I am going to start this review with a confession. A confession I am ashamed about and one that I hope to rectify soon. I’ve never seen the Back To The Future films.
There. I’ve said it. Several years ago I had a splurge of seeing classic films I should really have seen. I watched all the Star Wars film; all entries in the Indiana Jones trilogy (as it was then); and all four films featuring Aliens. But the time-travelling triplet of films was one I didn’t see.
But, and this is a spoiler alert, I know a lot about the films through popular culture, just like before seeing other films I knew Darth Vader would receive a Father’s Day card from Luke Skywalker and that Norman Bates wouldn’t be buying a Mother’s day card anytime soon. So I know all about the time travel, 88 miles an hour, Marty McFly, ‘where we’re going we don’t need roads’ and ‘I see dead people’. Though I may be a little confused about the last one.
So it was with excitement that I picked up the new BttF game for the Wii – also available on PC, Mac and PS3 – for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an exciting universe filled with interesting characters that should transfer successfully into a game, and secondly, I used to be a massive fan of the game’s genre.
And what is the game’s genre? It’s one that we haven’t truly seen out in much force since the 1990s – an era when McFly meant time-travel and not tweenage pop songs – aside from 2007’s Zack and Wiki and a handful of WiiWare and similar titles. I’m talking about the point-and-click adventure, immortalised in gaming classics like Sam and Max, the Monkey Island games and, my personal favourite, Grim Fandango. For those of you who haven’t experienced this style of games, you play as a character walking around pre-rendered locations, speaking to people, interacting with items and places and, er, pointing and clicking, to solve mysteries and progress the story along. They’re very much like interactive books and a great, under-utilised genre.
Back To The Future: The Game is set after the original trilogy, split over five or so episodes of roughly around three hours playtime each. You play as Marty McFly who, as the first episode opens, has to discover what has happened to his mentor Doc Brown who has disappeared in time. To solve the mystery and progress the story, you have to go around, speak to people – both new characters and ones established in the films – collect items and interact with objects. On top of this, the game throws in an art gallery, behind the scenes information and audio commentaries.
The game is very straight forward to pick up and play. When you start the game you can choose a profile and episode (all five are available to play but it makes sense to play them in order for the storyline) and you’re dropped straight into the action. After an involving, but lengthy, opening movie you get to move around the environment and this is where the control scheme comes into play. You have a choice of three set-ups with include the traditional remote hold, the horizontal “classic controller” way, and the remote and nunchuk combination. From trial and error the first two are not particular intuitive and the control scheme flawed and tricky to use so the third option is the most flexible, with the Wiimote used as the point and click tool and the nunchuk as the way of moving McFly around. Even then it’s not a perfect method of control with it difficult to navigate around as camera angles flip in the large, open areas, but it’s the best of the three and the most recognisable to people used to the keyboard and mouse set up of classic point and click graphical adventures.
Using this control scheme you can walk around the pre-rendered environments which, considering the Wii’s lesser power than other consoles, are relatively rich and full of detail but not up to Super Mario Galaxy levels of prettiness. You can point and click on people to commence a conversation, with everything spoken out in full by the characters as part of an impressive voice bank of phrases and sentences and options to continue the conversation clickable, with different paths of conversations revealing different things. You can also click on objects to see how you can interact with them.
As with any game in this genre, it can be very much trial-and-error in finding solutions but help is on hand with a simple help system including a clickable button that lets you know your current goal – very useful if you are picking it up having not played for a while – and a help button that gives you a selection of clues, increasing in obviousness, for your current problem. There is no disincentive not to click on hints and this does make the game very straight forward if you are undisciplined. For the more experienced player, it does offer an optional lifeline; for the younger player a simple way of avoiding frustration if you don’t know where to go next. It comes with the territory that there are combinations of actions that will trigger progress but the game manages these well and there are no massive leaps of logic as long as you think things through and explore all avenues. The difficulty level never really becomes that taxing so treat it more as a Hotel Dusk-style interactive book than a head-scratching puzzle game.
As well as these two buttons there is also an on-screen link to an inventory – the items you’re carrying – and a story re-cap button. An on-screen prompt also alerts you to the item you’re currently hovering over.
Graphically the game is pretty good for a Wii game and though it would be fair to say it’s of Playstation 2 era quality there is still plenty of detail and the universe it’s set in looks great considering everything, but there has been a trade off between the amount of locations in the game and the graphical quality of each one, with many rough edges and blurry textures. Where the Wii game does fall down is in the frequency and length of data loading which does become tiresome at certain points in the game, alongside certain in-game cut scenes being stuttery and difficult to follow because of this.
The characters, though, are exceptionally good recreations of their real-life actors and the voice work is spot on, particular for McFly and Brown, though Chrisopher Lloyd does the voice for his virtual character so it should be!
Where the game shines though is in its gameplay. There is a good mix of puzzles and a big focus on storyline. The script is also well written and, alongside tit playing out like a film, it’s full of witty one-liners and funny scenes and is a joy to follow and interact with. Also, with each line of character’s dialogue spoken, it’s an achievement that they’ve crammed it all onto one disc.
Naturally the longevity of the game depends on how often you activate the lifelines and explore every nook and cranny of the game. You get out of this game what you put in and it begs for exploration.
Back To The Future: The Game is worth picking up even if, like me, all you know about the film series is what is in popular culture; you obviously will get more out of some references if you’ve seen the films but it’s not a deal breaker. The game is a well-written interactive story with a fun script and puzzles that are none too challenging and there is plenty of support on hand if you get stuck. The sound and atmosphere created is great and it’s only let down by some sub-standard graphics and tedious load times, coming from downgrading a PS3 game to the Wii, which is, in many ways, a better compromise than not getting the game at all.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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