For months now, the GameCola staff has been eagerly awaiting the release of Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 1: It’s About Time. In fact, multiple separate staff members expressed interest in writing reviews for this game here on GameCola. Yes, everyone wants to play this game and to learn the answer to the question, “Is this game worth playing?”
Answer: Sure! It’s not exactly Back to the Future 4, but it’ll do.
The game is made by Telltale Games, who made last year’s very successful Tales of Monkey Island games. Some of the problems that plagued the Monkey Island games are still here in the Back to the Future: The Game. For one thing, the game’s high-quality graphics cause lag if you’re like me and don’t have the world’s best-quality computer. And for another thing, the control scheme was made by drunken cocker spaniels.
You would think a point-and-click adventure game would have a control scheme that involves pointing and clicking. And for the most part, it does. But when you want to move Marty around, you can’t just click on where you want him to go. Instead, you need to click on Marty, and then drag the mouse in the general direction you want Marty to walk in. That way, Marty will be guaranteed to almost never go where you want him to, in favor of getting stuck in corners and the sides of buildings. Stick to using the up/down/left/right arrows, which works much better.
Other reviewers have said that the control scheme is the worst thing ever, and it was created by the Alternate 1985 Biff Tannen, and now Christmas is ruined, and blah blah blah Justin Bieber. Sure, it’s not very good, but like I said, you can use the directional arrows instead. As the DS Zelda games prove, it’s good to have more than one control scheme. I personally used the arrows the whole time, instead of trying to fight the controls designed for the external mouse I don’t have.
The plot of the game is pretty good, but it confused me the first time I played through the game, because I wasn’t sure when the intro section was over. A third of the way through the game, I was still saying, “Wow, this is one long intro.” I’m kind of dumb, what can I say? In any case, the second time I played through the game, I appreciated the plot more. They do a good job of mixing scenes that feel like they’re from a Back to the Future movie with the adventure game parts. It’s not a perfect mixture—some parts feel like they come from an adventure game that has nothing to do with BttF—but I happen to enjoy solving adventure game puzzles, so I won’t complain.
Specifically, the game starts with two scenes, one in the Twin Pines Parking Lot and the other in Doc’s House. These scenes are mostly fanservice, and even though they have almost nothing to do with the plot, it’s still fun to see Marty interact with Adult George and Adult Biff. Once that part is over, the game really gets underway as the time-travelling DeLorean suddenly appears. No one is inside the car except Doc’s dog Einstein. Uh oh! Looks like Doc has gotten himself into trouble somewhere—I mean, somewhen!
After some puzzles that involve a woman who has every single newspaper since 1897 (how convenient!), Marty learns that Doc Brown is in 1931. Doc was falsely arrested for burning down a speakeasy. What’s more, the gangster that ran the speakeasy, Kid Tannen, had decided to kill Doc for revenge. It’s up to Marty to go the past and break Doc out of jail before he gets killed. And just to make things interesting, Marty has a few run-ins with Kid Tannen, Young Doc Brown, and his grandfather, Arthur McFly.
The characters in this game are…interesting. It’s been said before, but it seems that Telltale doesn’t know how to make good original characters. Instead, they make generic stereotypes that have one personality trait, at best. For example, Kid Tannen is a generic 1930’s gangster, along the lines of Rocky and Mugsy. He definitely doesn’t feel much like a Tannen, although to be honest, you could say the same thing about Mad Dog Tannen. Tannen’s goons are big and dumb, just like every other villain’s goons, and Marty’s grandfather is a copy/paste version of Young George McFly.
However, this “one character trait” rule doesn’t apply to the characters of Young Doc Brown and Edna Strickland. I’m not sure what to make of these characters. Sometimes it feels like Telltale is trying to make original characters for once, and other times it feels like Telltale has no idea how the characters should act, because the plot demands that they have two character traits. And so, you have characters who are somewhere in the limbo between “original character” and “someone who alternates between two generic character traits.”
I’m going to wait until the other episodes in the series before making a judgment call on these two characters. They certainly have the potential of being interesting original characters, so let’s hope they do. As things stand now, there are one or two good moments for both of them in the game. There are more good moments with Young Doc because he’s in more scenes, and it’s legitimately sad at the end of the game when Marty tells Young Doc that he has to go away forever.
Oh, hey, thanks for reminding me, caption to the above picture. This game also has funny moments, which is in keeping with the Back to the Future style. Not every joke is good—Old Doc, in particular, has a few awkward misfires—but on the whole, I appreciate the effort. I can also appreciate a few of the less obvious jokes in the game, which reference the Back to the Future movies.
The puzzles are pretty standard adventure game fare, with some classic puzzles like “get a character to leave the room” and “use the only item you can interact with in this scene.” None of them were too painful to figure out. Gamers who aren’t good at adventure game puzzles will be glad to know that the game has a great built-in hint system. It’s done in the popular style of “you can request three hints per puzzle, each hint getting more specific about what you have to do.” I also hear that someone wrote a GameFAQs guide for this game that is very helpful.
The music is awesome, especially the music that comes straight from the movies. It really helped enhance the experience and make it feel like it’s part of the Back to the Future universe. That and the voice acting is really good, too. I’m still confused as to why they hired Michael J. Fox’s official voice double to play someone other than Marty, but I’m not complaining. The graphics might disappoint some people because they’re more cartoony than super-realistic, but they’re not Toon Link bad. My only complaint would be that Marty does his “worried” look quite often, and he doesn’t really look worried. It looks more like he kind of has to go to the bathroom. That would explain why he’s worried, to be sure, but I’d still tweak that facial expression just a little bit.
Finally, I’d like to say that the game does a pretty good job of finishing the story with a satisfying ending. Then, they tack on a cliffhanger so we can have Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. I suppose there are a few things that feel like a set-up for the next game (like the Expo that gets mentioned three times), but all in all, that cliffhanger is pretty blatant sequel fodder. For some reason, this doesn’t bother me as much as it should.
I think this game is a seven out of ten, but I’m giving it an eight out of ten so it gets GameCola’s official “Great [Scott]” rating.
Editor: No, Michael. The GameCola review ratings system is not a toy!