I remember two significant philosophical “shifts” in my childhood, two moments when the me that I am now sort of came into being as my childish mind digivolved into something more aware of the world at large. The first such event was an odd moment when I acknowledged that my life had meaning, and I had a positive effect on other people’s lives. I determined that, yes, the world is a better place because Goggle Bob is in it. And, oh yeah, this moment occurred because of The Legend of Zelda. But that’s a story for another day.
The other significant philosophical moment I can recall from my childhood is the exact moment I was able to grok the concept of life, death, and aging. Sure, I’m a child now, but in the future I won’t be… I’ll be the same age as Dad some day! Won’t that be weird? Will I have kids? A house? A beard?
And do I even have to explain that this event occurred as a direct result of watching Back to the Future 2?
In a lot of ways, Back to the Future 2 may have been the single most important movie of my childhood. Aside from the realization that one day it would be 2015 and I’d be closer to “Old Man Marty” than “Rad Future Teenager Marty”, it is also the film that sparked my imagination regarding all things “future”, whether that include hoverboards, weather control, or advertising so invasive you feel like chum. Also, it was likely the movie that cemented in my mind that pastel and neon were colors that meant good times and the future, which may or may not have impacted my design sense going forward. If you’ve been reading the site without taking recommended twenty minute breaks, please tell your optometrist that it’s BTTF2’s fault you need new retinas. Also, remind your optometrist that your eyeballs can be repaired with freaking laserbeams, because we’re living in the future, baby.
Obviously, that’s why you’re reading this post. Attention people from a future that not even Doc Brown could envision: this essay was posted on October 21, 2015, the same date Marty landed in future Hill Valley, and rescued his son from almost certain legal hassles. Decades ago, I sat happily on my living room floor and envisioned the fabulous future of 2015, and now, here I am “posting” on the “internet” with my “personal computer” about a “video game” “from” 1990 that “sucks”.
Sorry to say, but as integral as the film Back to the Future 2 was to my younger self, the video game adaption would have worked better as Mr. Fusion fodder. Luckily for lil’ Goggle Bob, I never played Back to the Future Part 2 & 3 for the NES when I was an impressionable age, but I had played Back to the Future (1) for the NES extensively, so I already knew BTTF games were to be avoided at all costs. Approximately a decade later, my memory failed me as I discovered the game at some pawn shop, and anxiously dropped a Lincoln on this relic of futures past. I’m pretty sure I rushed home, earnestly shoved the game into my NES… removed it, blew on it a few dozen times… and then was amazed to find Marty McFly leaping over… a spiny?
There’s the tiniest sliver of a good game in Back to the Future Part 2 & 3. The way the game uses the source material of Back to the Future 2’s already video gamey third act is fairly inventive: instead of adapting Marty’s final grab for the future almanac into some kind of 1955 Solid Snake sneaking mission, the plot has been remixed into a scavenger hunt across three epochs, as Biff (one of the versions… or maybe all of them?) has (somehow) spread the almanac’s pieces across time. So Marty hops in that flying car and speeds along from “Bad Present” 1985 to 2015 and back to 1955 to grab up the torn pieces of a magazine so he can reassemble them to destroy the book in a totally different way (with fire!). The game does make a fine show of differentiating the three time periods with landmarks that are being built in the past or falling into decay in the future, and there’s the old time travel trope of planting a seed in the past to climb the beanstalk it will grow into in a few years. Ocarina of Time has nothing on LJN licensed trash. And the monsters change throughout time, too, from spinies to donkey kongs.
Oh, there’s that spiny thing again. Yes, this is the main problem with BTTF2&3: it’s a video game. The record will show that I’m all for weirdness in my games, but you really don’t need to invent a bunch of new enemies to intimidate Marty when Biff has a host of unique gang members throughout history that, incidentally, have access to future tech and all the weaponry that entails. And it’s not like the game is shy about that, as Marty will be mowed down by the occasional hoverboarder whether it’s 2015 or 1955. But aside from those future punks and the occasional errant… security guard?… crooked cop?… “some guy with a projectile attack and a uniform”, the rest of the enemy onslaught runs the gamut from outright theft (seriously, the first enemy you encounter will be a spiny), to dismally unimaginative (toads? Where we’re going, we don’t need toads), to positively surreal (is… is that a floating camera?). The more bizarre enemies are basically the biggest problem, as a hovering camera or a divebombing bird that appears to have its own theme song seem like items that should be a little different from the standard “everything is hostile” video game credo, but, nope, every animated thing is just another gateway to another Marty death.
