[Back to the Future Logo]

[The scene most gamers never got to see...]


System: NES
Publisher: LJN Toys
Designer: Beam Software
Release Date: September 1989
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Save Feature? No

Back to the Future for the NES was, for the most part, your typical movie-to-game translation. Although the gameplay was actually not quite as bad as I remembered from my childhood days, this is still an average game at best. The main overhead stages are somewhat fun and there are a few enjoyable mini-games present in this game. However, even though Back to the Future might be good enough to shake its way out of my personal "Worst NES Games Ever" list, it is unable to shake the mediocrity tag.

Overview: For more than twenty years, I had the worst memories of Back to the Future. Not the movies mind you...I absolutely loved this amazing trilogy back in the late 80s and early 90s and still today I find myself watching them quite regularly ("Hello McFly! Hello! McFly! McFlyyyyyy!!"). Unfortunately, as was the case with probably 80% or so of the movie-to-game translations during the NES era, Back to the Future the game didn't come anywhere close to matching the brilliance of the movie. I don't know if developers are just lazy and attempt to make money based on brand names alone but for as long as I can remember, movie games have almost always just plain sucked! There were a few exceptions to the rule (Sunsoft's Batman games, Gremlins 2, and Terminator-esque Journey to Silius were all superb!) but for the most part, these cheap, money-driven conversions oftentimes ended ugly with nightmarish games featuring equally putrid gameplay (do "Total Recall" or "Cliffhanger" ring any bells?)

Enter Back to the Future for the NES. I vaguely recall playing Back to the Future sometime around 1990-91 and not really getting anywhere at all in the game. I can barely remember getting owned at the first bonus area/mini-game where you had to throw milkshakes at a gazillion patrons without getting touched. And it wasn't like I was a bad gamer either. By the time I got to play this LJN offering, I had already mastered NES games such as Blaster Master, Mega Man 2, and Super Mario Bros. 2 among others. Unfortunately, it seems like LJN games were almost always difficult for the wrong reasons (Does "X-Men" mean anything to you?) and made a toughie like The Legend of Zelda seem relatively easy. Bad gameplay does not a challenging game make. At least not for the right reasons anyway.

But I digress. Anyway, it wasn't until recently that my good friend Josh Zawel purchased this game and brought it over for me to attempt...again. I decided to give Back to the Future a second chance and you know what? I actually found myself enjoying this game at times! Seriously! Granted, the gameplay isn't very deep at all and the difficulty becomes pretty unfair towards the end of the game but simply enjoying the game somewhat was a significant improvement over my initial experience.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, the main goal in Back to the Future is to successfully jump and shoot through four main areas. Each area is composed of three to four vertically-scrolling stages along with a unique mini-game at the end of each area. Win at the mini-games and you will advance to the next set of stages with the hope of eventually trekking your way to the Delorean and the final scene in the game. In order to accomplish this feat, however, you will need to collect clocks in the overhead stages in addition to dodging/shooting enemies that appear on screen. The clocks temporarily keep a picture of you and your siblings from disappearing and if your siblings and you all disappear, you lose a life. If you get hit by an enemy, you don't necessarily lose a life but you do lose valuable time. And since there is a time limit in this game, you can't afford to get tripped up more than once or twice a stage.

As far as actual enemies go, that's where the wheels begin to fall off. You'll have to contend with hula-hoop girls, random guys/thugs/whatever that move in a strange loop formation or simply charge at you from awkward angles, and insane, psychotic bees. Although the human enemies can be tricky at times, especially when they start shooting random projectiles at you (I don't know what the frick they actually shoot to be honest!), the bees are truly infuriating in this game. I don't know if Marty McFly's ancesters did something to the local bee population or what but, for some strange reason, bees absolutely hate Marty in this game. They apparently would rather attack Marty relentless than to gather nectar, chase the bullies of 1955 away, or do anything else! If you thought that Biff and his gang were trouble in the movie, they don't have anything on the bees circa 1955! Like the birds and bats found in the Ninja Gaiden series, bees are yet another creature of nature you will have feelings of enmity towards after playing Back to the Future. I assure you of this.

The good thing is that, if you are able to survive for long enough, a bowling ball icon will appear on screen. Yes, a bowling ball. Apparently LJN wanted to deviate from the movie just a tad with bees and bowling balls. Don't ask me why; I thankfully had no part of developing this game. Anyway, collect the bowling ball and you will be able to fire a bowling ball projectile at your enemies. If you can survive for longer still, a skateboard will make an appearance! Thankfully, this item was actually in the movie! If you are able to snag the skateboard, you will go much faster and will greatly improve your chances of beating the stage in time. In addition, if you can survive with the bowling ball and skateboard, bowling pins (...bowling pins?!) will appear on the screen and will give you big bonus points if you can shoot them down. This element actually does make the gameplay fun but I can't help but wonder if the developers had an affinity for bowling or something...weird.

In addition to the main overhead stages, Back to the Future features mini-games at the end of each area that will really test your timing and reflexes. The first area ends with a strange "showdown" at the local Cafe. Marty McFly is behind the counter for some reason and has to shoot down oncoming "patrons" with milkshakes in order to proceed. You can move up or down since the bullies will appear from anywhere on screen. Since several thugs will eventually approach you at the same time, quick reflexes are a must! And since you have to successfully shoot down a whopping 50 (50?!?!) of these guys in order to actually beat this mini-game, patience is a must as well.

Additional mini-games include shielding yourself from your mother's kisses at School (I swear I am not making this up!), the surprisingly fun musical note game at the Dance (where you have to face left or right and hit notes high, center, or low depending on said notes), and the final Delorean scene where you have to reach 88mph in order to go forward in time. The Dance mini-game might have very well been the highlight of the game with its fun concept and enjoyable gameplay. Some of the other ones are pretty tough though!

