Lots of Bite and Bark
At this point, it’s all but expected Wallace and Gromit will somehow wind up clawing their way out of some new outlandish business venture in each episode of their four-part Grand Adventures series. The last two episodes found the cheese-chomping bloke and his intellectual pooch fighting off an invasion of giant, mutant bees that rebelled against Wallace’s honey making plans and braving the stormy wrath of grumpy tourists visiting their DIY beach-basement resort. After a brief dip in the excitement level with The Last Resort, the silly duo’s latest journey switches up the pace with a renewed sense of vigor.
Episode 3: Muzzled! brings some much-needed new locations and interesting characters into the mix. With Wallace perfecting his latest entrepreneurial scheme – a robotic ice cream truck that scans various items to produce bizarre flavors of the chilly treats – his basement is beset by a pack of pooch refugees from the local animal shelter that we learn was destroyed in the storm from the previous episode. The unusual mishap draws the attention of a shady carnival owner who rolls into town to throw a benefit to rebuild the ruined shelter. This seemingly provides a marvelous opportunity for Wallace to test out his new ice cream making gizmo and support a noble cause, but trouble quickly begins brewing in the fairgrounds.
Like the past few episodes, Muzzled! starts out in the duo’s household and eases you into the story with a simple puzzle or two. As far as locations go, the house itself wore out its welcome by the conclusion of the second episode. It was a pleasant surprise to find this time around the stairway is blocked off by ice cream making supplies, the living room has been turned into a DIY milking operation (complete with cows), and the dining room is being utilized to house refrigeration tanks. Everything in their abode but the kitchen and basement is off limits, and venturing out into town reveals a sparse level of character interactions and things to do. If you’ve grown tired of traversing the same hotspots, you’re in luck; the real meat of Episode 3 comes in the form of a large, completely new area to explore at the carnival fundraiser put on by Monty Muzzle – the new guy in town.
The carnival fairgrounds provide a much appreciated visual change-of-pace from past episodes as well as ample opportunities to throw new puzzles in your path. Beyond humorous character interactions that are largely tied into the plot, you’ll explore numerous booths that let you tinker with fortunes, test your tic-tac-toe abilities against a chicken, and deep fry anything you can get your hands, among other activities. The beauty of the Wallace & Gromit series is it requires you to use your noggin but doesn’t bludgeon you senseless with an absurd level of difficulty. Many of the puzzle challenges are intuitive, requiring you to pick up visual and audio hints littered throughout the game to determine what items you need to use at key moments. An adjustable hint system also provides intermittent clues if you become stuck. Not having to stress much over seemingly impassable puzzle elements make it easier to soak in the game’s charm and focus on the silliness that eventually unfolds.
Given the dog-centric nature of Muzzled!, Gromit fans will be pleased to learn he’s very much the star of the episode. While there are moments where you’ll switch back and forth between the two main characters, you’ll only control Wallace directly for a brief time towards the end of the adventure. Additionally, each of the stray dogs you’ve befriended in the game have their own peculiar personalities, behaviors, and traits that come into play at different points in the game. Gromit’s interactions with his less brainy K-9 pals are highly amusing, and the way they’re worked into the game’s puzzles are quite clever.
Little, if anything, has been changed regarding the control scheme throughout the series. Everything is functional for both platforms, but Xbox 360 owners have the more comfortable experience. PC gamers still have to deal with the slightly awkward combination of moving characters around with the WASD keys and interacting with objects with the mouse. The Xbox 360 controller feels better suited to the setup, due to the analog stick controls and shoulder button inventory management. In either case, changes in camera angles when moving from scene-to-scene can throw off your direction, since you’ll have to stop moving and start again to re-orient you directional controls. It’s not a huge quibble overall, but it’s something that would have been nice to see fixed to make the movement more consistent between different locations.
The very claymation-like presentation that matches the original Wallace & Gromit shorts and the cartoonish vibe seen in the scenery and character models is still a great mixture. Subtle changes to old locations gives you good reason to poke around some of the same places you’ve explored in the past installments, and the new scenery to explore in the fairgrounds definitely gives Muzzled! a fresher look and feel than the previous episode. Throughout the series, all of the different characters are excellently voiced with amusing accents and strange personalities. A jovial and upbeat score also boosts the presentation. That said, the game’s audio is a little off in terms of the relation between speech volume and music volume; the best solution is to suffer through the subtitles.
So far, each episode has culminated in an absurdly entertaining climax where all hell breaks loose with great comedic effect. Previous encounters include a high-speed road chase against a sinister queen bee and a whirlpool-driven vortex of chaos. Muzzled follows suit with a stellar and satisfying conclusion that’s as inventive as it is laughable. The final installment of this four-part series is quickly approaching, and we’re anxious to see how the final episode plays out. Overall, Wallace & Gromit has turned out to be a strong series, but Muzzled! thankfully delivers that extra kick we’ve been hoping for since the second episode.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The new settings up the enjoyability of this episode substantially. 3.7 Control
Though the controls are not designed with PC gamers in mind, they’re fine. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is solid but the audio has its quirks. 4.0 Play Value
A marked improvement over episode 2. Simply delightful. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.