Release Date: April 18th, 2017
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Third Person Perspective, Platformer, Action-Adventure
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC, Mac, Android, iPhone
*For Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: A TellTale Series, Last Token Gaming was fortunate enough to receive two review copies of the game: one for Xbox One, and one for PC/Steam. This series will be co-reviewed between myself, and Ben Fitzgerald. His review for Episode 1: Tangled Up in Blue will be coming out at a later date.
Agree or disagree, the Marvel Cinematic Universe story formula has needed desperate retooling. Since its inception with Iron Man in 2008, viewers have seen the same story in every movie, the only difference being the characters and universe it affects. Looking at Marvel movies carefully, it is hard to miss the same story beats and thematic concepts each movie explores without breaking a sweat: heroes hitting their lowest point and eventually find a way to rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, it’s a highly effective formula that knows how to hit the right beats, given every hero’s relatable flaws. One thing Marvel was beginning to notice was how the tone of each movie was becoming homogeneous: straightforward, serious, and gritty. At some point, it becomes evident that they need to change things up in order to break the monotony.
Enter Guardians of the Galaxy, a story about a bunch of misfits with quirky personalities who reluctantly become heroes. There’s a super-cocky, thief of a human that leads a group comprised of a raccoon and tree who are anthropomorphic, a vengeance-driven (but kindhearted) warrior, and one of the elite assassins who wants redemption for her crimes. All of them are driven by various personal factors, but fate decided to bring them together to deal with whatever universe-ending peril that awaits. It’s a story focusing less on the actual story being told, and more on the characters that driving the experience. It also helps to have a very stellar atmosphere created by awesome sound design to create a feel-good vibe.
Honestly, it only felt like a matter of time that TellTale would make an episodic experience of Guardians of the Galaxy given their track record for superb storytelling. This was a franchise that provided plenty of room to mess around, experiment, and craft something different. It’s also a franchise that TellTale needed in order to break away from their story formula as well: Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Batman each had serious, dark tones and themes that were heavy experiences. With Guardians of the Galaxy, players could have an experience that felt lighthearted, fun, and witty interlaced with heavy elements that get enough time for exploring without being overbearing. As a whole, the game feels every facet got the right treatment to create the full experience.
For example, upon opening up the game menu there’s a sense that TellTale has a firm grasp of what made Guardians of the Galaxy so good. The vibrant, neon-like colors with the classic rock music immediately nails down the franchise’s aesthetic. It comes off as cocky and confident like the main protagonist, Peter Quill.
Also, much like its movie counterpart, Episode 1: Tangled Up in Blue is every bit of a conventional story at its core. There is the usual internal conflicts within the group that occur throughout the story as well as the building overall conflict that will drive the story. It’s an exercise on creating an effective setup for the premise of the story being told, and it’s done well.
However, what makes Guardian of the Galaxy: A TellTale Series’ first chapter stand out is the stellar writing and it’s capturing the essence of what makes the series so damn good. This first Installment of the season made me care about my decisions I made as much as I did with The Walking Dead: Season 1…especially when the threat of the team breaking up was at the center of the episode’s main conflict. I could tell that there were several key moments during arguments that I chose to err on the dialogue choice that would have a higher chance of keeping the team together and less on how I felt. I didn’t always make the best choice, but I felt I made the right choice. I loved the way the team gels so naturally together that it would be difficult for me to have made any other dialogue choice.
Hidden within the conflict were powerful moments of characterization; there were organically driven motivators powering any character’s perspective. For Drak, it was about getting his vengeance for the death of his family. For Gamora, it was about maintaining the family and finding redemption for her past. Rocket, whether he’d like to admit or not, was about validation and support. Groot was about friendship. Themes so simple, yet relatable enough to draw players empathy. It’s also the moments afterwards where Peter can talk to the rest of the crew one on one do we get to see these characters vulnerable and open. TellTale also ensures that Peter Quill has his own moments, notably in some poignant flashback memories between him and his mother. These little moments are insightful to what shaped Quill into the Starlord we see now, both in values and in personality. The moments highlight what makes him the de facto leader for a crew that needs him as much as he needs them.
Elevating the experience is the sharp, witty writing to match the tone Guardians of the Galaxy needs to have in order to work. It’s sharp and chock full of witty banter and humor. There’s a light-hearted atmosphere that deftly balances the heavy moments with lightheartedness. For example, one of my favorite moments involves an optional conversation between Drax and Peter after yet another argument within the crew. Peter finds Drax sitting on the couch eating goodness knows how many cookies from the box. If players choose to ask him about his family, the moment changes to a feeling of heaviness that matches the look on Drax’ face and tone in voice. Within the next moment, Peter can make a quip about Drax’ rapid cookie consumption and the mood shifts back to the lightheartedness players expect.
That’s what separates Tangled Up in Blue from the usual TellTale experience: it’s chock full of feel good moments and feeling. From beginning to end, the experience is confident in delivering a full-on Guardians of the Galaxy experience that is equal parts Marvel as it is TellTale. Sure, the experience has some of the usual TellTale technical hiccups but it’s nowhere near the atrocity that Batman: A TellTale Series was. There are also some elements of the story that feel forced in order to generate characterization. Not to mention, the main storyline feels every bit as conventional of an introductory episode as possible. Yet, the atmosphere and aesthetic elevate it above its minor problems.
Episode 1: Tangled Up in Blue was an experience that had me glued from beginning to end, and looking forward to what comes next for this motley crew of misfits. For people looking for a different TellTale experience, or are fans of the franchise, it’s a promising experience that looks to be shaping up to be fun, exciting, and humorous.