Pros: Excellent Story, clever puzzles, true to the movies.
Cons: Too easy, frame rate issues.
Playing the adventure game Back to the Future: The Game, raises some nostalgia for the movie, which I saw – wow - was it really 26 years ago? Am I really older than Christopher Lloyd was when he played Doc, who I remember being really, really old. Does this make me an underachiever? Shouldn’t I have built my own time machine by now?
Developed and Published by: Telltale Games
For ages: 13 and up
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2011
Story: Twisty Time Travel Tale True to The Trio
For those of you who never saw them, the Back to the Future movies are all about the intricacies of time travel. The eccentric Doc Brown builds a time machine out of an 80s luxury car called the DeLorean, and his teenage friend, Marty McFly winds up spending the next three movies visiting the past and future of his home town Hill Valley, dealing with time travel paradoxes and trying to repair whatever damage he has done to his own future.
Back to the Future: The Game is not a version of the original film, but rather an all-new adventure in which Marty and Doc wind up in Hill Valley during prohibition, where Doc is falsely accused of burning down a speakeasy and Marty has to save him with the help of Emmett Brown, Doc’s younger, far more serious self.
BTTF:TG was originally released for the PC as an episodic series, so the story plays out in five chapters. As with the movies, changing historical events is a risky endeavor, and after rescuing Doc, Marty discovers his present has become a disaster, requiring another trip to 1931. This time small changes leads to a dystopian present where Hill Valley is a Big Brother-ish assortment of security cameras, reprogramming and a strict enforcement of “polo shirt Thursdays,” requiring yet another trip to the past that makes things even worse.
Presentation: A Dead-On Match to the Movies
The game is very true to the spirit of the movies, with the same music, the typically 80s camera angles and pans and Christopher Lloyd reprising the role of Doc (Michael J. Fox does not return to do the voice of Marty McFly, although he does do a couple of small parts for the game’s final chapter). Developer Telltale Games even hired Bob Gale, who wrote the movies, as a script consultant.
The game has the light and breezy style of the films. 1931 is recreated lovingly; Frankenstein is playing in the theatre, a campaign poster on a wall promises “a chicken in every pot” and a shave and a haircut costs, rather surprising, “1 bit.” The game features cute touches like Marty hiding the DeLorean behind a billboard advertising the “Car of the Future.”
Gameplay: Fun But Easy
In terms of gameplay, the game is the same type of point-and-click puzzle-adventure game as TellTale Games’ Sam & Max and Tales of Monkey Island series. Puzzles are likeable but not generally difficult. The way in which you have to alter Doc’s personality test or convince an old lady she’s living decades in the past are clever, but what you need to do becomes obvious pretty quickly. In fact, the developers seem to have had a morbid fear that players might at some point will have a moment of confusion or hesitation.
This particular obsession is most noticeable in episode three (the weakest chapter of the game), where you have a set of simple goals that are clearly stated by one character, after which every character you meet will discuss these goals with you even though they have no useful advice to give. This constant reiteration is given even though your current goal can be listed on command and the game includes a nice hint system. Much of the appeal of adventure games for me has always been that feeling of being oh-so-smart when I finally figure things out, but this game is so darn helpful that it never lets me feel like a genius.
Also, like all of Telltale Game’s Wii titles, the game doesn’t run quite as well as it does on the PC. Load times are longer, there are frame rate issues and sometimes the voices go a little out of sync. But after so many years of playing adventure games hunched over a keyboard, I still enjoy playing them sprawled on the couch.
One last flaw; the games are simply collected on the disk as separate entities, which means that when you finish one chapter you have to exit to the main menu to start the next one. For all five chapters you must start a new game and answer a question about whether you want your goals displayed (I didn’t).
Verdict: Fun for Fans of Adventure Games and Doc Brown
While the dialogue isn’t quite as funny as that of the Monkey Island and Sam and Max games, and the puzzles are not as challenging as I would want them to be, the game is still eminently likeable, with lots of humor and a twisty story that works better than that of the third, poorly conceived film. BTTF:TG is essentially Back to the Future 4, and it’s great to have another entry in the series after all these years.
Ultimately, BBTF:TG wraps me in a glow of nostalgia. It both makes me want to re-watch the original movie and replay some adventure games from those long-ago days when they were more than a niche genre. It makes me want to listen to a Huey Lewis song on the radio and watch some old episodes of Taxi, the show that gave Lloyd his start. While the movies and the game may be all about making it back from the past to the modern world, the game makes me want to get in my time machine, travel to the days of my youth and stay there.