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Tell A Tale of The Guardians of The Galaxy!

Longbox Graveyard #167

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy return to theaters this week. I’m already a fan of the first movie, and of the comics — both old and slightly less so — so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to part with five bucks American to download the first chapter of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy on my iPad.

I’d noodled around a bit with Telltale’s Walking Dead Game, and admired the conversational interface and the emotional stakes of that game, but I wasn’t especially eager to dwell in that dour world, and the game never grabbed me.

Guardians, though … Guardians is something different.

This game is frankly irresistible. You’re on the spot right from the opening screen, with ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” pouring from your speakers over an image of the Guardians punching each others’ lights out. It’s just a main menu, but it’s buoyant, happy, and demands your affection, like a puppy that’s jumped in your lap. And the game that follows is every bit as engaging, masterfully capturing the spirit and tone of the film, whisking us away on an adventure that promises a battle with Thanos, but is really more about the relationships at the heart of the not-so-dysfunctional family that is the Guardians.

The set-up could come straight from the comics — the Nova Corps calls in the Guardians to help run down Thanos, and after squeezing the Corps for future favors (or not, as you wish), we are off on an interstellar treasure hunt. There’s an alien enigma, and the Kree show up, and of course Thanos is there to chew the scenery. The game also takes a couple unexpected swerves that I won’t spoil, save to note they are completely in character and reinforce the story’s core theme of families and what makes them tick.

The interface is simple and easy to use — at least on touch screens. Back in the day we would have called this a point-and-click game. Now it’s about swiping and touching, but really, these kinds of controls haven’t changed all that much since Dragon’s Lair. Most action scenes are navigated with “Quick Time” events. Shooting and punching baddies is accomplished by tapping targets on the screen before they disappear. You dodge danger by swiping the screen when prompted. It’s pretty hard to fail, though I still managed it a time or two.

Sometimes you tap or swipe the screen to move things around. Sometimes you walk around and explore places. Star Lord flies around a bit, which was cool. There was a walking mechanic that required incessant screen-swiping that I could have done without, but for the most part, the game’s interaction economy is spot-on: not so much that you can’t appreciate the story, but not so little that you can afford to take your eyes away from the screen.

Even more engaging than the action scenes were the conversations, which don’t seem to find their way to different destinations so much as they unfold with differing tones — you can be thoughtful as Star Lord, or a dick (or both!), it is up to you. Sometimes the best response is to just let the timer run out and say nothing at all. I appreciated how the game let me do things my own way, even while guard-railing my characters — at one point, Gamora said that she’d never heard me talk this way before, causing me to reflect that, yeah, Peter is more self-centered than I was making him out to be. Gamora had rightly detected that it was me who was chatting her up, and not Star Lord! Cool.

And it is Star Lord that you control in this game. Aside from throwing a punch or two on behalf of other characters during the Thanos fight, it is Star Lord’s thoughts and actions that you will steer through each scene. Star Lord’s voice performance is probably the poorest turned in by the sound-alike voice cast, but that’s mostly down to Chris Pratt’s unique range — he really is a master at sliding between sweet and smarmy. The supporting voices are pretty strong, with Rocket being especially on-point. I would love to see succeeding chapters put other members of the Guardians in the driver’s seat, if only to see how Telltale handles a conversation tree when all I can say is, “I am Groot!”

The game’s technical performance left a bit to be desired. I played on my iPad Pro, and the textures still swam around on me from time to time, and a few of the load times had me tapping my toe. Prompts didn’t always respond to my first tap, despite hitting a static green bullseye dead-on. Based on this performance, I’d hesitate to recommend this game for lower-end mobile devices. I would expect console versions to run crisply, but fumbling for buttons on a controller doesn’t sound like a lot of fun compared to tapping screen prompts.

The art gets the job done. The ships and space scenes are tight, and the environments are adequate. The character models have kind of a second-tier CG animated series look to them, but they work — Telltale’s animators do a fine job of wringing sometimes subtle emotion from them. Body animation is about what you’d expect, though I found Star Lord’s walk cycle a little stiff (and he walks a lot in this game). Lip synching is (usually) convincing. Scenes are well-lit, somehow giving us clearly-visible characters even inside the murkiest spaceport dive bar.

