Adventure Gamers Awards
Throughout the history of the Wallace & Gromit franchise, it’s never been much for multi-part, serialized storytelling. Each new movie or short hits the reset button and launches the characters off with a new invention on a new escapade. Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures have followed this same example—until now. With this, the fourth and final entry, story continuity is introduced for the first time (outside the occasional winking inclusion of an old prop in the background, of course). Because of that, it’s impossible to discuss the beginning of The Bogey Man’s story without discussing the end of Muzzled!, so if you haven’t played Episode 3 yet but plan to do so and are sensitive to spoilers, you may want to consider coming back to this review once you’re caught up in the series. When you’re ready, you’ll find Episode 4 to be a surprisingly challenging, thoroughly competent adventure—albeit one that feels exceedingly familiar at this point in the series.
When we last saw Wallace, he was on bended knee, accidentally presenting a ring-sized lug nut to his neighbor Felicity Flitt. Too bashful to ever correct someone, Wallace can’t bring himself to explain the misunderstanding when she asks for some time to consider his proposal. As The Bogey Man begins, Wallace is convinced it was simply a bad dream, until Gromit shows him the front page of the society section, where his offer of marriage to Miss Flitt is the lead story. Gromit’s assignment is to find a way for Wallace to get out of marrying Felicity without the inventor himself actually having to confront the situation. Meanwhile, Wallace is busy trying to launch his new business: Golden Retrieval, a detective agency specializing in lost items that lets you play with some interesting “tools,” such as an Automatic Clue Finder and an Eavesdropper, though they’re woefully underused.
Next door, Miss Flitt’s Great Aunt Prudence, her only living relative and The Bogey Man’s lone new character, has arrived in town to help her grand-niece decide whether or not Wallace is truly marriage material. Of course, all the silly inventions will have to go, but otherwise Prudence seems to think he’s okay. As long as he’s not a member of the Prickly Thicket Country Club, which the Flitts have vowed to scorn for all eternity, that is. So of course Gromit’s mission turns to helping his master become a member of said club and learn to golf while he’s at it.
Besides popping up to slander golf every once in a while, Prudence doesn’t have much else to do, and a new character could have been better used elsewhere. One of the consequences of having a small, fixed cast of characters is what I call the “Simpsons Syndrome”. Every time a new location or concept is introduced on The Simpsons, whether it’s a secret society or World of WarCraft, every other character in town is already a member. With this in mind, if you’ve played the previous Grand Adventures, you can pretty easily guess the entire membership of Prickly Thicket (hint: there’s only three members and Constable Dibbins isn’t one of them). This seems like a missed opportunity to introduce a bunch of wacky, upper-crust, golf-obsessed English caricatures, as opposed to just squeezing the ever-malleable Mr. Paneer into another new personality.
Despite the initial premise, there isn’t really an overarching goal in The Bogey Man. Once through the doors of Prickly Thicket, Wallace immediately gets a series of new objectives totally unrelated to Miss Flitt or his engagement. He’ll first need to find the deed to the Prickly Thicket golf course, which has been lost for over 300 years, and then defeat McBiscuit in a very unusual game of golf, before giving way to Gromit again for a “high-speed” climax that bears little relevance to anything that came before it. While it’s not unusual for goals to change and evolve over the course of an adventure game, something about the progression in this episode seemed disjointed to me. This was especially pronounced immediately following Muzzled!, the most cohesive Wallace & Gromit chapter so far.
If The Bogey Man stands out from the previous episodes in any other way, it’s in the puzzle difficulty. Though it won’t cause anyone to break their keyboard in half in frustration, where previous entries were a breeze, this one at least calls for a light jacket. I even had to break out a notepad at one point to help remember the order needed to complete a series of tasks. The majority of puzzles are still based on using inventory items on objects in the environment, sometimes in ways that are circuitous or barely logical, though upon reflection you’ll usually exclaim: “Of course! How did I not see that sooner?” It’s that special breed of self-recrimination that’s born of well-designed puzzles. I spent quite a while in the first act trying to figure out how to convince Mr. Paneer that Wallace was indeed a sportsman before the solution reached out and smacked me in the forehead. At no point did I feel cheated, just happily challenged.
In this episode, we also get a sliding tile puzzle that looks incredibly simple, until you discover several of the “tiles” refuse to go near one another. Several times Wallace actually has to play golf (sort of) to progress the story, but there are no power meters or aiming—all you have to do is click, so they’re decidedly puzzle-based. Between the inventory puzzles, the tile puzzle, and the golf puzzles, there’s a great feeling of variety in the challenges here, even if the mechanics for solving them are largely the same.
There haven’t been any changes in the controls, in case you had your fingers crossed for a last-minute conversion. You still move with the keyboard and select hotspots with the mouse, and it’s still slightly easier if you use a gamepad. With every passing episode, it gets more and more intuitive—though I’ll admit it caused me a lot of frustration in the climactic final scene (let’s just say it isn’t easy to run diagonally and look at your inventory at the same time).
When it comes to visuals, the series continues to mainly shine brightly, though the “new game smell” has worn off a bit, and a few cracks are beginning to show—quite literally in the case of small but noticeable seams in many of the character models. I found a few other strange graphical glitches, like Wallace hitting a golf ball while conspicuously empty-handed, but your mileage may vary, and it wasn’t game-spoiling or anything. There are a couple new locations, the most prominent being the interior of the Prickly Thicket Country Club. It has a lot of personality, with murals of the founders, robotic servants, and several bells that notify the members of Tee Time, Tea Time, and—I’m not making this up—Tee-Hee Time. Even better than the graphics are the sounds, with the same high quality voice acting and music we’ve come to appreciate, including a fun new song that serves as Prickly Thicket’s anthem.
Perhaps because of the higher difficulty, this was the longest episode of the series so far for me, at just over three hours. Though the story changes direction too much to be very cohesive, and there are fewer laughs than the previous series entries, the complex, well-designed puzzles go a long way in keeping the experience satisfying overall. In the end, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with The Bogey Man, but there isn’t anything particularly memorable either. That would be fine if this were the middle of the series, but as a conclusion, it’s a little disappointing. Still, as its own entity, it remains a fun adventure that most players will find a fair way to spend an afternoon.