Reviewed: January 21, 2011
Released: December 23, 2010
Itís hard to deny that Back to the Future games have had a sordid history. When the best game based on the series up until now was a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City mod, it doesnít speak very well of the efforts that came before it. Still, with Telltaleís new effort, the series finds what might be its first good commercial adaptation. With excellent use of the moviesí running jokes, themes, and soundscape, and Telltaleís clever writing and puzzle-crafting, Back to the Future Episode 1: Itís About Time manages to be the first commercial Back to the Future video game worth the name.|
Taking place shortly after Back to the Future part 3, in the wake of Doc Brown leaving Hill Valley, Itís About Time opens with Marty McFly and his father preparing Docís possessions for an estate sale. However, when the time-traveling DeLorean returns to 1986, empty save for a cassette recorder, a ladyís shoe, and Doc Brownís dog, itís up to you, as Marty, to uncover where Ė and when Ė Doc is, what kind of trouble heís in, and how to rescue him.
The gameís dialogue is pitch-perfect, with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doc Brown, and AJ LoCascio stepping into Martyís role with an uncanny interpretation of the character that I could barely distinguish from Michael J. Fox. Telltaleís writing is spot on, hitting many of the movie seriesí running jokes, while being more than clever in its own right. Whether itís a soup-delivering do-gooder announcing that she has to run food to the asylum because the inmates are just crazy for it, or Doc Brown warning that eating at the soup kitchen will cause permanent damage to Martyís digestive system in the same panicked tones he uses to refer to the destruction of time itself, the writing is spot on, and the dialogue is delivered expertly.
The gameís graphics are charming; with a cartoonish bent that pervades the game. The character designs fit their roles in the game, and while the differences in the level of caricature can be momentarily alarming, as the comparison between Marty and Doc Brownís proportions took me aback when I first noticed them, the interpretation works better, and the characters have more life and expression to them than a more realistic approach would have. Meanwhile, the music draws its cues from the films, with numerous familiar themes coming back around, and fans of the moviesí scores will find a lot to recognize and enjoy.
The gameplay itself is a relatively simple adventure game. The puzzles are all either dialogue-based or involve using items straight from the inventory with little combination or other elaborate inventory tricks to be found. A robust help system will ease players who canít boggle through the solutions through the game, though the puzzles are straightforward enough that veteran players might not find much to challenge them. Still, the focus is on the story rather than the puzzles, and they manage to succeed brilliantly, especially with a reaction game near the end and a surprisingly tense set of puzzles at the very end of the episode.
For fans of the films, you can hardly go wrong with Itís About Time. Adventure game fans might have a harder time justifying it, since while the puzzles are excellent, they go by a little fast, and can be a bit too easy for the seasoned veterans out there. Still, as a first step in their ongoing series, Itís About Time shows a lot of promise, and hopefully points at even greater things to come in the future of the episodic series.