NOTE: This review is spoiler free of plot details.
Both Telltale and Marvel have been reassuring fans that Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series not set in the universe of the film, but you couldn’t really tell that from the first episode, Tangled up in Blue: The Nova Corps are police and not human rockets; Drax is not a guy named Arthur Douglas and instead a pure alien from a species who is completely literal and every character either in the episode or referenced are ones that many met for the first time back in 2014. That’s not entirely a bad thing though, as if this series went as crazy from the start as the comics starring the Guardians, it could easily, no pun intended, alienate those who don’t know a Richard Rider from a Moondragon. That being said there are still a few Easter Eggs if you look hard enough for those who even got introduced to the team from the relaunch of the series from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning last decade.
From the promotional material it was a bit worrying that Telltale, while not locking themselves into the Marvel Cinematic Universe per se, were very much inspired by it thus limiting where exactly they could take their story. It’s also not easy to duplicate the brilliant work of James Gunn and how he more or less reinvented the concept of the Guardians of the Galaxy since the first film came out. Things like the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series for example have tried to emulate the style of the movie, from the character designs, attitude, even Star-Lord’s walkman, without any real understanding of what made those designs so iconic and unique. The team at Telltale are no James Gunn, but from the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, they’re the closest anyone has come. The use of classic pop songs is used here and one transition made me burst out with laughter while also lip-synching and dancing around which is exactly what I’m assuming Telltale was going for.
From the cast to the designs of the characters and the writing, this series so far feels tonally exactly like the film to the point where I don’t think anyone should have been ashamed to hide the comparison. If this was a movie tie-in game that bridged the first and second films, I wouldn’t have been bothered in the least. The way the cast interacts and plays off one another will put a smile on your face in exactly the same way seeing the movie did without the baggage of having to reestablish the origins of these characters or the team as a whole. The cast well suits the roles that they’re in, but Nolan North who returns as Rocket from Disney Infinity is the true standout. This is the closest you can get to emulating Bradley Cooper’s take on the character and you’ll love every second he’s on-screen. Throughout the entirety of Tangled up in Blue, you get the familial bond between these characters and it’s fun to just watch each of them play off of one another, even during the mundane sections. Without getting into exact story details, events threaten to pull the team apart and your genuinely concerned that this could happen, even so early into the series.
Previous Telltale games have put you in the role of a character at a time and I was very curious to see how they would handle a team of five: would each of the five episodes focus on a team member? would you switch between an episode? Thus far the player character is Peter Quill/Star-Lord but you do effortlessly switch between the whole team it what could only be described as one of the best action scenes Telltale has ever done, and this happens very early in. One second you’re flying around with your jet-boots as Star-Lord and then rushing in with Drax and his knives, back to Star-Lord as you squeeze the triggers of your controller to fire his trademark guns while covering Rocket as he puts cobbles together a weapon more powerful than the Hadron enforcer. If this is but a taste of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in future episodes.This is all handled of course via quick-time events but the transitions are very clean so you never get confused as to what character you’ll briefly control.
As far as new gameplay hooks go, there are some that are really interesting but not as immediately so as say, Batman’s gadgets and cowl from from Batman: The Telltale Series. The device that Quill used in the opening of the film wherein he could see past events is something you have access to and it’s put to good use in solving a simple puzzle. Likewise his jet-boots create some verticality in how you go about exploring the environment and while you’re still looking for that one thing to scan in the environment, having more options in which to do that helps to make Guardians of the Galaxy unique from other Telltale projects.
Speaking of unique, of the Telltale games I’ve played, which has mostly been their comic book related games, this is easily the best I’ve seen one of their games look. Maybe it’s because series like The Walking Dead, Batman and The Wolf Among Us were all in different, yet also similar, terrestrial environments, it’s great to see Telltale just go crazy with the alien worlds and locations present here. This also is true for the characters who are not just people, or people in costumes, but anthropomorphic raccoon’s, talking trees and multi-colored alien people that all feel like they live in the same universe. It should also be stated that this is the most stable I’ve ever seen a Telltale game with no weird hiccups, stutters or crases. This is very welcome seeing as it took me multiple sessions to get through the last ninety minute Telltale episode because of crashes.
As good as Telltale nailed the characters and general tone of what you would want from a Guardians of the Galaxy game, Tangled up in Blue doesn’t exactly hook you. It’s a very good pilot as well as reassurance that Telltale knows what makes this franchise work, and if you play it, you’ll immediately click “buy” on the Season Pass, but it doesn’t have that “WHAT?!” moment that will have you counting down the days to episode two. This is where the comparisons to the film can be negative, because the plot thus has a “been there/done that” scenario with the team being hunted because of a macguffin. Here’s hoping that from episode two onwards the series can shake that and really stand on its own from a story structure standpoint.