In Defense Of Back To The Future, The Video Game

In Defense Of Back To The Future, The Video Game

“Disco is NOT dead!” shouted Eddie Izzard as a disco dancer-in-denial in the ridiculous super hero parody, Mystery Men.

Well, we may not be clad in fur, bellbottoms and platform boots (most of the time), but adventure gamers feel the same way: Adventure gaming is NOT dead!

I’ll admit to being biased when it comes to discussing comedic point-and-click adventures – hell, I’ll proclaim it from rooftops! Preferably the rooftop of TellTale Games, for turning me into a kid again with their latest episodic contribution to the genre, Back to the Future.

Kotaku has thoroughly covered the development of this series since its announcement, standing guilty of giving me a bigger geekgasm with each post. However, I will confess that the site’s less-than-impressed review of the series, which only took Episode 1 into consideration, was one of the first Kotaku reviews that made me rather crankypants.

But I’m not here to Hadouken my nerd-rage toward the author, because Luke is a cool dude [Editor’s note: This is true.]and entitled to his opinion. I’m here to tell you – nay, beg you – to give the game another chance. Here’s why:

From the moment Episode 1 sent chills down my spine with the classic theme song to Episode 4‘s ending cliffhanger, my BttF gaming experience has been a satisfying, plutonium-fueled trip back to Hill Valley.

This resurrection of the franchise stands above the crowd for many reasons, the first being the incredible voice-overs. Christopher Lloyd himself returns to voice Doc Brown, adding an authenticity to the game that nothing else could. He steps right back into his white-haired, neurotic character as if filming wrapped yesterday. As for young Marty McFly, A.J. LoCascio delivers a jaw-dropping performance that sounds so much like a 24-year-old Michael J. Fox, it freaks me out.

(And trust me, I had a voiceover audition to be a “celebrity sound-alike” for Hilary Duff once. Trying to mimic someone’s voice ain’t no game of t-ball.)

Not only do the characters sound fantastic, the intertwining episode plots ooze with evidence that they come from the brain of the original film screenwriter, Bob Gale – adding yet another dose of legitimacy. And what would a great movie-game be without the beloved score? The familiar soundtrack is probably most responsible for submerging the player in a big vat of nostalgia.

The presentation and attention to detail are impressive, yes, but they still aren’t the perfect example of why this game has so much heart. How about this:

Back in July 2010, TellTale had a survey on their website that allowed BttF lovers to express what they were most interested in seeing in the game. How often do we witness developers going to such lengths to ensure their film-based games aren’t letting down the fans?

As one final touch, TellTale paid reverence to the film’s original star. For every game pre-ordered, they donated a dollar to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

What I’m getting at with all this touting is that the BttF series has more soul and respect for its source material than any game I’ve played in years, and when the project in its entirety is taken into consideration, its flaws are completely forgivable.

Okay, before you call me a “butthead” and knock on my skull Biff-style, let’s crank up our Flux Capacitors and set our DeLoreans back in time to the late eighties to observe the original attempts at a Back to the Future video game.

While most film-based games are released the same week as their movie counterparts, I guess things were done a little differently twenty-five years ago. Back to the Future NES came out in 1989 – that’s four years after the movie release! Surely that gave the devoted, zealous developers plenty of time to conceptualise and deliver forth from their inspired birth canals a Back to the Future game bubbling over with awesome guitar solos, orange vests, and approximately 2.21 gigawatts, whatever the hell those are!

Sorry, Doc. Not even close.

The Angry Video Game Nerd says it perfectly: “The worst part about this game is that it bears the name Back to the Future, a movie well worth putting more time and effort into making a decent game.”

Not only was the first BttF game soul-crushingly terrible, the game’s sequel, Back to the Future Part II & III, was just as bad, if not worse. It tried (and failed) to tackle the plots of the second and third films, probably combined as a two-fer by the game devs to avoid having to “try” for three entire games. Another blasphemous attempt at a BttF platformer that left fans disappointed and fifty bucks poorer.

“But Lisa, what about the awesome Super Back to the Future II for the Super Famicom?!” Yes! That game was much better and only available in Japan! Which makes perfect sense, considering Back to the Future is a Japanese movie, right? Right?

After those brain-numbing embarrassments, our beloved Back to the Future trilogy deserved a video game do-over.

Not unlike the recent Ghostbusters title, TellTale’s BttF takes an interesting approach to a “movie-game.” It’s an expansion of the film’s universe with brand new adventures, as opposed to simply being an interactive version of the film – a wise decision that greatly reduced the risk of trampling on sacred ground.

A few weeks ago, writer’s block hit me like a Looney Tunes anvil. Instead of working through it on my own using methods taught to me in all of those expensive college courses, I asked my Facebook friends to give me writing topics so I could get back to playing Tetris. After sifting through my many responses, I was left with a surprising amount of requests for the topic of movie-games. Many asked this question: The movie was good, so why is the game so bad?

It amazed me that a subject covered thousands of times internet-wide still had so many gamers uttering the desperate query “Why?” with their last sane breath. Not a specific “Why are Iron Man’s flight controls so shoddy?” or “Why does Thor: God of Thunder have such atrocious framerate issues?” but more like a nagging desire to know why they are subjected to these terrible games, over and over and over and over.

I see it this way: Forget all the logical answers to the movie-game quandary. We all know they have become simply an extension of their film’s publicity, published solely to make money while the hype still exists. We can rattle off their shortcomings in review after review – the mechanics, the graphics, the glitches. But do we ultimately disqualify these games for being bad, or because we’re disappointed that they have no soul?

Of course TellTale’s BttF games have imperfections, some of the same ones I just listed. But this series, from conception, has demonstrated a deep appreciation not only for its source material, but for BttF fans. As a passionate gamer and one hell of a Back to the Future nerd, I’m truly thankful to be taken on what could be gaming’s last 88mph time-travelling adventure.

All right, all right, I’ll make like a tree and cut the sap.

Point-and-click adventures are to gaming as tap dance is to dancing – it’s an oddball genre of the past that no one seems to care about anymore. The fact that games like Back to the Future are keeping it alive with such gusto is comforting, and for twenty-five bucks, you really can’t go wrong.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head back to 1989 to prevent a certain NES game from ever seeing store shelves, and maybe freak my three-year-old self out by claiming to be Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan. That shouldn’t scar me for life or anything.

Kotaku columnist Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon’s award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as an actress/web host in Hollywood and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa’s official website.

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