"Which is why Muzzled! feels like such an important addition to the series. Refining almost all the wavering half-problems of the previous incarnations, it's fresh, exciting and gleefully silly."
I still can't get over how good it all looks. From the intentionally stilted animations, to the fingerprint marks on the digital clay, every inch of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures' image oozes the same personality as the television series. Now three episodes in, I remain in a continuous state of shock at how well the source material has been captured. It's unprecidented.
Still, the last episode, The Last Resort, left me concerned for the remainder of the series. Where was it all going? Had it played its most impressive cards too early? It certainly seemed to struggle with its script and pacing, with the biggest laughs and most interesting plot strands left far too late in the game to be worthwhile. It remained charming, but risked its audience losing patience.
Which is why Muzzled! feels like such an important addition to the series. Refining almost all the wavering half-problems of the previous incarnations, it's fresh, exciting and gleefully silly.
Much of this outing takes place from Gromit's perspective, which is a welcome change. Characters' reactions to this persistant pooch are frequently fabulous, and the improved focus on his subtle expressions adds a surprising amount to both the puzzle-play and narrative nuance. From the cynical, impatient glances to his master Wallace, to his growing look of horror as he pieces together the mystery of a pack of missing mutts, it's all beautifully rendered and far more charasmatic than any of Wallace's moments thus far.
Indeed, Muzzled! the first episode to really master Gromit's personality. Here, it shines through every action, and it's curious why Telltale hadn't put him to better use until this point. Placing Wallace in the background for the vast majority of the game also dulls the disappointment of Peter Sallis' absence from voice duty, since his replacement's delivery still isn't quite up to scratch. Tellingly, Gromit's silence is golden.
The puzzles are well-pointed, directed and usually fairly straightforward. Though some hardened adventure players may be put off, it works, allowing you to bash through the story at the high tempo of the television series. Rarely does anything become tedious. Gone are the long-winded sidetracking sessions of The Last Resort; it's all relevant, and all fun, from the first second to the last.
But most impressive is the story itself. Telltale's previous efforts have lacked a certain punch, and felt somewhat pedestrian as a result. But, in Monty Muzzle, the series has found an ideal antagonist, every inch the competitor of the series' latest on-screen villains. His presence early on, and the believable contrast between his delightful exterior and bitter, twisted mind, both work a treat. His questionable taste for dogs rears its head early on, and builds fantastically - through a charity event for homeless pups It's also a damn sight more amusing than anything Grand Adventures has produced thus far, with a series of slideshows in the second section of the game managing to evoke two genuine belly laughs from grumpy old yours truly.
The sound issues from Episode 2 still crop up from time to time, with voiceovers occasionally cutting out before completion, or triggering over one another uncomfortably. But they're rarer than before, and don't make enough of an impact to leave a lasting impression. Really, everything's improved, refined and more measured than before.
There's one episode to go, and that's going to seal it. This alone is enough to leave me with strong memories of the series, but if Telltale can retain this standard for the finale, Grand Adventures will be on to a real winner. It's full of British charm, wit and silliness. Splendid stuff.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (June 23, 2009)
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