Back to the Future: The Game Review

Back to the Future: The Game [Available on PSN, iPad/Mac, PC]
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date:  February 15, 2011

Parent Talk: Back to the Future The Game is a family-friendly experience. It builds on the narrative of the films and excellently recreates the characters. There is some mild profanity, but nothing beyond what you’d hear in a PG or PG-13 movie. Children may become frustrated with trying to advance, but the difficulty isn’t high. Though it’s meant for solo play, the game is great fun just to watch.

Plays Like: Back to the Future plays like classic point-and-click style adventure PC games. Those familiar with other Telltale games, such as the Homestar Runner titles on WiiWare or Sam and Max should be able to understand this right away.

Review Basis: Completed all five chapters.

Back to the Future: The Game is on the shortlist of excellent movie-based games. Taking a timeless, beloved film franchise and turning it into an endearing game is no easy task, especially a trilogy that realistically has little business being a video game. Other developers have tried and failed to adapt BttF into a game, often by shoehorning it into a nonsensical platformer. Telltale chose the best possible route, making an interactive, point-and-click adventure. By focusing on exploration, situational and logic puzzles, and talking to characters, the game successfully retains the ‘feel’ of the movies.

The Great:

A fantastic adventure. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly made BttF so great. The films straddle multiple genres, yet remained focused and compelling. The story has some incredibly complex conundrums, but the message is simple and endearing.  The game is faithful to that. Like the Ghostbusters Video Game, BttF is another movie. It delivers a great narrative set in the same universe, picking  up shortly after BttF III, highlighting the relationship between Marty and his good friend, Doc Brown.

The Good:

+ Attention to detail. Telltale slipped in so many concepts from the movies that it borders on the insane. For example, at the beginning, you should notice the sign for the Twin Pines Mall. It quickly changes and becomes the “Lone Pine Mall,” which you may remember was a minor touch from the movies after Marty knocks down a tree in 1955. There are tons of other references, like the Weird Science poster in Marty’s room or the abundant Star Wars nods. It shows how well Telltale understands the movie mythos and audience.

+ Excellent voice acting and sound. The game not only plays themes from the movies (including songs by Huey Lewis and the News), but some original tracks as well, all of which fit the franchise. The voice acting is equally fantastic. Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as the eccentric Doc Brown, and A.J. LoCasio performs wonderfully as a young Marty. Michael J. Fox even sneaks in some lines during the fifth chapter! The dialog is over-the-top at times, but still great.

+ Well-developed characters. We all know Marty and Doc, but the game throws in new characters along with the old. Kid Tannen as the villain appropriately fits in with the rest of the Tannen lineage, while we can feel much emotion for Edna Strickland—disgust or maybe genuine pity. The characters are well-defined without being one-dimensional. This especially helps solidify the game’s place within the movie franchise.

+ Puzzle-solving. BttF is an interactive, puzzle-driven adventure game. When you hear “puzzle” game, it’s tempting to picture blocks or math puzzles, but that’s not the case here. Every puzzle is intended to advance the situation. For example, you’re at once point required to convince Arthur McFly to leave the safehouse. To do so, you must trick Kid Tannen into chasing you, use the tape recorder to record his threats, and finally play it for Arthur to make him think Kid Tannen is calling him down. These sequences are ingenious and appropriately challenging.

The Bad:

– Difficult to maneuver. Exploration and investigation are paramount in an adventure game, but BttF is plagued by a few control problems. The static camera is normally helpful, but when Marty enters a new area, the view changes abruptly and the controls only hinder the transition. Another sore spot is when there are multiple points of interest concentrated in one segment. Sometimes focusing on one thing is plain cumbersome; Marty likes to change what object he’s looking at.

The Ugly:

Lack of polish. The art direction perfectly accentuates BttF. The somewhat cartoonish visuals are colorful and expressive, but there are issues. Load times are excessive, facial animations and lip synching are far from ideal, and the frame rate exhibits strange issues. The music also hiccups.

The Lowdown:

This is a must-buy for BttF and point-and-click fans. It’s accessible and fun for all, but resonates most with those who have affection for the source material. Non-fans won’t have much incentive to play, but TellTale has provided the entire first chapter for free on PC, so check it out.

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