RetroSpective – Back To The Future

BTTF InfoThis year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the cult classic film Back To The Future.  Not only that but we are only a week away from the exact day Marty arrives in 2015 in Part II.  So in a moment of madness, I thought what better way to celebrate both of these occasions, than by looking back on the NES tie-in of the original film.  In fact, alarm bells should have immediately started ringing as soon I was presented with that LJN logo on the cover.

Back To The Future is the classic 80s blockbuster that seamlessly mixes the science fiction and romantic comedy genres.  Filled with classic characters like Marty and Doc Brown, alongside excellent action and storytelling, it’s a film that can be watched over and over again, as millions have done so.  The film has all the foundations for a perfect video game, and I bet you’re wondering what they focused more on?  Well it certainly wasn’t the characters, or even the plot.

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Original Box Art For Back To The Future

That story you remember is completely non-existent, in fact there’s no story whatsoever.  Instead we have a literal interpretation of a few key events from the movie.  In this interpretation the main character has to run and skateboard his way through Hill Valley, whilst collecting clocks to avoid be erased from time.  Not only that but the enemies include just about everything you see, including bees and strangers on the street.

If you think that sounds bad, then you haven’t seen anything yet.  The DeLorean doesn’t even appear until the final level of the game, insulting fans by repeating the earlier stages in a car, and asking players to avoid the lightning!  If I wasn’t mistaken wasn’t Marty trying to get hit by the lightning to generate the necessary 1.21 gigawatts of electricity?

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The DeLorean’s long overdue appearance in the final stage

The gameplay is no better, in fact it all makes as much sense as the story does.  Essentially, the game is split into two different aspects that are re-skinned and delivered back to the player, as though trying to convince you that the game has variety.  Something it certainly does not have.

Part one of the gameplay is the walking levels, and you’re greeted with these right from the start of the game.  These vertically scrolling levels see the player constantly moving ahead, whilst trying to avoid all the random enemies and collect all the clocks.  If you don’t collect the clocks then Marty will be erased from time and you’ll lose a life.  Getting hit simply slows you down, inevitably increasing your chances of being erased, and you should get used to being hit, as constantly dodging the enemies is nigh on impossible.

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The walking levels that make up around 75% of the game

Ultimately, due to the one dimensional and uninspiring gameplay, combined with high difficulty and long levels, these stages are boring and repetitive with little enjoyment value.  In fact, you’ll want to stop playing before you even finish the first stage, questioning why you’re even putting yourself through this.  What’s even worse, is the fact that these levels comprise around 75% of the game.

The second aspect to the gameplay is marginally better, but I must stress the marginally part.  In these stages the gameplay all takes place from a static position, requiring the player to react to incoming obstacles.  Additionally, these stages clearly look to replicate key moments from the movie.  Unfortunately as with the main gameplay element, they fail dismally.  Throughout the three mini-games we see the player throwing milkshakes at bullies, blocking incoming hearts from what I think is Marty’s younger mother, and collecting musical notes in what is meant to recreate the scene where Marty plays Johnny B. Goode.

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The stage that is meant to represent Marty playing Johnny B. Goode

It wouldn’t be so bad if these sections only failed from a storytelling perspective, but unfortunately just like the rest of the game, they fail from a gameplay perspective as well.  Here, the difficulty is increased immensely in comparison to before, with one mistake and it’s all over.  Not only this, but each of these levels take an age for you to finish with no alteration in the gameplay.  All this means that you’ll have to keep up your attention in the face of some of the most repetative gameplay known to man.

However, no matter how repetitive and boring the gameplay is, it has nothing on the soundtrack.  ‘Soundtrack’ is actually a very generous term for what is for the most part one track that plays over and over again.  This track is one of the most grating, ear piercing tunes you’ll ever hear on your NES, and has nothing to do with Back To The Future.  Honestly listen to the Youtube video I have posted and imagine listening to this on repeat over and over again.  This is quite possibly the worst soundtrack I have ever heard in a game.

Additionally, there really isn’t anything in the form of sound effects, with those few that the game does have being nothing more than bleeps.  Bleeps that wouldn’t seem out of place coming from an electric calculator.  Even worse though is that not only do some levels not have any music at all, but the one level that should sound amazing, the Johnny B. Goode scene, sounds just as bad as the main theme.  All of this in 1989, four years after the classic tunes of Koji Kondo in Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda.

The graphics again continue this trend and prove that their is nothing redeemable about this poor title.  You’ll notice earlier I didn’t call the main character ‘Marty’, well that’s because you wouldn’t know it was Marty from the way the game looks.  There’s no red puffer jacket, and even his hair is the wrong colour. Oh and what about the other characters you say? Well obviously Doc Brown is in the game.  No wait that’s not right.  In fact Doc Brown only makes an appearance in the poorly constructed picture at the bottom of the screen that acts as your lifebar.

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The half-decent map display

The game’s presentation barely allows you to make out the basics, let alone adding any details.  The town looks as generic as any other, as does the other locations, and the enemies look as bland as you could imagine.  The only positives that comes from the presentation are that the map somewhat represents Hill Valley, and the DeLorean does look like a DeLorean.  However, if you made it to the final level then I feel sorry for you in other ways.

This is one game that you really should stay away from.  Another terrible 80s movie tie-in like Ghostbusters. Whats even more insulting is the fact that the game wasn’t released until 1989, four years after both the movie and masterpieces like Mario and Zelda.  The longevity of this game can be recorded in minutes, and that’s if you’ve lost your mind or have accidentally left the game going.  This game should definitely be left in the past, and no I don’t want to ride a Delorean to relive this experience.  Do yourself a favour and just watch the film, especially if you’re a fan of Back To The Future.  Or even better, play Super Back To The Future 2 on the Super Famicom.

BTTF-Score Updated

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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