[Was this in the movie???]
[Hill Valley circa 1955]

Graphics: Although there is some variety present, the graphics in Back to the Future are pretty average overall. This would have been a somewhat decent 1986 or 1987 offering but when you consider that Back to the Future was released after pantheon performances such as Mega Man 2 and Ducktales let alone games from a year earlier like Super Mario Bros. 2 and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, it's hard to really be impressed at all with this game's visuals. I like a couple of the mini-game graphics like the Dance and the game's final scene and the multi-colored backgrounds for the main stages are at least a semi-decent effort. Unfortunately, this game as a whole has kind of a "just good enough" aura about it which is a shame honestly.

Music: This aspect of Back to the Future truly haunted me as a kid. I could barely remember some happy, grating melody playing as I got completely owned by bees and random guys charging at me. During my more recent playthrough, I honestly found myself enjoying this very same tune...to a certain extent anyway. It is kind of catchy and really isn't all that bad. Unfortunately, however, this tune plays throughout every single overheard segment of the game. It takes a pretty special tune to carry an entire game (Bubble Bobble did remarkably well in this regard.) and, although the main tune in Back to the Future isn't all that bad, it does get a little annoying eventually.

The best tune in the game is probably the groovy little ditty that plays during the game's Dance scene. I honestly enjoyed everything about this little scene in the game and, had the rest of the game been executed this well, we might be talking about a pretty good video game! And since we're on the subject of music, I have to say that I didn't like the fact that no music plays whatsoever during the game's initial mini-games. The lack of music can be an effective tactic at times but only if the music that does play is catchy and enjoyable. Unfortunately, in Back to the Future, it comes across as being cheap and lazy instead of smart and savvy.

Play Control: Arguably the best aspect of Back to the Future might be the decent control scheme. Jumping, manuevering, and shooting bowling balls during the overhead segments is pretty smooth for the most part and the mini-games all have pretty good controls. Granted, the perspective of the Cafe and School mini-games makes things a little tricky at times (i.e. it's easy to fail simply due to being one level too high or one level too low when shooting/dodging) but the controls aren't the reason for this. They aren't great mind you but compared to the rest of the game, they get the job done pretty well.

[The scene few gamers got past!]
[Why are hula-hoop girls trying to kill Marty?!]

Challenge: Although Back to the Future is a relatively short game that can be beat in 30-40 minutes, it is actually quite challenging at times. What's truly unfortunate is that one of the most taxing areas of the game happens to be the very first mini-game in the game! The initial mini-game where you have to throw milkshakes at approaching bullies (or whatever they are) is difficult mainly due to the awkward perspective. Being directly behind Marty would have made this mini-game much more accessible to the average gamer. I would venture to guess that the number one reason why so many people hate this game is because of the incredibly challenging Cafe scene. It's a shame too because once you get past the Cafe, the rest of the game is relatively tame...for the most part anyway.

While some of the other mini-games will provide a nice challenge, the toughest stretch of Back to the Future is probably found in the game's final overhead scenes. Not only do you have to make it through each stage without literally getting touched due to the murderous time constraints but the enemies, particularly those hellish bees, are nearly impossible to dodge. Now to be fair, I don't have a problem with any game being challenging. The cheap nature of this game, especially in the later stages, is a bit frustrating though. It goes from being pretty moderate in terms of challenge to raising the bar to the insane category in the blink of an eye. And I've never been a fan of that type of challenge level. Although it isn't a major issue, the somewhat unbalanced challenge level of Back to the Future is certainly noticeable...bees and all.

Storyline: Although the game doesn't really get into the main story, fans of the movie should be able to follow things with relative ease. In the video game version of Back to the Future, you are essentially fending off bullies, warding off your mother's hot feelings for you, playing some groovy music at the Dance in order to get your future parents to kiss, and making your way home during the cool final area of the game. Granted, the movie is far superior to the game in terms of the story but overall, I suppose that the game does an okay job of following the main plot of the movie...somewhat. It isn't a terrible performance by LJN but it's like they did just enough in this game rather than going the extra mile. Even the ending is very bare bones and simple which was a little disappointing.

Funfactor: Although Back to the Future is by no means one of the worst NES games ever made, it fits very neatly into the heavily populated pack of mediocre games released during the NES era. While the gameplay itself is actually decent and somewhat fun at times, this game could have been so much more than LJN's offering. Back to the Future just feels like a bare bones game that does just enough to get by. It does have a few high points (I personally enjoyed all of the mini-games actually!) and was honestly way better than the game I remembered from my childhood but overall, it is still pretty ordinary. I would have loved to have seen what Sunsoft could have done with the Back to the Future license. They seemed to be the only third-party licensee that actually cared about making great movie-to-game translations.

Negatives: Although nothing is truly hideously bad about Back to the Future, nothing about this game stands out either. The graphics are okay but are nothing special, the soundtrack consists of only two average tunes, and the challenge level leans on the unbalanced side. Honestly, when the first mini-game is more difficult than the other three, you have a real problem on your hands. As a result of the initial Cafe mini-game being so difficult, most gamers probably never got to even see the second area of Back to the Future. And speaking of mini-games, the fact that you have to successfully hit or dodge an enemy a whopping 50 times seems a bit much to me. This element makes the game accessible only to the upper-echeleon gaming crowd...along with the fact that you can't even continue in this game. Greatness this is not...

[Marty getting down with the guitar!]

Ratings: Graphics: 3.2 Music: 2.9 Play Control: 3.5 Challenge: 3.4 Storyline: 3.1 Funfactor: 3.3 Overall Score: 19.4 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Mystery Meat

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Last Updated: March 23, 2012
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