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Back to the Future Review

Developer: Beam Software Publisher: LJN
Release Date: 1989 Also On:

Alright, now, if you’re looking at this you’ve probably heard about this game. Back to the Future is known for being pretty dang bad. Terrible graphics, an annoying, repetitive theme song, difficult gameplay that has nothing to do with anything or is too abstract, and an incredibly difficult ending. I know, I know, this game isn’t great, but if you learn to deal with its flaws it’s really not as bad as people seem to think.

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Graphically, Back to the Future looks pretty terrible. It opens with a weak title screen that looks grainy and moves into the game proper without a storyline. Marty’s running is animated so poorly it looks more like he’s losing and regaining each of his legs very quickly. Terrible suggestion of perspective there. Add to this a bunch of indistinct-looking blobs of human beings, fuzzy things that are supposed to be bees, a blurred mess the manual claims is a photograph of your family, and graphics so poorly rendered you’d swear it was an Atari 5200 and you’ve got a bad-looking title. Really surprising how bad it is at times. LJN wasn’t necessarily known for making the greatest of games, but they certainly didn’t look this horrid. I mean, you can generally tell what’s going on, but wow, talk about minimalist. No ending either. It seems the only point where you get some decent graphics are the mini-games. A little better during those parts.

Another part of Back to the Future that frequently receives complaints is the sound. All you get is the classic theme running over and over again. It never stops except for the mini-games. Two of them are silent for some reason, and the other one has the only different song in the entire game, a decent rendition of 50s-styled rock. Pretty good song actually, but the main track may drive some people insane. I personally liked it but I can definitely see how it would make you quickly reach for ‘mute.’ Not too many sound effects, either. They all pretty much sound the same and seem to be pitch variations of each other, except for Marty’s ‘fading away’ effect, which is actually pretty cool.

Alright, so we’re not going into this with high expectations, but what is the gameplay of Back to the Future like? Well, Back to the Future is a strange platformer. It’s similar in design to The Adventures of Dino Riki with the addition of mini-games instead of bosses. As such, Marty continously moves up with the screen except during the mini-games. As he’s running, you have to avoid enemies while collecting miniature clocks that keep your family portrait from fading away. They have to be collected, otherwise you die. This isn’t hard enough, of course, so enemies are all over the place, at random, in locations that often tax your nerves but are still possible to avoid and/or kill. Attacking involves finding the bowling ball and tossing it. With it you can take out all the enemies or hit randomly placed sets of bowling pins to score extra points (huh?). In order to maximize your score and winning potential, you need to get to the end of each round as quickly as possible, because you’re timed, so if you hold onto the bowling ball for a short while, you get a skateboard to increase your speed significantly.

In addition, you have three mini-games after so many rounds for each segment. One takes place in Lou’s Diner and you have to stop approaching punks with milkshakes like Tapper for the Atari 2600. The second takes place in the school, and you have to stop your mother’s attention (represented by little hearts to catch) so she doesn’t fall for you a la’ Kaboom! but in the opposite direction. The third is kind of a combination of both, involving both timing and precision as you move Marty’s guitar around to collect enough notes so his parents kiss. Finally, you have the rush to get back to the future in the Delorean, which involves achieving a speed of 88mph on a straight course without slowing down due to lighting bolts. The other mini-games give you infinite chances provided you don’t lose your lives, but the last one only gives you one chance regardless of how many lives you have. Here is what to expect:

So what’s it like, really? Well, the main levels of Back to the Future are quite difficult. It takes a lot of skill to get through them because the game keeps moving in its own, nonsensical world of annoying bee killing (with bowling balls) and the enemies are just relentless. However, ludicrous gaming aside, I rather enjoyed the action as I progressed through the game. It’s repetitive as all hell, but the challenge is quite manageable if you’re good enough. And the mini-games are a nice break from an otherwise tedious set of streets. The third one in particular is actually a lot of fun. Sure, it has a ton of bad points, but when it comes down to it, for me anyway, Back to the Future doesn’t really totally fail in the gameplay department. The only place where it does is the ending, where you only have a single chance to do it, and thus only a single chance to practice each time you run through the entire stinking game. I got it on my third try, but it wasn’t easy. Takes a lot of skill, but I like a challenge. Overall, it has some pretty bad faults, but in this department Back to the Future has a certain charm to it you’ll grow to like if you give it a chance or get stung a million times and play it on a venom high.

Back to the Future has some creative aspects to it. It’s a fairly unique approach to the standard platformer. Though the levels are repetitive, the inclusion of the mini-games, though they’re based on older concepts, is engaging. Of course, if you think about it, the majority of what you’re doing here has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, so I have to take off some points for concept, but I have to say it is a little creative in its own, weird way.

I personally played Back to the Future for several days in a row. It can be tedious at times, but once you get the skill down it’s actually fun to try to beat your old score. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s really not so bad when you learn how to play it. It’s not quirks or glitches either, it’s just a difficult game that requires a fair amount of skill to complete. As for length, I like it. Back to the Future takes only about fifteen minutes to complete if you’re good enough, so it’s something you could sit down with just for a quick challenge and nerve-racking experience, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Overall, though not a great game by any means, Back to the Future isn’t necessarily as bad as you’ve probably heard. Sure, it looks terrible, its music can get on your nerves, and the gameplay can get tedious, but under the surface there is some charm here, as well as challenge. It may not be a favorite of most gamers, but if you’re looking for a challenge that’s somewhat rewarding in the long run, check this one out. It’s not anything spectacular, and it has many faults, but in general I enjoyed myself.

Graphics: 3
Sound: 3.5
Gameplay: 5.5
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 6
Final: 4.6
Written by Stan Review Guide