In the past few years, there has been an influx of video games based off of intellectual properties from the 1980s. TRON became a new game (and movie sequel), Ghostbusters: The Game reunited the original cast for a new adventure that fit nicely into the greater Ghostbusters mythos, and Telltale Games has created a game based on the Back to the Future trilogy.
Much like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future: The Game (BttF) is a sequel of sorts, sporting a newly minted story that takes place shortly after the events of the film trilogy.
Originally released for the PC, and later released in five chapters for the PlayStation Network, BttF is now compiled for the first time onto a disc and for the Wii console.
Back to the Future is a point-and-click game, much like the old Sierra King’s Quest PC games of the late 80s and early 90s. You control Marty with the Wii’s nunchuck joystick, and point the remote at the screen as you solve puzzles to move the story along. This interface works perfectly with both the Wii controller, and with the style of game. Let’s face it; Back to the Future will never be confused with a fast-paced shooter, or an epic RPG.
The story picks up a year after Marty McFly successfully fixed time, saved his family, and Doc Brown, and ended up back in 1985 with a sporty new truck and a pretty girlfriend waiting to go to the lake with him. Doc Brown disappears one night and is thought to be dead, and Marty is the only one who holds out hope that all is well. One day, at the Brown estate sale, the Delorean reappears, but it is empty, save for a woman’s shoe and a handheld tape recorder. Marty is the only one who can solve the mystery of what happened to Doc, and just like that, his new adventure begins.
The story of the game takes place primarily in the prohibition era of the 1930s (which has not been tapped into by the films) and was consulted on by none other than the original trilogy screenwriter, Bob Gale. For this reason, it ebbs and flows just like the films. There are scenes that reminisce with others from the movies (a Tannen chastising a McFly for not getting work done, that same Tannen chasing Marty around the Courthouse Square, and fecal matter is involved at the end), and the dialogue is sharp and spot on. There are new characters introduced and they seem to meld perfectly into the tapestry of Hill Valley history.
There is not enough that can be said about the excellence of the voice acting in BttF. Christopher Lloyd reprises his Doc Brown perfectly, and the original Jennifer, Claudia Wells, is back.
But truly, the star of the game, as it should be, is A.J. LoCascio as Marty McFly. LoCascio incredibly channels Michael J. Fox like a seer speaking in tongues. There are times when I just couldn’t believe that it wasn’t Michael J. Fox speaking. The vocal inflection, the mannerisms, everything was spot on. LoCascio’s performance is easily the best part of the game.
The sound effects and music are straight out of the films, as Alan Silvestri’s score and Huey Lewis’ Power of Love are used throughout. They are perfect accompaniment, and help settle the game into the greater BttF world.
Unfortunately, Back to the Future: The Game is not without its flaws. It has some pretty atrocious flaws.
What really bogs the game down is the horrendous framerate. For a disc-based game, BttF stutters along, especially during key points in the story (such as the aforementioned chase around Courthouse Square). The shuttering is almost jarring and it makes the game move sluggishly in every aspect. Even the localization gets out of sync, and facial features disappear and words don’t match mouths and it just becomes a mess.
And it’s not like the Wii is such a graphical powerhouse that Telltale Games couldn’t deliver a great looking game that is also bug-free and playable. The graphics are washed out from the earlier PC and PSN versions, and the style is cartoony, but not over-the-top caricature. The style works for this type of game. It wasn’t as “off” as the Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Game, which took the realistic look of the Xbox 360 and PS3 games and cartooned them down to ridiculousness. But BttF still could have used a little more time in the graphical development department, as well as some serious QA and playtesting.
Back to the Future: The Game is one of those “it could have been great” games. The story and acting are incredible, and hearken back to 1985 (meaning it fits into the movie-verse…this is a good thing) in the way they are told. But the execution of the technical side of the game is a jumbled mess. Hastily ported into what will most likely be relegated to shovel ware bins, BttF could almost be considered broken. Freezes, frame rate drops, graphical pop outs, and voices not syncing with characters all contribute to a good idea quickly turning bad.
If you love the Back to the Future movies, you might be able to get past these technical bugs. Somewhere in this mess is an incredible game, and I have seen flashes of it. But unfortunately, flashes do not make for a complete experience, and for that, Back to the Future: The Game on Wii will always be a swing and a miss.
Shop for Back to the Future: The Game for Nintendo Wii at Amazon.com (October 25, 2011 release date).