Thursday, January 7, 2021

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures

Note: This review contains spoilers for Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures.

As a follow-up to Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People (aka SBCG4AP) and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wallace & Gromit franchise in 2009, Telltale Games developed the episodic game Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. Though I wanted to play this game after I learned about it sometime after release, I will admit that actually getting to play it was not the smoothest experience. Though I bought the series through Telltale’s website, I don’t remember actually receiving the digital or physical game, however I’m not sure how much of it was it being around when they lost the rights to the IP. I then bought the physical collection off of Amazon a few years back, however rather than the US Telltale release I somehow ended up with the two-part UK Mastertronic version instead, which while technically correct was not what I expected (I kept the game anyway because I was just happy to own it), and while it is still playable on Windows 10, the game doesn’t like it when I have both discs installed at the same time.

While I have played the game in full before and liked it, especially Episode 3, I decided to take another look at it after replaying SBCG4AP to see if my opinion held up. After what is my second complete playthrough, I thought it was still good despite some technical issues.

In what appears to be an attempt to introduce a more controller-friendly playstyle than preceding Telltale games, the controls use a combination of mouse and keyboard rather than relying entirely on the mouse, though the mouse is still used for interacting with the environment. Moving the character is mapped to WASD and clicking a further-away object can still get you to move there, however a double click will cause all momentum to be lost rather than increased. Your inventory can be accessed at any time using the Shift key, while Esc pauses the game and brings up the options menu. The game additionally implements a Bookmark method to save your progress, each Bookmark acting as a save slot, though the implementation feels a little clunky due to having to navigate at least two screens just to create or load one of your Bookmarks. There are also a number of gameplay settings to suit the needs of your system, which in my case let me take full advantage of the 1600x900 display, as well as optional subtitles (turned on by default) and the frequency of in-game hints.

As with many Telltale games, the main crux of the gameplay is puzzle-solving. The puzzles themselves can be rather easy to figure out, however I consulted a guide anyway to get through them a little faster while still taking the time to explore the area when possible to get more out of the story. If one feels the need, a guide can especially come in handy during Episode 4, due to having some more complex puzzles to solve. At different points in the story, the game alternates between making you play as Wallace or Gromit depending on the perspective, though when playing as Gromit a guide might still be recommended for some players due to his lack of speech.

The story of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures is told across four Episodes that were released on a monthly basis, with a two-month gap between Episodes 1 and 2. As such, due to the more episodic nature of the story I will cover the plots of each Episode individually while noting gameplay differences as needed.

Episode 1 – Fright of the Bumblebees

In this Episode, Wallace and Gromit are beekeepers, running a honey business called From Bee to You. While trying to get their business off the ground, complications arise when Mr. Paneer orders 50 gallons of honey for an upcoming event so that Wallace can pay off damages one of his contraptions did to Mr. Paneer’s shop. With little time in which to produce the 50 gallons, Wallace attempts to repurpose a Quick Grow Muscle Formula, based on a flyer he received in his morning post, to work with flowers to feed his bees.

Episode 2 – The Last Resort

Wallace and Gromit were planning to go on holiday to the beach, however a combination of stormy weather and their basement flooding put these plans on hold. Wallace, however, tries to salvage this by turning their basement into a replica beachside resort, gathering the necessary items around town. Remembering how others’ plans were ruined by the weather, Wallace decides he can monetize the indoor beach as a resort, under the name West Wallaby Street Waterworld, however he is quickly swamped by complaints from angry patrons.

While each Episode has had events that could be divided into Chapters, this Episode is the only one to explicitly label said Chapters for whatever reason. It’s also the only one to have a “Next Episode” preview at the end.

Episode 3 – Muzzled!

A storm has ravaged the local dog shelter, causing numerous stray dogs to run amok, for which a Fundraise-A-Fair is being held to raise money for repairs. Meanwhile, Wallace has been finishing up his new Infiniflavour Ice Cream Machine, which creates unique ice cream flavors based on the customer’s tastes, to help out at the fair. After dealing with a few strays that wandered into their house, Wallace and Gromit are visited by the purveyor of the fair, Monty Muzzle, who hears about Wallace’s Infiniflavour concept and offers them a potential franchising opportunity if they make enough money at the fair. Once they get to the fair, however, it becomes apparent that something sinister is going on behind the scenes.

Episode 4 – The Bogey Man

After Wallace realizes he accidentally proposed to his neighbor Felicity Flitt, he works up the courage to try and tell her the truth, only to be interrupted by Major Crum. Crum is now a client of Wallace’s new lost object detective agency, Golden Retrieval, however Crum can’t remember what object he wants Wallace to find. After listening in on Felicity and her mother, Gromit manages to get Wallace a membership at Prickly Thicket Golf Club, which is all he needs to dodge a potential marriage. Just after Wallace is inducted, Prickly Thicket is in danger of shutting down unless they find the deed to a golf course, which turns out to be what Crum wanted Wallace to find in the first place.

