Total time played: 10 Hours
Short review: Does a decent job of hitting all of the beats of the film of the same name but it fails to make a video game worth playing.
Interesting links related to Back to the Future
Where Have I Been?
It has been a while since I posted a review which means it has been 3 months since I have beaten an NES game. This is partly due to the fact that I lucked into a PS5 and have been playing through Spider-Man Miles Morales and partially because I started a YouTube channel where I am posting short spoiler free movie reviews. No fear, I’m still playing NES and hope to have a nice run of fun and easy games so it isn’t 3 months between reviews again.
An All Time Classic
To me, Back to the Future is a perfect movie. On top of being a perfect movie I also have a strong nostalgic attachment to it based on how young I was when I first saw it. As much as me and pretty much everyone else my age loves the movie I don’t really remember anyone ever talking about the NES game. I wonder why?
It’s Kind of Like the Movie
On paper this game sounds just like the movie. We get to see our hero Marty McFly riding a skateboard down the street, we see him in the 50’s diner, trying to keep his mother from falling in love with him, inventing rock n roll to make his parents fall in love and barreling down the street at 88mph to travel back to 1985. We even see the photo of him and his siblings that is slowly fading away. How could the game fail?
Level 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5
The first stage of the game you find Marty walking vertically from the bottom to the top of the screen. The goal is to get to the end of the street before time runs out. On the way there you have to dodge bullies like Biff from the movie. You also can find a skateboard just like Marty in the movie and it makes you move a lot faster. It’s so much like the movie!! At the bottom of the screen is a photo of your family. If you take too long to complete the level the family photo fades away. This also happens in the movie, if Marty doesn’t get back to modern day before his photo fades he won’t exist. To combat this you must pick up a lot of clocks in the street to delay the photo from fading.
Oh, also, there are open manholes, a lot of bees, hula hooping girls, bowling pins, men carrying invisible panes of glass, oil slicks and other obstacles that aren’t in the movie. I guess they just needed to add a few things to flesh out the levels and make them more game like.
But then the next level is the exact same thing again, and so is the next level and the level after that. In fact, the only differences in the levels are the color palette and how many obstacles there are. Honestly, the level design isn’t bad. The issue is there is only really one level in the entire game. It’s the repetition that makes the game so bad.
- Points are your friend, you get extra lives pretty frequently (I think every 30,000 points).
- If you pick up a bowling ball you can hurl it at enemies and rack up points quickly. Bees and Bowling pins each reward you with 500 points so knock out as many as you can. You keep the bowling ball until you die.
- Pick up as many clocks as you can, if you don’t the photo of your family in the bottom of the screen will slowly fade away. If it disappears you lose a life. In the last stages (after the guitar mini-game) I don’t think you need to pick up clocks anymore because it seems the photo no longer fades.
- The “Time” in the bottom right corner counts down really fast, if it hits 0 you lose a life. In the later levels if you hit a single object in the level and fall over it is nearly impossible to complete the stage before time runs out.
- The skateboard is your friend. You travel much quicker on the skateboard meaning you can finish levels quickly and every second left adds to your score. You keep the skateboard until you die.
- The skateboard doesn’t appear unless you have the bowling ball.
- At the end of each stage if you jump in the air you will earn between 100-900 points depending on how high in the air you are when the stage ends.
- The bees attack Marty from every angle and circle around him constantly, if you stand close to the bottom of the screen the bees will disappear when they try to fly behind Marty. This is a must in later stages.
The movie Back to the Future has an iconic score and soundtrack. The music is timeless just like the movie. The music in the game isn’t horrible, it has a pretty decent little melody to it. But, just like the repetitive level design the music in the game is also repetitive. The melody in the ONLY song in the game (other the the guitar mini-game which has a rendition of Johnny B Goode) is short, very very short. You will hear the less than 10 seconds loop something like 250 times as you play through the game. By the end you will have been driven crazy by the song.
Have you ever heard how police will sometimes blast annoying music to draw people out of a house or building during hostage situations? I honestly can’t think of any song that would drive someone out quicker than the song in the game.
