By Marty Mulrooney
Tangled Up In Blue is the first episode of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, a new five-part episodic adventure game from Telltale Games (The Walking Dead: A New Frontier). Based on the comic book series of the same name (but taking inspiration from the recent film adaptations directed by James Gunn), this debut episode finds the Guardians – Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Drax the Destroyer – answering a Nova Corps distress call and battling Thanos of Titan.
First impressions of Tangled Up In Blue are decidedly mixed. The main menu is glorious, starting with a close up of the ‘Rad Mix’ tape in Peter Quill’s Walkman – rather than the ‘Awesome Mix’ tape of the first film – blasting out Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Livin’ Thing’, before zooming out to show the Guardians clambering on top of each other to reach a strange glowing artefact floating high in the sky.
Then you start playing the actual game itself and it feels really weird. Despite not being based on the film adaptations (or fitting in with their timeline), everything about the opening moments of Tangled Up In Blue screams shoddy film tie-in. The designs of the Guardians are almost exactly the same as their film counterparts – although the voices are of course different – and the face of Star-Lord in particular looks nothing like Chris Pratt. Yet the layout of the spacecraft Milano looks almost identical. Truth be told, it’s a little bit awkward.
Thankfully, this strange feeling of warped déjà vu soon subsides. Once you get your head around the fact that these Guardians are separate from any of their previous incarnations, the game is given space to breath and the characters come to life. It helps that the voice acting is so confident. Uncharted’s Nolan North is obviously having a great time playing Rocket and Adam Harrington delivers “I am Groot” with aplomb. Emily O’Brien suits Gamora well, Brandon Paul Eells has the toughness required for Drax and Scott Porter delivers a cocksure but likeable Star-Lord. Each voice actor takes inspiration from the film franchise actors while putting their own spin on things and it actually works really well.
The plot is also surprisingly divergent. Please note: if you’re determined to avoid spoilers at all costs, you’ll want to skip the rest of this paragraph. Bad guy Thanos is dealt with very early on in a quick time event sequence that switches effortlessly between the Guardians. It’s nothing new in terms of gameplay mechanics, but controlling several different characters at once really drives home what the Guardians can achieve when they work together as a team. Yet it still comes as a genuine surprise when they manage to kill Thanos. The rest of the game revolves around what to do with his dead body, which is worth a small fortune.
Alongside the usual quick time event sequences, there is a pleasing return to manual exploration that has largely been absent in recent Telltale projects. Star-Lord can communicate with his team remotely via his headset, a fun gimmick that will hopefully figure into the puzzle solving in future episodes. He can also use his jet boots to move up or down a floor in certain locations, which feels satisfying and looks really cool.
The main focus of the game is on Star-Lord as leader of the Guardians. Although the decision making moments are no-doubt far more rigid than they appear on the surface, they feel satisfyingly difficult in the heat of the moment. It’s a constant juggling act trying to keep everyone happy (especially Rocket) and it says a lot about the voice acting that some of this first episode’s finest moments take place during conversations. The writing is strong overall and, despite there only being a few laugh out loud moments, the humour is on point.
Surprisingly, a sequence involving Peter as a child with his mother actually hits home harder than the film version and pays off beautifully during the final moments. Episode 1 may feel a tad too short (perhaps a good sign?) but it certainly shatters your initial misconceptions. By choosing to avoid telling yet another origin story about how the band got together, Telltale has created a promising adventure that begins in medias res and could potentially go anywhere.
The graphics are rather lovely too, drawing from a nice bright colour palette without ever becoming too cartooney. The Telltale Tool engine is starting to show its age (it has been for a while) but it runs smoothly for the most part and still has a few tricks up its sleeve despite clunky character animations. As an added bonus the licensed music is superb, with the aforementioned ‘Livin’ Thing’ by Electric Light Orchestra joined by ‘Radio Nine’ by the Buzzcocks and ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ by Hall & Oates – in a word, pitch-perfect.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Tangled Up In Blue is a pleasant surprise. Underwhelming at first, it quickly grows into an adventure that successfully sidesteps the long shadow cast by the films and does its own thing with great panache. It doesn’t stray from the usual Telltale formula, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. By the end of the episode, you’ll be fully invested in the Guardians of the Galaxy and their latest adventure. It’s a highly enjoyable opening two hours – with a wonderful conclusion – but its ultimate success will hinge on future episodes to come.
8 OUT OF 10