. I found myself more times than not just using the bumper, which means every attempt to solve a particular puzzle takes that much longer as I scrolled through every item in the room to get to the one I needed.

The overall quality of the game drives you on, but for anyone but the most patient of gamer, this simple obstacle will drive you buggy.
And then there’s the sound. Oh, the sound!

About half way through the episode, you’ll notice loud crackles and ticks in the voice track. And in other spots, Wallace’s voice will fade in and out — artifacts of the dialogue editing process that should have been fixed in the mix but, oddly, weren’t.

Overall, Fright of the Bumblebees is a solid XBLA game, and neither Telltale Games nor Aardman should be embarrassed by it. However, the loosy-goosy targeting controls somewhat sabotage what would have been an superb game. At 800 MS Points, or $10, it’s a solid addition to Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade series if you have the patience to work with the game.

  • paul

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