In most cases, movie-based video games are tied directly to the release dates of what are hoped to be blockbusters. It takes a pretty special movie to break that rule and keep spawning video games years, or even decades, later. Back to the Future is one such special movie.
More than 25 years after the release of the first of the trilogy's films, fans have been treated to a new video game, the first since the era of the movies themselves.
Telltale Games, which is known for episodic online games including the various Sam & Max titles, acquired the movie license and began releasing a series of five video games last December.
The series recently wrapped up and unfortunately proved again that it's tough to convert a great film into a stellar video game.
Telltale approached the title as it does others, making a graphic adventure game similar to the King's Quest and Space Quest series of old. Your protagonist walks around, talks to people and completes quests using an inventory of acquired objects. There's little in the way of what most gamers consider action, but they can certainly be fun games nonetheless.
For Back to the Future, Telltale made an impressive effort. They secured the services of the trilogy's co-writer Bob Gale, who assisted with the story lines, and actor Christopher Lloyd, who provided the voice of Doctor Emmett L. Brown.
The adventure begins with the famous scene in which the time-traveling DeLorean is first tested at Twin Pines Mall.
But instead of the test happening as it does in the film, things go awry, and Doc disappears. Later, as Marty's father, George, oversees the estate sale of the presumed-dead Doc, the DeLorean appears with a note urging Marty to save the very-much alive Brown in the past.
Marty travels back in time and begins a series of quests to rescue Brown that eventually lead to four other games. All five take the tone of the films in that the ancestors of the characters are principal figures in the past, again proving that Principal Strickland was wrong in claiming that no McFly "ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley."
The game's story line is great, although it's marred by what seems to be an excessive amount of walking back and forth between locations and characters to move along the plot. The graphics are about what you expect for an online adventure game, passable enough but not very detailed. The character models are done well, complementing the stellar voice acting. Michael J. Fox doesn't voice Marty, but he does show up for a couple of cameos late in the series.
Unfortunately, as good as the story is, it's tough to really make it feel like Back to the Future, a movie that seems to defy efforts to replicate it as a video game. Telltale's predecessors all tried to force the movie to become an action game, with Marty constantly skateboarding, even though that's a small part of the film, or driving the DeLorean through obstacle courses.
It shows why the best movie-based video games are almost always based on films with plenty of shooting and action. (I'm looking at you, Goldeneye and Star Wars.)
Still, for any fan of the series, it's a worthy buy just to embrace the new story. After all, Gale swears that there will never be a fourth film, so you might as well learn what adventures might have taken place on the big screen. Consider it your density ... um, I mean your destiny.