But this isn’t really a game that’s going to win you over with screenshots. The heart of the game is … well … its heart. There’s plenty of derring-do in abandoned fortresses and Kree battlecruisers, and the game does deliver with a Guardians vs. Thanos beat-down that works in an Intergalactic Wrestling Federation sort of way, but the real action in this game comes through the conversations and the relationships between the characters. In this, the game reaches back to the core of comics storytelling. After all, in the long run, there’s little doubt our heroes will defeat the big bad … but will Gamora be able to deal with her daddy issues? That’s harder to predict, and its a unique pleasure to play to find out. Yep, it’s all about the feelz, and I welcome it. I already have plenty of games where you solve everything by shooting at it.

I also enjoyed the little touches and side-gags. Rocket and Drax both got off some zingers that were entirely in character. Helping Groot ride out a hangover was appropriately gross (and all I did was listen to it). I loved that a random piece of email from the Universal Church of Truth was helpfully flagged as spam.

The chapter was just long enough for me. I didn’t clock it, but it felt like it took a bit less than ninety minutes to play the whole thing. Content felt equivalent to about three issues of a comic series. The ending came at the right time and didn’t leave me hanging so much as feeling intrigued. Some of the asides clearly set up later chapters — like Gamora’s communication with her sister, Nebula — and I think I saw Moondragon in the bar, but for the most part the chapter can stand on its own, and in this it does a better job than your average, decompressed modern comics issue.

One area where this game was more setup than payoff was in development of emotional relationships. By the end of my play-through, I’d pissed off Rocket, softened-up Gamora, forged a strong bond with Drax, and sealed an alliance with the Nova Corps, but none of that mattered in a major way in this chapter. Given that this game is scheduled to run five chapters, I can’t blame Telltale for deploying their chess pieces for later, and if I wasn’t allergic to pre-orders, I might have opened my wallet for the season pass upsell that followed the closing credits.

Once I’ve cooled off a bit I might even go back and replay the game, to see what happens if I zig instead of zag, and I can see where a player might dive deep into this thing to ferret out the different permutations of every scene. The closing score screens provide a roadmap for where I took the story, compared to the community at large, hinting at the different outcomes.

But I don’t much care about multiple outcomes — for me, I was just glad to while away a rainy afternoon with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and feel a part of their family and their troubles. Emotional reactions of any stripe are difficult to elicit with games, so hats off to Telltale for not only accomplishing this rare feat, but also making it the center of their game. If I come back for the second chapter, it won’t be to learn more about the MacGuffin that permits Peter to speak with ghosts — it will be to see if I can continue to win Gamora’s trust, and to learn if Rocket really means it when he keeps acting like I’m driving him out of the group. The game-making side of my brain tells me the actual number of outcomes isn’t that large, but my illusion of control is such that it is easy to believe my decisions created a unique outcome.

I am happy to suspend my disbelief to ride along with the team. I wasn’t much interested in investing this kind of time and emotion in Telltale’s Walking Dead or Batman games, but this Guardians of the Galaxy game really was delightful. As an experience, it was a bit more than a comic, and a bit less than a movie, but thoroughly unique and enjoyable. I hope I walk out of the theater after seeing Guardians 2 feeling half so positive! Recommended.

NEXT MONTH: #168 Wonder Woman: All All-Star Sensation

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Rocket Raccoon And Groot #1

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #1

Capsule Review

I love Groot and Rocket, but I didn’t much like this book. Skottie Young’s script is strong enough, but we would have been better served if he had illustrated the book, as well — Filipe Andrade’s broad-stroke and abstract style didn’t do enough to bring to life the weird characters and vistas of the story’s outer space setting for me. The story also suffered for pushing our very likeable heroes into the margins for most of the page count. And not to lay the body solely on this book’s doorstep … but what the heck is going on with the Guardians of the Galaxy anyway? This Marvel re-launch has a fist-fill of Guardians books (Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of Infinity, Drax, Star-Lord, Venom Space Knight), and I’ve read them all, and liked most of them, but I’m having a bugger of a time figuring which book comes when, or how they all fit together. That seems a missed opportunity. Cross-overs with earthbound Marvel continuity seem limited — at least so far — so why not knit the Guardians book into their own tight little sphere? Right now, I can’t tell what’s happening without a score card … and Marvel hasn’t given me a score card!

Approachability For New Readers

It’s fine, so long as you aren’t trying to make sense of the Guardians-verse as a whole.

Read #2?

No.

