Wallace and Gromit are at it again. In an endless string of business ventures, the duo has set out to change their fortunes with yet another scheme: making honey. Or to be more precise, their bees are making honey, which is the source of most of their problems in this episode. The bees need flowers and Wallace's garden is bare. After Paneer, the local cheese shop owner, places an order for 50 gallons of honey to be delivered by sundown, Wallace sets out to find some quick-grow flowers.
In their original shorts and feature movie, Wallace and Gromit were made out of plasticine and animated by the wonders of stop motion. The characters in the game move with a greater fluidity than their former incarnations. The mouths, however, have a more staccato movement similar to the stop motion versions. The artists have also taken care to add plasticine-like textures to all the characters, including fingerprints. Gromit, being a dog of no words, uses body language to express himself, a feature that has been translated faithfully into the game world. Just like in the shorts and movie, the viewer will usually know what he thinks of his master's latest ideas. The detail of the characters' appearance and motion is definitely a step up from previous Telltale games.
Peter Sallis originally voiced Wallace, but for this episode it's his backup, Ben Whitehead, who is doing the voice. Intonation-wise he's spot on, but those who are familiar with Sallis' voice from the duo's previous outings will notice a slight difference in timbre in Whitehead's voice. I found him to be a bit quieter, though that may also be because of the sound compression. In line with other Telltale games, the rest of the characters are cast well.
For the Strong Bad episodes it seemed like Telltale improved the speech quality compared to their earlier Sam & Max episodes, but for Fright of the Bumble Bees the lisping and sound artifacts are back. From the Telltale forums, it seems it's not that noticeable with ordinary speakers, but I definitely noticed it while playing the game with headphones. I hope that we'll get better sound quality for the eventual DVD release. On the other hand, I enjoyed the music, which fits well with the game world. In the town square, the arrangement of the music changes when you walk around, which is a nice touch and something I believe is a first for Telltale's games. Something I missed was separate volume controls for speech, sound effects, and music. The music will sometimes drown out the speech and it's difficult to hear what's being said.
Another first is gamepad support and a lack of pure point-and-click. I tried both keyboard and gamepad while playing, and though I found the keyboard controls comfortable enough, I preferred controlling Wallace and Gromit with the stick of my Xbox 360 gamepad. The controls are reminiscent of Grim Fandango, but more refined: The inventory pops up from the side of the screen and you can quickly choose an item, and all the hotspots within reach of the character can be easily cycled through so you don't have to walk up and stare exactly at something to use it.
Unusually, the game is locked to the aspect ratio 16:9 and it will add black bars to narrower screens. I don't mind this limitation as it means they can concentrate on making the cut scenes and everything else look really good in 16:9 composition-wise without having to worry about all the other aspect ratios out there.
Even though I rarely found myself stumped by the game's puzzles, they were adequately challenging considering the few locations available to explore. I also found Wallace's hints to be less unclear than Max's. Some of the puzzles fall into the "three trials" type, however. At the beginning of the game you have to get three things to complete Wallace's breakfast and later in the game you have to get three other things to trick someone out of your basement. These kinds of puzzles make the game longer without having to advance the story, and too many of them can easily make things dull. Due to Wallace being a polite and proper Englishman, there is at least one rather delicate situation he ends up in which the player has to fix: how do you acquire an item that lands on a woman's improper parts when you're too polite to tell her about it? I hope we'll see more such puzzles later in the series.
All in all, I found it to be an enjoyable start of the series and I believe most fans of Wallace & Gromit will enjoy the game as well.
Pros: Good start to the series, great animation
Cons: No separate volume knobs!