This is perhaps the best compliment I can pay to Back to the Future: The Game: Episode 1. Whatever that specialness is, whatever the source of the magic that's made the series a cultural touchstone for so many, Telltale's got it to spare.
A lot of the credit has to go to getting all the obvious stuff like character voices right. Christopher Lloyd is spot-on and really putting in an effort as Doc Brown, and A.J. LoCascio deserves a medal (or Salem witch trial) for his uncanny impersonation of Michael J. Fox's Marty. While not as spooky, the actors filling the roles of reformed bully Biff and newly confident Mr. McFly turn in fine performances. Ditto for the music, a blend of variations on Alan Silvestri's original score and just a faint smattering of Huey Lewis.
Though the look of the characters is certainly stylized, it fits right in with the franchise's Saturday morning serial pacing and penchant for outlandish action set pieces. Only the very rare instance of profanity feels out of step with the new animated look.
A.J. LoCascio deserves a medal (or Salem witch trial) for his uncanny impersonation of Michael J. Fox's Marty.
The story of the game, which tasks Marty with rescuing wrongfully imprisoned Doc in Prohibition-era Hill Valley, is slightly lighter fare than the movies delivered, but it feels darker than Telltale's normal work. You can tell the writers and animators are really relishing dwelling in slightly more mature waters.
It's a script that, blessedly, never feels like it's stretching for gags the way Telltale often does; rather, the game seems content to get out of the way and let the world and characters' effortless charm do most of the heavy lifting.
As such, don't expect too taxing of a puzzle solving experience. This is a game that's very definitely been tuned for a larger, more casual audience that Telltale seems to be hoping the license will draw in. I was able to solve the whole thing without a single hint, which never happens to me, as I am not particularly intelligent. Solutions are even occasionally reused -- Brown's dog Einstein, for example, twice has to find missing characters using the scent from their clothing items. Those looking for a taxing mental exercise won't find it here.
But this is Back to the Future we're talking about here. For a few hours peering into my laptop screen, Telltale managed to make me feel eight years old again. It may not be time travel, but it could be the closest you can get without a flux capacitor.
This review is based on the final PC code of Back to the Future: Episode 1, provided by Telltale Games.