They switched off my television signal last week but I didn’t care. I knew my third installment of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures was nigh. A decade ago my new Macintosh G3 and the internet eviscerated what little remained of my interest in broadcast TV and I never did get around to cable or satellite. I got a little nervous, though when a full two weeks in June elapsed, but then there was the download in my inbox.
I sat right down and played through the new installment, Muzzled! Only took, as usual, a few hours. Just like the first two episodes, Fright of the Bumblebees and The Last Resort, it was great fun running around West Wallaby Street and environs with W&G and all their screwy neighborhood acquaintances.
As the episode begins, the local dog shelter has just burned down and the freed mutts are running all over causing mischief. They’ve even pilfered parts of Wallace’s new invention, the Infiniflavour ice cream van. After Gromit dispenses with that trouble, a somewhat shady fellow named Monty Muzzle shows up, offering to provide the town with his specialty traveling carnival, all proceeds going to rebuild the shelter. From then on it’s a battle of wits between Monty and W&G. It all ends with what is now the traditional whizbang “action” scene, with the Infiniflavour van hot on the trail of Mr. Muzzle’s fleeing carnival balloon.
Muzzled! is a showcase for Gromit. He has almost the entire episode to himself, aside from one short segment where Wallace has to rescue him. The same zany cast of characters is back, albeit in more limited roles: PC Dibbins, Felicity Flitt, Major Crum, Mr. Paneer, Winnie Gabberley. Even Duncan McBisquit is back from The Last Resort. Only Monty Muzzle and his hench chickens (you heard right) as well as three lovable scalawag whippets who start the whole ball rolling are brand new.
I should note that, unlike the previous installment, there are no distinct chapters in Muzzled! There are about five sections, but they flow directly into each other. Like I say, it was all great fun. I enjoyed it immensely, for a few hours. The same way I would have enjoyed the latest W&G feature film running on PBS -- if my television was still receiving a signal, that is.
I tried to make it last as long as I could. I turned the hint meter to “Never.” I turned off subtitles. And I stopped talking to Wallace except for the bare basics necessary for the plot. I have found that even with the meter on “Never” Wallace will dispense hints like a kindly old lady handing out candy on Halloween.
Of course I realize by now that Telltale’s W&G is not going to satiate my rapacious, neverending craving for challenging puzzles. After all, everything else in this franchise is absolutely top drawer. The graphics are stunningly cinematic, the voice work is superb, the faithfulness to the W&G of the short films is admirable. The story was again wildly imaginative and great fun. What is there to complain about, really. Aside from the puzzles, that is.
Actually, there was one point in Muzzled! where I was genuinely stumped. I was ecstatic. At last! Could it be? A puzzle! Of course, there was only one small room to explore, about a half dozen hotspots and eleven seconds later after trying the handful of inventory items I had on those few hotspots, the problem was solved.
As I said in my review of episode 1, I adore W&G as much as anyone, and have for a couple of decades now. But if this is what adventure gaming had been like when I first took it up ten years ago, I would have quickly abandoned it the same way I lost interest in broadcast television. It’s cotton candy, not a real meal. It’s great fun, but it doesn’t really satisfy. It’s episode three of a four-part series of mildly interactive, highly polished cartoons. It’s gorgeous, it really is. But it’s not so much a game as it is an experiment in cartoon total immersion, albeit a remarkably successful one.
I recently reviewed Gobliiins 4, and gave it a pretty good grade. Higher than Grand Adventures. Some may wonder why. The graphics, the acting, the music, the overall production of Gobliiins 4 couldn’t begin to compete with Grand Adventures. Except,Gobliins 4 has a decent amount of what I value most in an adventure game, tricky puzzles. Not mind-bending, but enough to get me thinking. I’d never played the DOS Goblins games from the early Nineties and I got to thinking maybe I’d missed something. So I played bothGoblins Quest 3 and Gobliins 2, the latter amounting to 3 megabytes installed. Both were even better thanGobliiins 4. Each kept me occupied for a whole week. I spent much of my day pondering how to get out of each jam I got into. I made notes. I tried different theories. Eventually, I hit upon the answer. For me, that is the main pleasure of an adventure game. The thinking, not the running around beautiful 3D worlds, interacting with world-famous cartoon characters. Both experiences are tremendous fun, but the former is far more satisfying. To me. Not, it would appear, to almost everyone else out there in adventureland. Give us easier games! Or else!
There are a couple of news items to report about the W&G series. The official site has begun selling the first three episodes, including Muzzled!, individually. Also, the Xbox version of the first episode is available. I keep forgetting that these games are designed with the big gaming consoles in mind. The only game I play with a controller is Tomb Raider Level Editor, on my Macintosh G4. I don’t have a game pad, or stick, or whatever on my PC because I don’t play games that require one. I suppose this is an interesting marketing experiment that Telltale’s up to. They’re trying to interest the console kids in adventure gaming. This might even explain the easing up on the puzzles in W&G. It does explain why the combined keyboard and mouse controls for these games is so awkward. It’s because it’s really a console game. Except the PC versions have come out first, probably to drum up general interest.
Telltale has just announced a fresh series of Monkey Island games, to begin in July. This is fairly earthshaking news. I expect, however, that these games too will be console-kid oriented. I wish them well. I really do hope those kids can be weaned off those creepy monster and military FPS games. Maybe in time they’ll even develop a taste for a classic adventure game like Gobliins 2.
Like its two predecessors, Muzzled! is an exemplary offering. Only diehard puzzle fanatics like me would even think to pooh-pooh it. Despite my personal, ever deepening gloom about the overall direction of adventure gaming of late, Muzzled! is well worth buying and playing. In fact, I’m going to give it a slightly higher grade than Bees and Resort, an A minus. Among his many sterling qualities, Gromit doesn’t bark out unwanted hints every few minutes – unlike a certain other well-known resident of 62 West Wallaby Street I could mention.
Final Grade: A-