It should come as no surprise by now that I love the Back to the Future trilogy. My love for the films leads me to find a good video game based on the movies, but after all these years I'm sorry to say that I'm still waiting. As a child I was so eager to strike gold that I became fascinated by one particular game based on the movies. Publisher LJN and developer Beam Software teamed up in 1989 to create the Nintendo Entertainment System adaptations of the popular films Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III. Unlike other games based on the hit film trilogy, this game pak contained two games. After completing the BTTF II portion of the game, the BTTF III portion becomes available. Unfortunately Beam took an excellent license opportunity and created a sub-standard platform game. Yet, for some reason, I find it strangely addictive.
The game opens with a brief explanation of how Biff Tannen has changed history with the aid of the Gray's Sports Almanac. Apparently Biff's meddling with history has caused a number of objects to be hidden in three different time periods: 1955, 1985-A, and 2015. It's up to Marty McFly to seek out all the objects and return them to their appropriate time periods, making this game a massive scavenger hunt. However, there are a few catches to this mission. First off, items are locked away behind doors and the keys (which are good for one use only) can only be obtained by stomping certain enemies. Inside these doors are a series of platforms, traps, and ladders as well as a number of little clocks. If Marty can dodge the hazards and collect all the clocks and the trophy cup before time runs out, he'll get one of the objects, such as a hoverboard or a tombstone. If he fails he can try the sequence again if he has another key to unlock the door. Now Marty has to take the object to a specific hidden room in the correct time period. These rooms are hidden away inside sewer pipes and down other holes. Once Marty finds a room he (meaning you) has to unscramble a series of letters to find out which object belongs in the room. Choosing the wrong object causes the item to blow up and return to the secret room in which you originally found it, meaning that choosing a wrong item will result in some massive backtracking. That is, if you are lucky enough to find your way back to the room.
Each time period has fifteen different levels that are progressed through a series of large doors. The levels also look very similar, making it easy to become lost unless you keep your own maps and records of where you've been. There is a compass hidden away in 1955 and it will reveal in which sector Marty is current located, but this is not much of a help without your own handwritten map. The constant searching and tedious puzzles make the game exceedingly long, somewhat boring, and overly difficult.
As mentioned above, time travel is a key part of progressing through the game. The DeLorean time machine becomes available once Marty finds the remote control to the car in 1985-A (the remote is technically from the first Back to the Future film and did not behave the way it does in this game). The remote can summon the DeLorean at will, and, providing that Marty has collected enough plutonium symbols for fuel, Marty can travel to the other time periods in the game (once again the plutonium fuel for the car is from the first film as well, not the sequels). A time travel trip from one period to the next costs ten plutonium units, but skipping over a time period (such as moving directly from 1955 to 2015) costs seventeen units.
One thing that the creators did get right is that each time period's levels are virtually the same in each time period. For example, Hill Valley High School is located in the same sector in each time period. The famous clock tower is in the background of one sector, but in 1985-A it is replaced with Biff's casino and hotel. Furthermore, events in 1955 can influence the future, such as if Marty plants a seed in the past, then a climbable tree will exist at that point in the future.
There are a number of enemies in the game that can be stomped on when they stop moving. Beware the evils of walking garbage cans, hats, Spinys (moonlighting from the Koopa Troop, it seems) and a variety of animal pests such as snails, fish, and a dive-bombing bird. The only other human in the game besides Marty is Biff himself, and he exists in each of the time periods (as the same sprite, cheaply enough). Sometimes he tosses rocks, sometimes he paces back and forth, and other times he's riding on a hoverboard. In each case a stomp will defeat him until Marty returns to that sector. Making things more complicated is that the more Marty time travels, the more doubles that will exist in each time period. If Marty encounters his other self and damages him, both Martys will take a hit. Speaking of hits, Marty (the "real" one, not a double) can also only take one hit. He begins with ten lives and can earn more by collecting pizza slices and bottles of soda. There are a number of hidden rooms that only house these goodies. Marty's sole offensive weapons are throwable rocks (that vanish after losing a life) and a hoverboard that can mow down enemies temporarily.
The graphics in this game are some of the worst I've ever seen on the NES. Spirtes lack detail and animation, the level colors are drab green and flat, and the music is monotonous and contains piercing beeps from time to time. Somehow the creators also licensed the Huey Lewis and News song "Back in Time" and a poor rendition of it appears in the game. The play control is sloppy and the different sectors all resemble one another, providing no change of pace during the game. Worst of all is that the game lacks a password or save feature, so the entire game must be completed in one sitting if one wants to win.
After returning the hidden items to their special rooms in the correct time periods the game explains that these actions have defeated Biff Tannen, but now Doc Brown is trapped in 1875 (an error; Doc was actually sent to 1885) and begs Marty to come and rescue him before his presence causes damage to the space-time continuum (this is also wrong, as the Doc forbids Marty from coming to 1885 to rescue him in Back to the Future III). And how does Marty save Doc? By finding the ten hidden objects and returning them to their respective secret room. That's right, the whole madness begins all over again, this time with western items. No additional time travel is involved in this segment of the game, and the western levels feature brown drabness. The Marty sprite is even wearing a little cowboy hat. After completing this set of tasks the game is over. There is a hidden password function that allows players to skip directly to the BTTF III portion of the game. At the game's title screen press Select and the B button which will cause a long string of letters to appear. It's another word scramble puzzle, and the game will load up the western part of the game if you unscramble the letters to read FLUXCAPACITORHASTHEPOWER (flux capacitor has the power).
As horrible as this game is I find myself coming back to it every so often. I don't know why; it's clearly an aggravating and tedious waste of code and yet somehow I'm compelled to try and complete the game. Back in the day I rented it several times and never got very far. I imagine that it is possible to complete the game given enough patience and effort, but I really just don't have that kind of time. "Time", get it? Eh? Eh?