As far as movies go the Back to the Future films would rank as one of my favourite (if not my favourite) trilogy of all time. The same cannot however be said for the video games based off the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Even though I am a veteran gamer who should know better than to play movie licensed games (90% of movie games tend to suck) I have ended up playing numerous Back to the Future games on a number of systems including the Amstrad CPC, NES and Sega Master System. They have all been pretty awful.
Do any good Back to the Future games exist? Well I’ve heard that Back to the Future 2 on the Super Nintendo is decent. It has a chibi (cute art style with big headed characters) Marty going around platform levels using his hover board. Alas I have never played it as the game only appeared in Japan. Telltale games also released a Back to the Future adventure game, which sounds promising, although I have yet to play it. Time will tell (no pun intended) if it lives up to the movies or ends up being another failure like Back to the Future 3, which I am reviewing today.
The Back to the Future 3 video game has appeared on several consoles and home computers, but the one I am covering is the Megadrive version. I would assume with it’s 16 bit power that this version would be the best of the lot, which is rather worrying as I cannot stand this game. Graphically it’s alright, with the visuals being of the standard you would expect from a Megadrive game of the time. The sound effects and music are however uninspired. Nothing special, just what you would expect and forgettable. Not terrible aside from the Back to the Future theme when the game starts, which is almost unrecognisable due to the poor audio quality. The game play varies wildly from level to level so I will tackle each stage separately.
For most of the game you control Marty which is to be expected as he is the film’s main star, but for this opening stage players get to control Doc Brown. This side scrolling horseback level has you chasing after Clara the school teacher and his love interest in the film. She is stuck on a runaway carriage so it is up to the Doc to reach her before the stagecoach reaches the end of the ravine and plummets into a billion pieces.
Doc’s horse moves forward automatically so all you have to worry about is avoiding the obstacles that get in his way. It feels like all of the Wild West is hell bent on stopping the couple from meeting. Aside from stray crates, which you have to jump over, there are bouncing boulders to duck under, (who is throwing these things and why do they bounce rather than smash when they hit the ground) pitfalls to leap over, crows that hit you so hard that you fall off your horse along with Indian tomahawks and hostile cowboys who will shoot you if they get too close.
To fend off these dangers you can shoot forward, backwards, crouch and jump. Sounds simple, but it really isn’t as you don’t get enough time to react to each danger. A boulder appears on screen and one second later you get hit and fall off your horse. After getting hit a few times it’s game over and you have to start over from the very beginning which is most frustrating. As you need superman like reflexes to counter the obstacles, your only hopes of success are to memorize what is coming so you can time the exact moment you have to press a button.
I have to say that I am not a fan of this type of game design. When it comes to gaming I want something that tests your skill or requires brain power to succeed. This on the other hand is just a case of learning the layout of the level, which involves many game overs. A challenge is okay if the game play is fun as it drives you to get better. Something like this however feels like punishment so I suspect that only the most determined of players will plug away long enough to reach the next level. On the plus side some of the captions that appear when you get a game over are amusing (in one of them Clara falls off the cliff screaming “I wish I was Mary Poppins!”
This is probably the best level in the entire game, although that isn’t saying much. It takes place during the Town Festival when Marty has a go playing a shooting game on the target practice stall. To progress you have to accumulate enough points by hitting various pop up targets of ducks and gunmen. You use the d-pad to aim left/right and up/down to adjust the height of your crosshairs. It’s not frustrating, unlike the other levels, but very basic as far as shooting games go. The level plays like something you would expect from a free downloadable game as opposed to a full price title based off a successful movie franchise.
Marty is outside the Saloon taking on Mad Dog Tannen’s gang armed with a bunch of plates. Periodically Tannen’s men come out of the cover they are hiding behind to shoot at McFly. Whilst they are exposed you are expected to hit the henchmen with the makeshift Frisbees. By moving left and right you can dodge bullets, but if you get hit don’t worry as you can survive some shots thanks to Marty’s bullet proof vest. In terms of ammo you have a finite number of plates to toss, but if you run out it’s possible to walk up to a nearby table to get some more.
I’m not really sure why a gang of outlaws is taking cover against a wimp with some plates. Surely they can just rush him and kick his ass faster than saying “Family Ties – sit Bubu, sit good dog.” I guess that wouldn’t make for an interesting level, but what we get is pretty tedious too. The main problem with this level is that hitting anything with the plates feels like a nigh on impossible task. Overall this might be the easiest level in the game if it were at all possible to aim the plates accurately. Most players will probably get bored and turn off the console at this point, but for the masochists out there we have a final stage to endure…
Can Marty return to his own time? It all depends on the skill of the player. Marty starts at the end of a train that is pushing the DeLorean time machine. He needs to get to the front of the locomotive to reach the car, which isn’t an easy task as once again numerous random perils are determined to halt his progress. There are knife wielding train robbers and wrench throwing train engineers to contend with. Thankfully Marty still has the throwing plates from the last level at hand which can be used to dispatch the nasties.
Along the way you have to grab canisters which are used for heating up the train’s boiler. If the boiler doesn’t reach a high enough temperature the train won’t build up enough thrust to push the Delorean to the speed necessary for time travel. Accomplishing this is no easy task as you have a strict time limit to adhere to. You cannot die in this level, but if you get knocked off the train by an enemy or stray telephone pole you lose valuable seconds getting back on.
This side scrolling finale was less frustrating than the first level as you have full control of your character’s movement. Instead of riding forward automatically you walk at your own pace so it is easier to deal with the enemies. You can also pick how to contend with the oncoming dangers. It’s possible to trade blows with foes or avoid them completely, depending on their position, by rolling under their feet. The problem is that the level just isn’t fun and the unforgiving time limit doesn’t help matters. A disappointing end to what is a disappointing game.
Well it goes without saying that I do not recommend this game. It is horrible and one to avoid. Unless you are a diehard video game collector who buys stuff to boost the size of their library, irrespective of the title’s quality, there is no reason for tracking down a copy of Back to the Future 3. Like a lot of older games based off movies there is no structure to it. You get a few lame mini games recreating scenes from the film and that is it. That would have been okay if the mini games were any good, but they were all below average at best (I could only stomach level two and even that level wasn’t exactly exciting.)
If I think about it, this game is terrible value for money. You only get four short levels, but despite the lack of content the majority of players giving it a go are unlikely to get through it all. The short length is disguised by unfair difficulty and frustration. Most people will give up after ten minutes of the first level. I myself only managed to tackle the latter stages by using a cheat code (pause the game, hold down A and press up, down, left right to skip to the next level.) This game will make you wish that time travel was possible… but only so you can go back to the past and warn yourself not to play it in the first place!
FINAL RATING: ONE STAR