Telltale Games has established themselves as the necromancers of long-gone franchises, bringing some of our favorite characters and fictional worlds back from the dead. Wallace and Gromit, Sam and Max, and Guybrush and LeChuck have all received their own brand-new episodic adventures on PC and Mac, and each have an iPad episode as well. Now, Doc and Marty from Back to the Future have been given the Telltale jolt.
If any sci-fi trilogy deserves further adventures, it’s Back to the Future. The unforgettable characters, classic music, and time-traveling conundrums can easily take off in new directions, and Telltale certainly seems up to the task. However, all their skill with writing, art direction, and level design is marred by the choppy technical execution on the iPad.
The story picks up one year after the events of the original movie trilogy. Doc’s been missing for months, and his estate is being picked apart by Hill Valley’s residents. Then the time-traveling DeLorean arrives in a cold, noisy blast, and Marty has to figure out when and where to go to rescue Doc. From a storytelling perspective, Telltale has knocked it out of the park with this debut episode.
What the heck’s a jigawatt?
Over two to three hours of gameplay, you’ll have to solve puzzles using a combination of your inventory, the environment, and dialogue with other characters. You’re never left to explore very far, since all the solutions are contained within relatively small areas. If you do get stuck, you can use a generous hint system to get to the next scene.
The puzzles will be familiar to anyone who’s played a Telltale game. They start simple, then grow slightly more complex before leading to an action-packed conclusion. What’s more entertaining are the expert voice actors, including Christopher Lloyd and a spot-on Michael J. Fox impersonator, A.J. Locascio. The art direction in Back to the Future Ep 1 is also brilliant, with exaggerated yet recognizable versions of each character, suggesting that we’re in a slightly unique Back to the Future universe.
Don’t freak, young Emmett!
Where this first episode stumbles is in the frame rate and technical glitches. We want Telltale to finish polishing these games when porting them to the iPad, because otherwise, iOS gamers are getting a sub-par version. Dramatic action sequences like car and foot chases are filled with stutters that pause the action and skip the music. The graphics don’t render smoothly, and the worst part is that these tech problems distract from the cinematic gameplay.
We’d love to sit back with these games and enjoy the storytelling, but without better optimizing these games for the iPad, Telltale is sacrificing an important part of the experience. Until Telltale perfects these ports, we think the PC or Mac version is probably the best way to play the new Back to the Future episodes. Playing it on the iPad is a frustratingly imperfect way to enjoy an otherwise exciting adventure.