Video Games

Telltale’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ series could be better than the movies

I was not a huge fan of the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film.

It wasn’t bad, but I never understood the hype surrounding it. The guardians are an interesting group of characters, but the villains and plot were so forgettable that I had to Google it while writing this. Twice. And “Spirit in the Sky” isn’t even that good of a song. Maybe it snagged a few more old people who remembered hearing it at a high school dance?

That’s why I wasn’t looking forward to Telltale Games’ take on the Marvel blockbuster, which will soon get a sequel and its own ride at Disney California Adventure. I actually forgot it existed until a launch email from Telltale sent me into a panic to get a copy.

And oh my Star-Lord was that a good choice.

Telltale’s first “Guardians” episode, titled “Tangled up in Blue,” is exceptional. I loved the developer’s take on the “Batman” universe, but it was plagued with technical difficulties. Some – though not all – seemed to have been ironed out in the point-and-click masters’ latest take on a comic book franchise.

Like many fine Telltale franchises before it, the “Guardians” opening episode offers a sharp take on familiar characters with a story-first approach. I figured that would be a tall order, given the film’s deep focus on action and one-liners at the expense of a plot. But I breezed through the two-ish hour “Tangled up in Blue” with limited interruption, save for a hilarious freeze during the game’s opening credit scene.

Although it doesn’t include any of the million-dollar movie cast, the acting was exceptional. Though I have to say that when Star-Lord opened his mouth and Troy Baker’s voice didn’t come out of it, I nearly died from shock. I became frantic, wondering about Baker’s well-being. Was he busy? Sick? Oh no – worse? Because I thought the idea of doing a Telltale game without Baker as the lead made the company’s creative leaders physically ill.

Players spend most of their time controlling Star-Lord, the leader of the Guardians. The trademark Telltale speechcraft involves settling squabbles and playing favorites with your fellow Guardians. It’s a decent system, but it doesn’t convey that beautiful anxiety the other franchises do. In “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones,” the wrong dialogue choice can lead to a treasured character’s death. I didn’t quite get that same feeling from “Tangled up in Blue,” but there’s still four more episodes coming.

You may notice by this point in the column that I am somewhat of a “Telltale” snob. It’s true. I enjoy a fine episode of “The Wolf Among Us” – aged four years – on a hot summer night. The letdown of the second “Borderlands” episode after such a terrific start still haunts my dreams. “Minecraft?” No thank you, sir, for I am an adult.

So trust me when I say that the quick-time events – those rare moments when players must press a button to make something happen during their flickering picture box stories – in the latest Telltale game are some of the company’s finest. The game snaps out of its Star-Lord-centric ways during fights, allowing players to control each Guardian in rapid-fire succession. It fits the idea of the Guardians perfectly – five pieces, tough as individuals but stronger as a whole.

Come to think of it, you don’t ever get to play as Groot. You – are not Groot. The irony of this will sustain me for weeks.

I also have to praise Jared Emerson-Johnson, the game’s composer, for building the score around the far-superior “It’s A Living Thing” by ELO. This and other classic rock songs, as well as the traditional score, add a lot to the title’s overall experience. I may not have loved the first film, but the comedy and soundtrack made it unique among blockbusters. Telltale’s captures both well.

The only thing keeping me from shouting “Tangled up in Blue” from the mountaintops is – well, aside from not wanting to confuse Bob Dylan fans – the bugs. I hit that bad freeze early on that forced me to restart the game and lose some progress. It rallied beyond that, but there were the usual Telltale framerate drops and speech-to-mouth syncing issues. We Telltale fans understand that we have to give up technical brilliance in exchange for the rapid release of so many games, and we grudgingly accept it. It’s a shame the same problems plague every franchise every year, though.

The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” episode was top-notch. Should Telltale have married with Marvel on an “X-Men” series instead? Of course, but “Tangled up in Blue” is still worth your time.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series Episode 1: “Tangled up in Blue”

Video game review


▪ Rated teen for alcohol use, language and violence

▪ Developer: Telltale Games

▪ Publisher: Telltale Games

▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Mac. Out soon for iOS and Android