"It never quite gets going, surely a symptom of its short duration over anything else. At just a few hours long, nothing really kicks off until the finale, but it's one that sets the scene for what could be a delightful little adventure. Fright of the Bumblebees is an impressively promising start to this four-part release, and if it carries on in the same direction, later instalments could be just the ticket. This one's a fine introduction, but I'm almost certain it'll be the least memorable."
Wallace & Gromit is like a northern English institution. It's been such an integral part of my life that Christmas wouldn't be the same without it: gathering around the telly to watch the old repeats or, if we're lucky, a magical new episode. Maybe having grown up only a short drive away from the setting drives the charm home a bit more than for most - for whatever reason, though, it's an animation I absolutely adore.
The thing Fright of the Bumblebees gets very right is replicating Wallace & Gromit's fantastic, barmy and utterly loveable portrayal of industrial, working class Manchester. While Peter Sallis evidently wasn't available to voice the madhat inventor and all-round brilliant old man Wallace, and the replacement actor doesn't quite hit the mark all the time, everything else that makes the show so gloriousis present in abundance. This game is so finely detailed it defies belief. The cynical glances from Gromit, the awful, awful puns, right down to the detail of the characters, complete with fingerprints in the clay surfaces. So many spin-offs fail violently to understand why the source material works. In Fright of the Bumblebees, it's effortless.
This episode, the first in a new series from heralded adventure developers Telltale, isn't without its faults. But it goes a long way to ensuring they're minor gripes, not enormous, enjoyment-destroying issues. It suffers from the same sense of "adventure game logic" that cripples so many of these titles, but it seems a little more in context here, given how illogically this very odd couple worked in the first place. Once you've got your head around the way everything functions, it's a pleasant and fairly straightforward stroll to the finish line. It's rare to get completely, head-scratchingly stuck, even though turning the hints system up to full seemed to make no discernable difference to the game's helping hand.
And though the controls are a little confused, allowing players to switch between standard keyboard movement and point-and-click traditionalism, the environments are small enough for it never to become a major bugbear. It does suffer from some minor camera inconsistencies, meaning you'll be happily trotting along one way, only for the angle to switch and leave you backtracking the way you came. But it's all very nice. All very palatable.
Unfortunately, it never really raises above that, particularly once the initial Wallace & Gromit joy starts to subside. The script is regularly amusing, with frequent nods to the original animation and a lot of aggreably reappearing jokes, but it's not quite up to the standard of Aardman's series. The real belly laughs don't crop up quite as often as they should, and Fright of the Bumblebees seems uncomfortably content with merely raising a smile from time to time. While the style of humour is bang on, we might be forgiven for expecting more from the developers who brought us the recent hilarious Sam & Max episodes.
It never quite gets going, surely a symptom of its short duration over anything else. At just a few hours long, nothing really kicks off until the finale, but it's one that sets the scene for what could be a delightful little adventure. Fright of the Bumblebees is an impressively promising start to this four-part release, and if it carries on in the same direction, later instalments could be just the ticket. This one's a fine introduction, but I'm almost certain it'll be the least memorable.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 25, 2009)
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