• Back to the Future: The Game


  • Graphic Adventure


  • Telltale Games


  • Telltale Games

Release Date:

  • 29 September 2011 (Complete), 22 December 2010 (Episode 1)


  • Windows, OS X, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, iOS

Systems Used:

  • Windows 7

On Wikipedia:

If you've been following my blog, which I update sometimes but not as much as I'd like to, I mention a particularly good Florida trip I took some years in the past, which featured (among other things), the first time I saw an "exprezit!" gas station. But it was more than that. It was more than just gas stations, or new experiences, or abandoned railroads, or my brother showing me great new Homestar Runner cartoons, or games of "Twenty Questions" where people miscategorized what the item actually was, like to me, a "donut" is not a mineral (our games started with "animal, vegetable, or mineral", and a younger me figured that a donut wasn't an animal and it wasn't a vegetable), or to my sister, you can't use fictional objects (the item in question was the Ring, and the questions led up to it as if it was a matter of life and death, which it was...in fiction. My brother argued that its main purpose was "entertainment"). And...it was about citrus. And citrus-flavored Listerine, the type of which is now sadly discontinued (I still remember the commercial, where the mom buys it and the rest of the family runs away but comes back because the Natural Citrus Listerine was "less intense"). The association with citrus is strong enough that biting into a kumquat after work the other day that it reminded me of that trip back in 2003.

And then there was Back to the Future, and the video games I found on the NES ROMs my brother gave me. Now, I played Back to the Future, the 1989 video game published by LJN, at a weird point where it was long after kids were confused and disappointed by how weird the game was...but well before it was re-discovered by the "Angry Video Game Nerd" and his followers. A lot of those games are trashed by the kids who think they can get fame and fortune by playing games and screaming profanities at games they're actually terrible at, but well, Back to the Future, the game, was bad. I'm not going to waste time describing it (with the notable exception that I thought the "disappearing photo", a key plot point in the movie, at the bottom looked like Marty's band with sunglasses), but I did think the tune that plays through the first level was a bit catchy, if extremely repetitive. Back to the Future Part II & III, the game, was completely different (if marginally more playable...and confusing) and there I actually played the game BEFORE the movie (the alternate 1985 was quite different between the game and the movie, let me tell you). I think I remember during that trip trying to design a better BTTF game, too, as I relaxed in the walk-in closet where I was staying at my uncle's house.

Really, the NES game sucked. (source)

A few years later, probably around 2005, which is associated for me with a lot of Super NES games (Chrono Trigger and EarthBound being the better ones), I discovered Super Back to the Future II, which again, before everyone else. And it was a better game, though it was more platform-jumping, and I did get a little farther in it, but it was also a time when I was involved a lot of other games I shouldn't have spent a whole lot of time with: Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, Kid Klown in Crazy Chase (only now I do realize my past progress prevents me from getting the best ending), and even the Raya Systems "health education" games, things like Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus or Captain Novolin. I should note that I didn't spend TOO much time with those games, and I should also note that while Captain Novolin has gotten a lot more exposure as one of those notoriously bad games along with Shaq Fu, Bronkie is a lot more playable...trying to perform an attack to beat the sugar-filled bad guys in Novolin is needlessly difficult.

Now we finally get to our review of Back to the Future: The Game, the attempt by Telltale Games to finally "make a good Back to the Future game" after LJN failed many years ago. So how does it fare?

It opens in a recreation of the scene from the movie: 1985 Twin Pines Mall when Marty is recording Doc unveil the time machine. Doc sounds okay as Christopher Lloyd reprised his role as Doc Brown, but the voice on the other end sounds like someone doing a Marty McFly impression, which it is. It sounds a little more natural when you put Marty's voice to his computer-animated counterpart, but first impressions count, and it failed. Secondly, even if you ignored the voices, the graphics, well, they're...off-putting at first, let me put it that way. An attempt to make Doc and Marty stylized CGI but not too uncanny valley-like has made them into gruesome puppets and not at all what I imagined a Back to the Future game would be like. Thirdly, if you ignored the models and not-quite-Marty, then you'll notice Twin Pines Mall has fake names for the department stores, there's "JPPinney" and Robinson's has a different name too ("Rubarbison's"???) Did they even try to seek permission to use names??? I mean, at the time, Macy's still owned the legacy department store names they absorbed and probably would be happy to re-assert ownership over the name by granting permission. I think a mod swapping the names out would've greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the title in those little details (these little details often make the game), but remember, this is also the same developers who deleted the BMW logo off of Strong Bad's lighter with absolutely no explanation. Things take a turn for the different when Einstein fails to reappear one minute later, and one of your answer choices is "This isn't the way it happened..." as Doc vanishes and the mall becomes Lone Pine Mall.

If you think Marty and Doc look weird now, try to see them move in-game. (Store.xbox.com)

It turns out that the entire opening scene was a fake-out dream and it's now May 1986. A picture of Doc and Marty at the 1885 clock dedication sits on the shelf, reminding us that it is indeed movie canon. (I guess the wrong names should have been a clue-in that there was something wrong) Unfortunately, the game shifts between obeying movie canon, acknowledging movie canon, and ignoring movie canon. Most of the game's puzzles so far that I've seen (and I've played at least a good 30% of the game) are extremely easy, mostly revolving finding and using a few items. This decision makes the game lean more toward story-based, but unfortunately that fails in a few ways.

Anyway, it's 1986 and Doc's lab is being auctioned off due to some unpaid debts and his disappearance since Marty last saw him. After a short sequence where you try to get Doc's old notebook back from Biff by letting him use the amplifier in the lab, at that moment, the DeLorean appears outside with Einstein (Doc's dog) and a tape player about Doc needing help. Problem is, anyone who saw the end of Back to the Future Part III saw quite clearly that the DeLorean was smashed to smithereens by a freight train in 1985. Marty doesn't question the reality of this, not even the possibility of the time machine still being extant in an alternate timeline. This happens just as I was starting to accept not-quite-Marty's voice too.

An old shoe in the car leads Marty to Edna Strickland, Strickland's sister (and now Strickland's Vice Principal now, apparently), who constantly spies on and shouts at what she thinks of "hooligans". This segment also contains a mention of how Marshall Strickland (of 1885) was gunned down by "Mad Dog" Tannen, which Marty claims he doesn't remember. This is a reference to a deleted scene from Part III. Soon afterward, Marty heads back to 1931 to save Doc from being riddled with holes by gangsters (long story), and while Marty is talking to Doc in jail, one can clearly see the wedding band on Doc's finger, yet Clara and the kids (or the new steam-powered train time machine) is never seen or mentioned.

And of course, there's another McFly being bullied by a Tannen in this timeline, too, this time one Arthur McFly in the soup kitchen by one Kid Tannen, who dresses like a stereotypical 1930s gangster (or a pimp, not sure). At this point, I can't really expect the story to pick up a lot more if we're going to revert to formulaic character pairing. My original ending to this review ended with "Maybe I'll write more in my blog if there's more to note that I haven't seen here," but I kept playing and I figured that I actually will write more, since my opinion of the game had softened after a bit more time and then hardened back up again. Click the link below to see the second part of this review, at the blog.

May 22 2016