The game features a map that has a few iconic locations from the movie. As you progress through the one level over and over again you reach one of these locations and play a mini game from the movie. In fact, these games are by far the best part of the game even if they are all short and not that fun.
The Diner – Marty finds himself behind the counter at the diner throwing milkshakes at approaching bullies. In order to beat the game you must hit 50 bullies before a single bully makes it to the diner counter. To me, this is the hardest mini game in the entire game. The issue is Marty can stand in 6 different positions behind the counter and must be perfectly aligned with the approaching bullies to hit them. As you hit more bullies they move faster making it imperative to have perfect placement and quick reaction time to beat the level.
As you get close to 50 bullies they began throwing projectiles at Marty adding another layer of complexity. If you are lucky, a waitress will bring you a milkshake, if you pick up the milkshake you can hit the B button to clear all bullies from the screen. Honestly, once you get past this mini-game the rest of them aren’t that bad. While it only takes 50 points to win the maximum score is 99. On more than 1 occasion I scored all 99 possible points.
The School – On the surface this mini game looks and plays a lot like the diner mini game. But, now you are on the left side of the screen and instead of hitting bullies with milkshakes you are blocking kisses with a school book. What makes this easier than the diner is the hearts always come at the same rate and are pretty easy to catch. Again you must catch 50 to beat the level. I was able to score the maximum score of 99 points more than half of the time.
The Dance – In the movie’s climax Marty plays guitar on stage at the school dance where his parents fall in love and in the process he invents rock n roll music. In this mini game Marty must catch music notes to fill up the heart meter until his parents kiss. This is the easiest mini game in my opinion…once you know what to do. Marty can face left or right and move his guitar to a high position, mid position or low position. Notes fly at him from both directions and he must align his guitar to catch them. The sharp notes always land in the high position, the regular notes land in the mid position and the flat notes land in the low position. Once you know this the game is pretty easy.
The Lightning Storm – The final level is just like the climax of the movie. Marty must drive the Deloreon time machine at 88MPH and hit the pole right as lightning strikes in order to generate the power needed to return to 1985. It is an all or nothing event and the game takes this a little too seriously. You get a single try on the final stage, if you don’t do it, no matter how many lives you have left it is game over! Talk about unfair. If you hit any lightning bolts in the road it slows you down quite a bit. From what I can tell this is 100% luck as the lightning strikes so quickly it is almost impossible to dodge.
I experienced the greatest frustration any gamer can experience. I got as close to beating this game as humanly possible without doing it. As stated above you must be traveling 88MPH in the final stage as you cross the “finish line” or it is an instant game over. On one of my attempts I crossed the line going 87MPH. This is equivalent to being at the final boss in a game and getting game over when one more hit would have killed him.
Where is doc?
It wasn’t uncommon for NES games based off of movies like Batman to have incredible cut scenes recreating scenes from the movie. Back to the Future didn’t do that. There were cut scenes but it was just text scenes like you may see in a silent film. If other games didn’t have great cut scenes I wouldn’t feel like this was an omission but just a limitation of the hardware. But, if Ninja Gaiden can have killer cut scenes that makes me think the programmers of Back to the Future were just lazy or ran out of time.
But, I can live without the cut scenes if the game included the co-star of the movie Doc Brown. He is such an iconic character and is a huge part of the story. He deserved more than being the voice of the words in the silent movie style cut scenes.
I honestly didn’t hate this game. it is really simple and repetitive but is mildly entertaining. It hits a lot more of the movie beats than most games in the genre even if the co-star of the movie, Doc Brown, is never shown on screen. I’d say this game is worth playing but not worth the time investment to beat. It is a short game, 15-20 minutes, but, it will take you dozens of attempts to get through it unless you get really lucky. By the time I beat the game I could get to the final stage every time. From what I’ve read and watched online the Deloreon stage seems to just be pure luck. The lightning bolts seems to be random and appear so quickly they are hard to dodge. You have to use your instincts to anticipate where they are going to land and get lucky. I had some theories that the better you did in the mini-games the easier the final stage would be but I ended up scrapping that idea after my dozens of attempts did not produce results to back up my hypothesis.