It turns out that it’s surprisingly simple to make a decent Back to the Future videogame. Not that we’d have previously thought it possible following the many abortive and shoddy experiences over the years. Give the licence to a developer that understands the franchise however, and you get something that tickles your nostalgia ducts to the maximum. Give it to a developer that understands the fanbase just as thoroughly, and suddenly you’re playing one of the better movie tie-ins of recent years. Telltale games strikes again.
Set in the months immediately following Back to the Future III, Marty is on the trail of a missing Doc Brown when the DeLorean turns up containing nothing but Einstein and a trail of clues to determine which year needs to be scoured for the wayward inventor. With those details quickly established, it’s off to 1931 for the bulk of the experience, in which you’ll get to meet Marty’s grandpa and another errant member of the Tannen clan, as well as interacting with a 17-year-old Doc in order to spring his older self out of jail and travel Back to the Future.
As part of Telltale’s stable of episodic licenced adventures, you may already know what to expect from the core gameplay. Adventuring, conversing and puzzling is the order, with this initial chapter clocking in at around 3-4 hours of new-school point-and-clicking. The first third is largely scene-setting, nostalgia-driven conversations with key characters, but the back-end coughs up more than a few head-scratchers that’ll keep your brain in trim before reaching for the solution. It ends in a good spot, and like all good episodes, leaves you wanting for more.
Playing on the iPad is mostly a joy, although there are a few frame-rate hitches and glitchy interface elements to contend with. Marty is controlled by the now-ubiquitous on-screen analogue stick, and whilst it works for the most part, it would have been so much easier to simply tap to walk. There are other peculiarly-judged facets too, with certain items incredibly difficult to select on-screen, and a clunky inventory system that just doesn’t seem at home on the system. If this is the one-size-fits-all interface that’s supposed to function on iPhone, iPad, PC, PS3 and 360, Telltale might want to rethink their plans and tailor things a little further.
Overall those are minor gripes as control wrinkles can be ironed out as the series progresses through, and for the most part Back to the Future is an absolute joy. The voice acting is superb throughout (the stand-in Marty is utterly convincing), the script touches on all the right humorous notes, and the whole thing is awash in well-judged nostalgia. I defy anybody not to get a wee bit excited when that theme tune kicks in, and it’s a credit to the developer that what follows is an adventure that on many levels feels like a natural extension of the movie series. Iron out those pesky hitches, and Telltale will have arguably its best project yet.