Wait, no, the absolute largest problem is the actual collecting aspect of the adventure. Remember how you have to find all the pieces of Gray’s Sports Almanac? Well, each piece is a multiple step process. Step one: find a key by destroying a random enemy. Step two, use that key on an arbitrary door, and enter a surrealist nightmare, like so:
Marty, you’ve got to collect all the clocks from rotating teddy bears while leaping across a black void that will swallow you whole. There’s another stage that involves adeptly sinking through quicksand, and another that features a pair of pipes and nabbing innumerable burgers. I guess these challenges were based on deleted scenes?
But the fun doesn’t stop there! You won’t get an almanac piece until you then ferry whatever mundane object you won over to yet another hidden passage that presents you with a challenge like this:
See, now the goal is to rearrange a chance collection of letters into the name of an object you may or may not have already collected. If you have the object, hooray, present it for a free almanac piece. If you don’t have the bauble, hopefully your mapping skills are phenomenal, because you’ll want to remember this exact secret location an hour later when you finally grab that one knickknack. Oh, and if you don’t feel like rearranging the letters and guess wrong at whatever the game is asking for? Well, then you lose the item you presented, and have to go back and play with the teddy bears again to reobtain it. Hope you remember where that random door was!
I’m exhausted just typing out that process, and you only have to repeat it thirty times! And there’s no saves or password system! If you meet someone who claims they beat this game on the NES, you’re talking to a liar!
Back to the Future 2 & 3 is a wholly unworthy successor to its namesake. This should be the part where I lament my lot in life, and elaborate that I never could have envisioned a future where a robot commands me to play lousy video games for other’s amusement. But you know what? Dystopian ROB aside, the future is pretty great. The zombies have been held at bay, John Connor kept the (majority of) evil robots down, and we’re a decade past that whole Unicron debacle. The future really is like Marty’s October 21st, 2015, complete with terrible fashion and a dinner table full of kids who can’t take their eyes off some flickering screen. Dear 1990 Goggle Bob, the future is just as great as you’ve imagined, and don’t worry, no one ever made you grow a beard. You should enjoy the present while it lasts, but there’s always a better future ahead of you.
Just stay away from licensed games.
FGC #52 Back to the Future 2 & 3
- System: The Nintendo Entertainment System was the only carrier for this blight.
- Number of Players: One Marty alone, on a mission to save all of time from a rich bully.
- Want to even talk about the “& 3” Portion? Not really. It’s basically the same nonsense as the the “2” portion, but with an Old West theme and absolutely no time traveling. That makes this portion of the game “easier”, but they also forgot to include any worthwhile landmarks, so you’re basically lost in the desert forever. Also, Marty is no longer transported by a flying DeLorean, but a lone vulture. This portion of the game is just as difficult, platforming wise, as Part 2, though, so expect there to be an Eastwood headstone somewhere around Hill Valley.
- How long did it take you to figure out that the phrase “But you better promise me, I’ll be back in time” from Huey Lewis’s perennial Back in Time song was referring to the concept of time travel as well as the mundane notion of returning to a location “in time”? …. Oh. Huh. Bullet Point Questions, you complete me.
- So, big Back to the Future fan? I’m moderately certain I’ve been subconsciously dressing like Marty McFly Jr. for years.
- Did you know? Okay, so apparently those insane “collect everything” rooms were lifted directly from the Commodore 64 game Big Mac the Mad Maintenance Man, which had been released five years prior. Sadly, the game has nothing to do with McDonalds or Mac and Me (which was released in ’88, incidentally). Additional sadness: this does nothing to explain the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
- Would I play again? No. Not ever. I’ll watch Back to the Future 2 over and over and over again, or any of the movies from that trilogy, but playing this drivel again? Never. The whole thing makes me want to make like a tree and get out of here.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokemon Emerald Version for the Gameboy Advance. I suppose I have no choice but to catch ‘em all. Please look forward to it!