Game Review: Back to the Future Part II


You’ve probably seen Back to the Future mentioned on the internet quite a bit of late, and as I had a few minutes to spare after rewatching Jaws 18 in readiness for the sequel, I fired up my hover-converted Spectrum in an effort to find out who this Scott person is, and what’s so Great about him.

The Facts

Back to the Future Part II was released by Image Works in 1990 as a tie-in with the movie of the same name; as is the nature of movie tie-in games, it has a somewhat tenuous link to the film. It will work just as well on 48k and 128k machines; but it’s a big game, requiring several multi-loads even on a 128k Spectrum. For this review I have been mostly playing on my 128k Spectrum +2.

The Game

What we have here is effectively five mini-games, ostensibly set in the various time zones used in the film – the present day (1985), the temporal nexus of 1955, and the incredibly futuristic October 2015 – each representing a key scene from the movie.

Level 1 is a hoverboard chase through Hill Valley – and I’m here to tell you that hoverboarding is not as easy as it looks, especially while having a fight with some 21st century goon or trying to avoid Old Biff (who will take you down with that cane of his if you get close enough).

Along the way you can pick up plutonium and other random goodies to replenish some of the energy you lose trying to fight off Griff and his minions. It’s kind of a variation on the Paperboy theme, only with a hoverboard instead of a BMX, and punching bad guys instead of delivering papers. And you thought Back to the Future was a wholesome family movie!

It’s a single long level but with a few save points along the way, so after a bit of practice you reach the courthouse, get Griff arrested, save Marty Junior and move on to level two…
Which I found immensely confusing; in theory it’s a puzzle game based (loosely) on some kind of automatic door system the film-makers think homes might have in 2015. You have to figure out how to open these doors in combination in order to lead Jennifer safely out of the house without meeting her future family, all the while battling the colour clash which makes it nigh on impossible to even see the characters at times, never mind figuring out which is which. Colourful, but mind-bending (and not always in a good way)!

Level three sees us safely back in 1985 – but it’s gone wrong! We’re in an alternate timeline where Hill Valley has become the set of a pants beat-‘em-up, and the only way to fix it is to mash keys wildly whenever someone approaches and hope you manage to, well, beat ‘em up.

Seriously, I know Marty never really got violent in the films, but this level could have done with some decent combat moves. On the plus side, the background music is nicely atmospheric, the graphics are nice, and I’m pretty sure I recognised the alternate Strickland, which is impressive. Also, the bad guys’ bullets seem to pass right through Marty, just as if he isn’t there – which he won’t be if he doesn’t get back to 1955 and sort this mess out!

level5Which is of course done by means of a sliding block type puzzle game in level 4. It’s colourful, animated, and accompanied by a jolly little tune that may or may not have been Johnny B. Goode; a good little game if you like that sort of thing, and a break from the action sequences either way.

But level 5 gets straight back into it, with another hoverboard chase through Hill Valley, this time with 1955 style set dressing. And it seems like even more bad guys out to beat you up, which makes the whole thing a little too long and difficult for my liking – I wish I could figure out how to get a tow from a passing car!

Sound & Vision

The artwork throughout is very good, with recognisable landmarks like the Texaco star and Café 80s in level one, the Lyon Estates lyons in level three, and some nice old-timey cars in level five. Scrolling on the hoverboard levels is smooth and features a few nice little animations like Marty’s foot pushing off as he hoverboards along, and the recognisably hunched figure of Old Biff.

The 128k version makes good use of the enhanced sound capabilities, with a rather good rendition of the main theme accompanying level one and a variety of other suitable tunes throughout the game.bttf

Retro Appeal

The game does make some effort to follow the plot of the film – no small feat for the film concerned – which definitely adds to the retro appeal.

Back to the Future Part II is not a bad game overall, if you can get your brain around the puzzle sections. If I had a time machine though, I’d go back and ask them to do something better with alternate 1985 than that awful beat-‘em-up level…

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