Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox ONE, Android, IOS
I’m a big fan of Telltale’s work. Their adventure game interpretations of popular franchises feature some of the best storytelling to come out of gaming in the past decade. I still say Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not only the best version of that IP, but the best piece of zombie media on the market, period. Tales from the Borderlands repackaged a game known for its first-person shooting and loot-based RPG elements into a narrative first title that highlighted the stellar writing that was always there but overshadowed by the action. Telltale’s Batman, for all of its flaws, was still one of the most refreshing and unique takes on the Dark Knight we have seen since the Christopher Nolan trilogy.
But Telltale’s newest project, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series, is not just an interpretation. It’s an interpretation of an interpretation, and like any copy of a copy some of the details start to get blurry.
Let me be a comic book hipster for a second. I was a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy before they were cool. I used to read Guardians comics back when Chris Pratt was just “the guy from Parks and Rec.” Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy are not the comic book Guardians of the Galaxy. They are very, very clearly the version of the Guardians from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a bunch of bumbling jackasses just trying to make their way through a cosmically threatening universe.
That’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s totally the correct business move. No one knew who the heck the Guardians of the Galaxy were until Star-Lord gave the Nova Corps the middle finger. Even as a fan of the original comics, I’m a bigger fan of the MCU version. They are dripping with personality and should be known as the “canonical” Guardians of the Galaxy going forward.
Yet, as I said before, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy are not even really the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy. They are a new interpretation of our lovable jackasses, and something feels… off. Like, remember back in the 90s when every major motion picture had to have its own Saturday morning cartoon spin-off? Remember how characters that were once serious and mature ended up being reduced to cartoony exaggerations that were safe for all ages? Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy feels like that. It feels like the Saturday morning cartoon version of the MCU’s version of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I used to love those Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid, and I certainly got a kick out of this game in much of the same way, but you should know that every character is going to feel different than what you might expect if you were a fan of the movie. Star-Lord is a bit more moral, Rocket is less abrasive, and Drax comes off as a lovable meathead stereotype rather than the simultaneously personally tortured and hilariously literal warrior he is in the MCU.
Honestly, all of these characterizations were perfectly fine in my book. What rubbed me the wrong way, however, was Gamora. For some reason she was the moral compass of our party. The hard, stoic, assassin that we knew and loved from the MCU was now nearly crying over a strained relationship with her sister Nebula, pestering my party to do the right thing and work with the Nova Corps rather than the seedy thing and work with the Collector, judging my reckless drinking habits (of which I had many), and generally came across as a sort of nagging straight man to our charismatic jackassery.
But the magic of Guardians of the Galaxy is that there is no straight man! Like Rocket says, “Here we are, a bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.” None of the Guardians are especially good people, but none of them are “100% a dick. “ Pigeonholing Gamora into the straight man role just feels wrong, and was the single plot aspect I was most hung up on.
Something Old, Something New
It’s a shame, too, because the rest of the writing is quite enjoyable. Despite the game’s Saturday morning cartoon makeover, it gives you plenty of opportunities to be a lovable jerk. You’ll drink out of galactic super weapons, mouth off to intergalactic tyrants, and save the universe with the power of obvious distractions. You’ll even find neat little references to other Marvel properties, like Howard the Duck, strewn about the game. The “next on” sequence at the end of the game is done in the style of a reality show. Most of Telltale’s standard choice-based gameplay revolves around the question of “how do you finish this joke,” which is actually really satisfying. Remember, Telltale knows their humor. These are the guys who did Sam and Max.
That’s not to say that the choices don’t matter. In fact, they seem to matter far more than they do in other Telltale games. The story branches constantly and, even if it doesn’t, the very way you move through the environment is affected by the choices you make. For example, there was one scene where the Guardians have to choose two members to infiltrate an enemy ship. Choosing to go with Gamora allows her to fit through small passageways, unlocking areas of the ship otherwise inaccessible. Choosing Drax, on the other hand, allows you to fight your way out of situations that would otherwise have you at a disadvantage.
Telltale was not afraid to experiment with their formula for this one. This is easily the most unique-feeling Telltale game in terms of core gameplay. For example, Star-Lord can use his jet boots to fly. This gives maps a sense of verticality, which is a first in Telltale games. It makes exploration actually feel like exploration, rather than a roadblock that goes away when you press the right button.
There’s also a new type of puzzle that makes use of a gadget called the “Time Scanner.” This neat little device shows a hologram of past events in the area. You’ll follow battles to loot corpses and follow in the footsteps of Thanos in this neat device, though the controls are a bit wonky. It’s never quite clear where you need to scan in order to trigger the holographic cutscene. There are plenty of areas where you will scan and see nothing, only to walk a few steps, scan, and see a hologram pass right through the previously empty area.
If you are ever separated from the rest of the Guardians, you can use the comm system to call them at any time. This adds some of the dialogue-based gameplay into puzzle segments and also acts as a makeshift hint system when you are stuck. It’s just a neat little quality of life improvement that is expertly written into a justifiable setting element. Slick move Telltale. I’d like to see more of this.
Telltale also wasn’t afraid to tweak the formula for their quick time events. They feel far more action-oriented this time around and they integrate a few elements of first-person shooters. You also get to control all the Guardians at once, rather than fighting with just a single character. This gives quick time events more variety, though it also makes them harder to follow. As a consequence, this game is far easier played on a controller than a keyboard a mouse, another first for a Telltale property.
Hooked On A Feeling
Finally, I feel like I would be doing the gaming populace a disservice if I didn’t mention the soundtrack. Simply put, it’s awesome. It’s filled with tons of classic tunes that really satisfy your brain’s retro nostalgia center. Granted, not all of these tunes are as popular or recognizable as the ones used in the movie, but it’s still a choice selection of some seriously good music.
Overall, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series is a decent and enjoyable experience, but it’s nowhere near as definitive as Telltale’s other properties. It’s just a Guardians of the Galaxy story, not the Guardians of the Galaxy story, which is always going to be the one told in the MCU. If you are a fan of the MCU’s Guardians, you’ll probably like the Saturday morning cartoon version, despite their differences and watered down personalities. For the game’s budget price, it’s probably good enough to warrant a buy, especially since we are heading into the summer video-game drought. While it certainly won’t be viewed as one of Telltale’s more revolutionary efforts, it’s not a bad way to bide your time until Guardians 2 hits theaters.