Sales Rank

(#15 January)

Read more about The Guardians of the Galaxy at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

Rocket Raccoon And Groot #1

 

Guardians of Infinity #1

GUARDIANS OF INFINITY #1

Capsule Review

It might normally be unwise to spread the Guardians of the Galaxy’s success over multiple books … but the business is what it is, and this book gets a pass because it is (firstly) entertaining, and (secondly) written by Dan Abnett, who helped to make the modern Guardians into stars a decade ago. Abnett gets right down to it, with Rocket, Groot, and Drax investigating a space station, allegedly with the vague idea they are guarding something, but more directly, so far as Rocket is concerned, to see if it might have something worth stealing. The characterization crackles. Carlo Barbari’s art is a little on the scratchy side, but it gets the job done. Bonus points for roping in the original Guardians. And even more bonus points for a rare backup story that might be better than the main feature, where writer Jason Latour and penciler Jim Cheung put Ben Grimm in an alien gladiator arena, ostensively to battle a bunch of pug-uglies, but really to learn what it is that makes the heart of a warrior beat. (Or at least the heart of a wrestler). Good stuff.

Approachability For New Readers

It all starts in the middle and doesn’t tell you much of what’s going on, so … not so great. But fun.

Read #2?

Sure.

Sales Rank

#6 December

Read more about The Guardians of the Galaxy at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

 

Guardians of Infinity #1

Venom Space Knight #1

VENOM SPACE KNIGHT #1

Capsule Review

There are two types of comic readers in my audience — the kind that will greet with a yawn the news that a double-amputee Flash Thompson inherited Spider-Man’s old Venom suit and then joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, and those that will wonder how Marvel has so thoroughly jumped the tracks. I actually think there’s a pretty good book here for both camps. This Flash Thompson is a distant (DISTANT!) echo of the Steve Ditko original, and he may not be OUR Flash, but he is A Flash … a jock with a soft spot in way over his head and afraid to show it. This Venom suit was purged of its worst impulses in a previous Guardians of the Galaxy run, so there aren’t any evil overtones in this book — just a Flash Thompson well past his bully phase, determined to do good, thrust into outer space adventures and making it up as he goes along. Writer Robbie Thompson’s plot is similar to the adventure we saw in Drax #1, but the quips are better here, and there is more meat on the bone, with Venom meeting grouchy aliens and picking up a robot companion that can “… speak three million languages, and (is) fluent in 217 forms of torture.” Artist Ariel Olivetti’s digitally painted interiors class the book up quite a bit. This is a frothy book and it won’t make you think too hard, but it provided some space opera fun.

Approachability For New Readers

OK. The text slug at the beginning helps and the flashback image showing our hero playing football will assure old vets that, yes, this really is THAT Flash Thompson. Readers who don’t care about Marvel ancient history can just buckle in for a fast-paced and pulpy adventure that tells us everything we need to know as we go.

Read #2?

Sure.

Sales Rank

#29 November

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Venom Space Knight #1

 

Star-Lord #1

Star-Lord #1

Capsule Review

Hey everybody, it’s Young Peter Quill! What we have here is Peter’s origin story … a new one, sort of, and while this young Peter has plenty of rough edges, he’s no where near the psychotic jackass he used to be. This Peter is a scrappy kid, the square peg, too smart for the room but thinking with his fists — he feels like a slightly more Young Adult fiction version of J.J. Abrams’ young Captain Kirk from his Star Trek reboot. None of these are bad things. Writer Sam Humphries makes us care for Peter as he works as a grease monkey in an experimental space program, stealing simulator time to polish his piloting chops, and scheming for a way to jump the line of more qualified astronaut candidates competing for that big space ride. Of course, Peter’s headstrong ways get him into trouble. You can draw a pretty direct dotted line from this kid to the Star Lord we’ve seen in recent Guardians of the Galaxy comics and movies. Artist Javier Garron provides solid storytelling and uses exaggeration to good effect. It’s a comfort food kind of comic book — the beats are predictable, everything goes as you’d expect — but it is still fun enough.

Approachability For New Readers

Good. One of the few actual origin stories in this crop of new Marvel #1s. There’s no mention of the Guardians of the Galaxy or a tie-in or a flash-forward or anything like that, which seems like a missed opportunity to ground new readers coming here from the film, but whatever.

Read #2?

Yeah.

Sales Rank

#44 November

Read more about The Guardians of the Galaxy at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

Star-Lord #1

 

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