Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy seems to assume that you're already familiar with the titular team of loveable rogues after the success of the 2014 smash-hit movie of the same name, as there is very little in the way of introduction for any of the characters involved. This is simultaneously Episode One's greatest strength and greatness weakness. On the one hand, trying to tell an origin story for the Guardians so soon after the movie would have perhaps felt trite considering how well that film was received and how popular the characters have become, but on the other hand, since that movie is the only interpretation of these characters that most people are familiar with, the versions we see here can often feel like a cheap knock-off.
The game doesn't make a strong first impression. In a seemingly obligatory effort to give a little backstory for the people who are coming into this with no prior knowledge of the movie or the comic book it was based on, characters throw out clunky lines of dialogue intended to sum up their persona and history that feel utterly bizarre given how far along into the Guardians timeline the game is set. Hearing Drax the Destroyer tell Star-Lord about his dead family for what appears to be the first time seems like an odd thing for a friend to say to another after knowing each other for years – presumably, this must have come up in conversation before – and the early going is littered with odd moments of exposition and character building like this.
But after a somewhat unexpected turn of events early in the story – likely something that might surprise even some Marvel fans – the game starts to find its own rhythm, and this new version of the Guardians stop telling us who they are and start showing us. The best scenes in Tangled Up in Blue are not the perfunctory action sequences or choices you're given to make, but the sometimes genuinely amusing and occasionally heart-warming moments shared between these morally ambiguous but generally good-natured superheroes. Like the surprisingly effective Tales from the Borderlands, it's not so much the destination that the quirky cast are heading to that matters, but how much fun they have on the journey and what they learn about themselves along the way.
The main narrative thrust of the adventure involves an ancient alien relic of momentous power that the Guardians come to possess, and another group that has great interest in acquiring it by any means necessary. As a set-up for the rest of the series going forward it does just enough in the surprisingly short running time – we had the credits rolling after around ninety minutes – to suggest that there might some interesting twists and turns in future instalments, but it doesn't have a compelling central crux like other episodic games such as The Wolf Among Us or Life Is Strange. The story is – as is often the case with a property like Guardians – of secondary importance to giving the cast cool and funny things to say and do, and while Tangled Up in Blue is by no means a home run in this regard, it's largely successful after the shaky opening.
The performance of the cast here is a bit of a mixed bag, and since we're not given an origin story to work with it's virtually impossible not to compare each of the Telltale Guardians to their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts. You'll spend most of the time playing as Star-Lord AKA Peter Quill, but without Chris Pratt's comic chops, the sometimes ethically questionable space hero lacks personality and his gags often fall flat. It's like when Disney made a Toy Story 3 game and they got Tom Hanks' brother to voice the main character: you know who it's supposed to be, and it kinda sounds like him, but there's just something off about it.
Gamora – the green skinned adopted daughter of genocidal mad titan Thanos – lacks the sass of the version we saw on the big screen, and Drax doesn't have either the menacing gravitas or humorous naivety Dave Bautista brought to the role. Groot – a living tree that can say only the words "I am Groot" and exclusively in that order – is endearing enough, but it's Rocket – a genetically modified raccoon with a penchant for mass-destruction – that steals the show, frequently getting the best lines and garnering most of the laughs.
Gameplay-wise, this is a Telltale game and there's no mistaking it. The formula has remained largely untouched from previous games, but it should be noted that many of the technical shortcomings that the engine is known for appear to have been toned down this time around. Performance is fine, if not perfect. A special shout-out to the soundtrack, too, which while not featuring anything quite as iconic as the slow motion power walk to The Runaways' Cherry Bomb, does an impressive job of recreating the tone of the hit movie and will likely raise a few smiles for gamers with a proclivity for anything 70s.
Tangled Up in Blue lacks the narrative heft of many of the best Telltale games, and the individual Guardians aren't given enough to work with in the short running time to help distinguish them from the versions seen in the 2014 movie. There are flickers of hope – usually involving Rocket – that the characters will come into their own in future episodes, and some of the flashbacks and backstory hint that the storyline might go in interesting directions, but it feels like Guardians of the Galaxy-lite, lacking the irreverent humour, swashbuckling action, and the occasional heart of James Gunn's surprise hit.