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Back to the Future (NES) artwork

Back to the Future (NES) review


"Maybe I’m getting softer, nostalgic, crazier…I don’t know what, but “Back to the Future” for the NES isn’t as bad as I remember it. Perusing my old review from a few years ago, one would get the impression that this game is AIDS. "



Maybe I’m getting softer, nostalgic, crazier…I don’t know what, but “Back to the Future” for the NES isn’t as bad as I remember it. Perusing my old review from a few years ago, one would get the impression that this game is AIDS.

“Programmers from the 80s turned a beloved movie into a crazy game that doesn’t make sense! Ack! Satan!”

That about sums it up. Maybe that review was some sort of personal revenge against “Back to the Future” for kicking my ass when I was seven. Those must have been deep scars, but now I’m a few years older and can look back and realize how ridiculous it was to savage this game. Is it great? Hell no. Is it good? Not quite. But, god, it certainly isn’t like “life during the Dark Ages”. LJN’s follow-up, “Back to the Future II & III”, deserves that distinction.

In case you never read my prior snark-fest of a review, “Back to the Future” is a very loose adaptation of the 1985 Robert Zemeckis movie. It’s an overhead arcade game where you move your character around and collect things like clocks, bowling balls, and skateboards. Of course, there are obstacles and enemies. You have to watch out for bullies, hula-girls, bees--what’s an NES game without bees?--and handymen carrying sheets of glass. Non-living enemies include benches, manholes, walls, and just about anything that can trip your character Marty McFly. Winners use bowling balls to strike enemies and bowling pins for points!

A unique twist in this game taken from the movie is this little image at the bottom of the screen, a (crudely rendered) photograph of Marty and his two siblings. Just like the movie, the siblings gradually vanish from the picture, signifying the ever-changing time continuum as a result of McFly completely messing up his parent’s first encounter in 1955. When they’re gone, you start to disappear. When you’re gone, you lose one of your lives. On top of all of this is a timer. Both time-based elements substitute for a life meter, so colliding with enemies and hazards doesn't kill you, but it slows you down. Fortunately, the skateboard power-up lets you speed through levels more quickly, as long as the whacky layouts don’t cause you to bump into a wall or something.

Every time you clear four levels, you have to play one of four mini-games. The first one is really difficult, and I could see it being a “game ender” for a lot of people. You’re in a 50s diner, and you have to stave off bullies by slinging soda pops at them. It’s very tough, because there are about eight positions bullies can approach you from and the difference between those positions is so slight it’s hard to discern visually. With some practice and use of the screen-clearing “soda bomb” (shrug) I’ve found myself scoring the minimum 50 bullies pretty effortlessly.

The next two mini-games are, thankfully, more forgiving. One has you blocking hearts with a text book, and the other has you catching musical notes with a guitar. The final mini-game is a “make or break” romp in the movie’s iconic DeLorean car. At that point, “Back to the Future” becomes ridiculously difficult, an epic feat to finish off. In the last four levels, you will be confronted with more bees and walls than you would ever care to see in your life. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about the photograph anymore. (Your parents hook up by this point.)

Yeah, this game is very brutal in spots and fairly basic, but somehow I can’t attack it with the kind of venom I did three years ago. I’ve actually grown familiar enough with the game that I can score the maximum 99 points in both the diner and heart mini-games…with little effort! I’m actually starting to find the skateboard riding mechanic pretty exhilarating. And when the difficulty ramps up to obscene levels towards the end…so what? This isn’t the kind of game you beat to earn a place among gaming elites. No one cares if you’ve beaten “Back to the Future”, except for other people who play “Back to the Future”. This is not a masterpiece, but high trash.

Now, if you don’t mind, there’s some men dressed in white knocking on my front door.

Rating: 6/10

joseph_valencia's avatar
Community review by joseph_valencia (July 03, 2009)

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randxian posted July 05, 2009:

I agree with your assessment here. No, it's not a good game, but I can think of a lot of games that are far worse. Most people act like this is easily one of the worst NES games ever. The mini games after you complete four stages aren't too bad. I somewhat enjoyed those. The stages themselves are the pits, however.

I also like how you break down the first mini game. It stumped me for awhile because like you said, it is hard to tell if you're aiming properly.

Nice job. I think your Mega Man 9 review is still better, but this isn't too shabby.

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