Back to the Future
- Manufacturer: LJN
- Machine: Nintendo Entertainment System
Ah, Back to the Future...wasn't that a great movie? Remember the scene when Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) was attacked by mutant, football-sized killer bees? Remember the way Marty would throw bowling balls at any girl he saw twirling a hula hoop? Or what about that famous sequence when a hundred identical thugs attacked Marty at Lou's cafe, and he fought them off by hitting each and every one of them in the face with a flying milk shake? Remember all that?
Well, neither do I - but LJN's Back to the Future cartridge for the NES includes these and other outrageous scenarios.
As in the film it's derived from, Marty is trapped in the year 1955, in the fictional town of Hill Valley. He's got to get to the clock tower in the town square before lightning strikes the spire, which will generate the enormous amount of energy necessary to power his time machine and send him back to the...er, present. Unlike the film, the idyllic little town seems to have transformed into quite a strange place: in addition to the aforementioned killer bees, bimbos and bullies, the streets through which Marty races are littered with barrels, overstuffed garbage cans and inexplicable groups of perfectly positioned bowling pins. Oddly enough, there is no traffic, although you'll find a pair of workmen lugging a plate-glass window on just about every other corner. Picture windows must be in big demand there.
The screen scrolls vertically in these street scenes, not unlike Xevious or a number of other shoot-'em-up titles. Try to avoid the bad guys, pick up the bowling balls, kill the bad guys with the bowling balls - sure, you get the idea. Occasionally a skateboard appears in the street; jumping on it will enable Marty to zip right past his opponents. But be careful because contact with any enemy or stationary object causes the teenage time traveler to lose everything: skateboard, bowling balls and, of course, several seconds of precious time.
A family photograph at the bottom of the display indicates how much time Marty has left before he screws up his own future by changing the past. If you haven't seen the movie - well, just try to follow along. For each moment Marty remains in 1955, he increases his chances of changing the circumstances surrounding his own future and may even jeopardize his own existence. The photo reflects this danger by fading out slowly. If the images disappear, it means you've altered the future enough to prevent you from ever going back. You can slow this process by picking up the little clocks scattered throughout the streets of Hill Valley.
On the way to his rendezvous point, Marty must stop at Lou's cafe, Hill Valley High School and the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance. At each of these locations, the game switches to a throwing/catching contest (throw milk shakes at the thugs, catch Lorraine's hearts, catch the musical notes with your guitar) that slowly speeds up until you can't handle it anymore. These sequences look easy, but looks can be deceiving.
One of the first things you'll notice about Back to the Future is the music. The main theme, which begins when the title screen appears, plays constantly until Marty reaches the dance hall and resumes when he leaves that location. The volume knob on your TV is your only escape from this little tune, which completely redefines the word "repetitive".
The graphics, too, are uninspired. If someone were to walk into the room while you were playing this game, they might think it was some sort of lame Paperboy ripoff. Aside from the map that shows an overview of Hill Valley, there's certainly not much in the game's overall appearance that parallels that of the film. Marty does bear a slight resemblance to the character he's based on, but he's seen from behind during most of the game. He could just as easily be John Doe, your next-door neighbor or even Little Mac from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! When one of the bullies in the soda shop throws Marty against the wall, Marty collapses to the ground like a sack of potatoes...and let me tell you, he looks like one, too.
If you own one of the more sophisticated controllers available for the NES (such as the NES Advantage), you're probably aware of the fact that the "slow-motion" button featured on some models does not always work. It's a neat gimmick: the controller simply activates the START button repeatedly, which pauses and restarts the game several times per second. Some games have thwarted this option by changing the appearance of the screen while the game is paused or by using a different button to freeze the action. Fortunately, Back to the Future plays beautifully in slow-motion; don't hesitate to use this helpful option if it's available to you. It's nearly impossible to get through the entire game without it, especially in the cafe, school and dance segments.
There's a fine line between "challenging" and "frustrating". The best games will toe that line with great care; they may be tough, but they're not completely impossible. Players can sense this, and that's why they keep trying again and again, because they know that sooner or later, they'll win. Back to the Future, on the other hand, crosses the impossibility line frequently, at times almost deliberately. After you get thrown out of Lou's Cafe for the twentieth time, you no longer have the urge to play again. By then, your only urge is to remove the cartridge and chuck it out the window. The skateboard is also a source of great frustration: it can frequently be found inches away from a brick wall, where jumping on it nearly guarantees an instant collision. Who needs this kind of aggravation?
After you lose your final life, the computer muses tastelessly: "Tough luck, Marty! It looks like you're stuck here!" The poor guy - being stranded in this demented vision of Hill Valley, circa 1955, will most likely land him in a padded cell at the local insane asylum. A game based on the sequel. Back to the Future, Part II, has already been announced. Let's hope it's an improvement over the original.
I suppose Back to the Future isn't completely without merit; the game does pick up a bit when you're riding the skateboard, and the dance-party sequence (which features Marty's guitar prowess on "Johnny B. Goode") is a nice touch. Regrettably, there's not much more to recommend, and most players will likely consider it a dud.