Great scott! Back to the Future: Episode 1 is 1.21 jigawatts of fun.
One of the most unexpected franchises to be resurrected, Back to the Future was surprisingly turned into a new adventure from the folks at Telltale games (the studio behind Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit). For fans of the films, Back to the Future: Episode 1 – It’s About Time revs the fun factor all the way to 88 miles per hour. If you don’t understand that sentence, don’t try to play this game.
Assuming you were alive in the 1980s, you probably know all about the Back to the Future films starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Their adventures in a time-travelling DeLorean are practically icons, along with tons of pop culture references that reverberate even today. These films are sacred for a number of film fans.
It is with this care that Telltale has created Back to the Future: Episode 1. They have gone so far as to work with the original creator of the films, Bob Gale, as well as Christopher Lloyd himself. (For health reasons, Michael J. Fox could not voice the game, but soundalike A.J. LoCascio does a remarkable job of replicating Fox’s nervous delivery, and is able to create the convincing chemistry between Marty and Doc Brown. Lloyd’s voice sounds a little older and a little less frenetic, but the character is all there.
To talk about the plot will give away a lot of the game, but suffice to say, Doc Brown gets himself accidentally mixed up in some trouble in 1930s Hill Valley, and Marty must go back in time to help him. If he doesn’t, Doc will cease to exist, and who knows how many universal paradoxes would happen!
Back to the Future: Episode 1 follows a lot of the same design moves as other Telltale point-and-click adventure games. The graphics are great, with a fun stylized look that still coveys the characters well. There’s a lot of detail, with little in-jokes for those who really know the films. The music matches the action perfectly, using bits and pieces from the original film’s soundtrack – right down to Huey Lewis and the News’ Back in Time. It’s a great touch.
The dialog is often witty and retains the charm, humor and rhythm of the films. Sometimes, though, it switches into a kind of “game” sounding mode, to tell you what to do, or start a particular mission. Although it normally works fine in most games, the Back to the Future movies had a certain sound to their dialog, and sometimes is in conflict. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling of the films is sometimes lost when Back to the Future: Episode 1 has to be a game.
As far as being a game goes, it’s good, standard point-and-click fare, with inventory systems, character dialog and exploring an area. You’ll never be stuck, with a very generous hint system that you can choose to use or not. If you’re stuck, you can click once and get a mild hint. Keep clicking, and the game will explicitly let you know what to do. It really helps make Back to the Future: Episode 1 accessible to all.
The game is definitely not perfect, though. Despite the aforementioned excellent voice work, there is a glaring omission: Tom Wilson, the actor who played Biff. Wilson didn’t want to participate, and his absence is sorely felt. The voice actor used to replace him sounds nothing like Biff. Since Biff Tannen (and his relatives) are always the villains, it’s definitely a loss to the title.
The plotting, too, is a bit vague. Considering the DeLorean was destroyed at the end of the third film, and Doc was married with kids in a flying train, how any of this game could happen isn’t really well-explained in the game. Sci-fi is often full of plotholes, but these are big enough to drive a truck though. I assume these will probably be explained better as the next episodes are released.
For parents, you should know that there are a couple of swear words. These words are in the original Back to the Future films, so if you have no problem with your kids watching the films, then Back to the Future: Episode 1 won’t be a problem. Just be aware they’re there.
Finally, be aware that this is the first episode of a five-part series. If you’re planning on just picking up the first episode as a self-contained experience, it won’t be worth it. The game lasts about 3-4 hours during your first playthrough. The price for the full season isn’t prohibitive as far as downloads go, so just go ahead and pay for what’s to come.
If you remember your hoverboards, manure trucks and flux capacitors, then Back to the Future: Episode 1 is going to be a great romp that you can’t believe actually happened. It’s a slower start for Telltale, but the plot has a lot of twists and turns left in it, and they are the studio to pull it off.