Taken as a whole, the storytelling definitely feels like Wallace & Gromit for the most part, including genre changes in each Episode like in the original shorts (ex. The Last Resort turns into a murder mystery parody). Fitting for the game’s place as an anniversary project, there even some cleverly-placed references to the original three shorts (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave), both in the background and in dialogue, that longtime Wallace & Gromit fans will appreciate. While each Episode is written well enough to make them self-contained, come continuity between Episodes makes it more recommended to play them in order. This especially come to a head in The Bogey Man, which is based heavily around a plot point at the tail end of Muzzled!

On that note, my personal favorite Episode happens to be Muzzled!, as to me it felt the most like a Wallace & Gromit short. While he’s nowhere near as iconic as Feathers McGraw, Monty Muzzle is a rather interesting antagonist in his own right who is pretty well fleshed-out all things considered, with his backstory revealed through, and actually tying into, the gameplay (ex. his favorite food is fish and chips). His general behavior, such as seemingly not bothering to remember people’s names or what his fair is even for, foreshadow that he is actually a con artist, though his actions behind the scenes push him into full-on villain territory. Another thing I appreciated about this Episode on a second playthrough is that it also contributes something to Wallace and Gromit’s characters, however small, through a bit of throwaway dialogue that offers insight to Gromit’s behavior as a puppy.

Monty Muzzle (Struan Rodger, left) is one of the more interesting
new additions to Wallace & Gromit lore.

Despite the game’s age by modern standards, it absolutely nails the look of a Wallace & Gromit adventure and it still holds up pretty well. They even went so far as to introduce some imperfections in the character models based on those found in stop-motion production, including animators’ fingerprints, showing a great attention to detail. The options menu reflects this as well, as it is designed to appear like one of Wallace’s contraptions. The music and sound design are also in line with what can be heard in a Wallace & Gromit short, including the iconic theme music and some variations thereof in some tracks.

As Wallace & Gromit is no stranger to this, the introduction of new characters original to this game was a necessity in order to make it work. These new characters not only look like they would belong in the Wallace & Gromit universe, they are also written well enough that they help bring the world around West Wallaby Street to life. In general, the performances of the most recurring cast bring out their respective characters’ distinct personalities and manage to affirm their pre-established connections to Wallace in this game’s timeline.

A rather notable aspect of this game is that Ben Whitehead replaces Peter Sallis in the role of Wallace, as he would then do with numerous commercial roles for the character prior to Sallis’ passing. From playing the Tutorial first, which I would recommend to familiarize yourself with the control scheme, you can tell this was Whitehead’s first time trying to voice the character, as while he does manage to emulate Peter Sallis to a degree, he sounds a bit off. However, by the time of the fourth Episode, Whitehead’s performance improves to the point where he sounds nearly indistinguishable from Sallis.

While these didn’t significantly alter my experience, I came across some technical issues during my playthroughs, though I don’t know how many are isolated to the version I have. The first two Episodes contained some audio popping and even a few cases of audio doubling in the second, where the first part of a character’s dialogue would stutter before continuing. There’s also the occasional subtitle errors that be found across all Episodes, though it’s otherwise 1:1 with the audio and on-screen text.

An example of the game's more minimal interface,
taken from Episode 2.

More were discovered on the visual side, though thankfully not any outright glitches, save for the edge of a tablecloth noticeably flickering during a cutscene in Episode 2. One that bothered me a bit was the screen adopting a thin colored border along the top and left edges for seemingly no reason. This specifically happens in Episode 2 with a white border whenever you’re in the cellar and twice in Episode 4, with a red border that appears whenever you’re in Prickly Thicket and another white border whenever you’re in the sewer. While they are otherwise well-hidden, some of the seams on the character models are more visible during Episode 4, especially on Constable Dibbins, Major Crum and Mr. Paneer, which can get a little distracting at times.

I will also briefly mention that, as has been picked up on, a cow model that can be seen in Episode 3 was recycled from Telltale’s Sam & Max series of games, though it’s obscured enough to not be entirely obvious aside from the visual style. What seems to be lesser known is that this cow model was, in turn, recycled from Teltale’s Bone games, specifically The Great Cow Race.

One last thing worth mentioning is that, shortly before I started playing this game again, both it and SBCG4AP have been relisted on digital storefronts along with Telltale’s first game, Telltale Texas Hold’em, after having been delisted for a while following Telltale’s initial closure. As this game has been unavailable the longest, Telltale and Wallace & Gromit fans alike who either have not played it before or do not own a physical copy now have another chance to experience it for themselves.

Even years later, Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures is a Wallace & Gromit adventure worth coming back to. Despite some minor technical issues, the game captures the look and feel of the original stop-motion shorts perfectly and, while Ben Whitehead taking the role of Wallace isn’t the most popular choice, this game shows just how much he improved on it within a short time frame. While Wallace & Gromit fans would unarguably appreciate the game more, it’s still overall an enjoyable experience in its own right for fans of point-and-click adventure games.

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