Reviewed: October 23, 2005
Released: September 28, 2005
The Wallace & Gromit series of stop-motion animation shorts and features have tended to fly a bit under the radar in the USA; more so than in the UK where they were – and still are – a veritable phenomenon. Emanating from the UK’s Aardman Studios, the Wallace & Gromit series has received far less attention than Aardman’s other blockbuster offering, Chicken Run.
But Aardman is giving the USA another chance with the bumbling inventor and his sidekick pooch this fall, in the form of a full-length feature film called Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And par for the industry – where there is a movie, a game is sure to follow. Thankfully Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit for the PS2 – developed by Cambridge’s Frontier Developments (A Dog’s Life, Rollercoaster Tycoon) – is one of the better movie-to-game adaptations to hit the consoles.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit picks up the story shortly after the inventor and his dog have formed a new pest control company – “Anti-pesto” – which is dedicated to the humane collection and removal of bunnies, weasels, bugs and just about any other nuisance creature.
Anti-pesto employs the use of the Wallace-created BunGun and deft herding skills to drive the pests towards another of Wallace’s creations, the BunVac, which safely sucks the pests into a holding chamber. The use of the prefix “Bun” refers to bunnies – rabbits – which happen to be the majority of the pests that Wallace & Gromit will encounter throughout the game.
In the first training mission – a prologue of sorts – Wallace and Gromit are called out to Lady Tottington’s manor where they find the lawn completely overrun by bunnies. Lady Tottington begs the boys to help clear her garden of the scourge, but to do it in a humane manner. Also present is Victor Quartermain, the gold-digging villain with eyes for Lady Tottington – or at least her money – who believes that the only good bunny is a dead bunny, especially in light of the upcoming vegetable growing competition.
Needless to say, duo humanely takes care of Ms. Tottington’s blight and returns home with a truckload of captive bunnies, which Wallace now has to figure out how to relieve himself of. Knowing that simply releasing the bunnies would be devastating to the town’s vegetation, Wallace has the brilliant idea that if he can first brainwash the bunnies (using his Mind Manipulator-Matic machine) into forgetting about their love of vegetables, the town – and the competition – might be safe. But, as you would expect – the brainwashing session goes awry, and the next morning Wallace ends up with an empty truck, an awful headache, and a strange affinity for carrots…
This is the point where the game really begins to take form. Much like the Jak II and III games, Wallace and Gromit are placed in a fairly large town and traverse from one end of town to the other picking up missions and mini-missions along the way. Naturally, the missions generally involve some sort of herding, as Wallace and Gromit try to drive their bunny invaders (now breeding rampantly) towards the BunVac portals and back into captivity.
There are a number of gadgets that emerge during the game and that Wallace and Gromit will employ in their endeavors; including Bunny Hoppers, Airblasters, Decoys, and of course – the BunGun. Each of these items will have a specific purpose as our heroes not only rid the city of bunnies, but also hunt down the destructive Ware Rabbit and try to stop him from ruining the competition.
Each of the two characters (and a third that appears later in the game) does have definite specialties – for instance, Wallace can perform a double jump to reach isolated tall objects (although not too tall), while Gromit can wall hop back and forth between walls in alleyways and alcoves to reach rooftops and high platforms (think Prince of Persia). The abilities will be put to good use as the puzzles in the game will usually require the use of both characters in one form or another – either flipping switches, cranking pulleys, opening doors, etc. – while the other character completes the task.
Thankfully, switching between the characters is as easy as a tap of the R2 button and control is instantly transferred. One especially nice touch is the analog representation of switching and cranking, which will force the player to mimic the direction of the switch flipping or rotate the analog stick appropriately for cranking. In fact the controls are very intuitive and fluid and overall, which is quite impressive for a licensed game where developers tend to cut corners.
Sadly, the herding gameplay will get a bit repetitive and tiresome around halfway through the game. However, there is a fair share of side missions and games to liven things up a bit.
What can I say? The game looks as good or better than the movies. Sure, it has some seams and glitches – and the shading isn’t on the caliber of the claymation films – but the increased framerate and smooth motion alone makes the CG version of the game much more appealing to me than the jerkiness of stop-motion animation.
It should come as no surprise that the characters look exactly like their onscreen counterparts, and as I mentioned – the movement is fluid and smooth. The village is absolutely huge and well inhabited (although it is nothing like you find in the Jak games), and you will be amazed at the detail put into the environmental textures – not only the obvious things like the buildings or brickwork roads, but also such things little things like the vegetables or the rabbits themselves.
Of particular note are the cool visual effects used to show the “sucking” of the BunGun and BunVac portals, which look like a glistening, swirling vortex of crystal-clear fluid. There are also a fair share of particle effects and other environmental reactions to the vacuum effect – vegetables getting sucked from their vines and plugging the vacs, etc.. Really, this is some impressive stuff.
The sound quality is also on par with the movies and from what I can gather it uses the actual (or close representations of) voices from the movie. Naturally, there is an air of humor throughout the dialog, and the writing is so well constructed you will want to watch the CG cutscenes in their completion. Then again, you really have no choice in the matter, since you aren’t allowed to skip the cutscenes anyway. Yes this is a bummer, and if you ever get in a spot where you have to watch a particularly long scene for a second, or third time, it can be miserable.
As with the voiceovers, the background music and sound effects are of cinema-quality.
Really, where W&G begins to fall apart substantially is in the value department. It definitely is longer than most games of its ilk, but with he 5-10 hours it takes to finish the game, it pales in comparison to the likes of Ratchet and Clank or a Jak and Daxter title. But for gamers who have played out both of those series’, W&G is at least enough of a hybrid between the two that it would be a nice diversion for at least a little while.
The inclusion of two-player cooperative play is also a nice feature – allowing friends and/or family to join in on the fun. I especially liked giving my four-year-old daughter the controller and letting her interact with the environment while I kept us on task.
I would like to mention one complaint that really impacted the value of the game for me, and I would like the developers to make note of this: Please don’t put spoilers in your manual. I’m not much of a manual reader – I generally just skim through to get a basic feel for the HUD and control scheme – but the manual in W&G pretty much spells out the entire plot (and any plot twists), as well the ending – including what you will be doing in the grand finale ending mission.
Now, I have been careful not to spoil the game (or movie) for you readers thus far, so if you don’t like spoilers – don’t read the manual. And as for the developers – shame on you – I was so excited to get to the final mission because of what I read, that it was real letdown when it wasn’t as great as I had imagined it to be.
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit has a lot of the same trappings that made games like Sheep and Herdy Gerdy such unique and fun console titles. It also has a lot of the repetitious gameplay issues that dragged those games down after a few hours of play.
It may not have the mettle to stand up against some of the first party action-platformers on the Playstation 2, but with the unique two-character mechanics and great CG films and voiceovers – it is a solid release. As I mentioned previously, as far as movie-to-game adaptations go, W&G is definitely a step above the norm.
While it may not be worth a purchase for everyone, fans of the films will definitely find something to enjoy in W&G. As will parents who like playing nice, clean games with their children.