Is Super Back to the Future II the best Back to the Future Game?
Super Back to the Future II is a Super Famicom game that never made it overseas from Japan. Originally released in July 1993, the game retells the story of the second Back to the Future movie in the format of a platformer that’s loaded from top to bottom in colorful chibi graphics.
Now I’ve always been a huge Back to the Future fan, I would watch these movies religiously growing up and have done everything from dress up as Marty McFly for Halloween, to pick up the official novelisation for the second movie, and photoshop my best friend and I into a frame from the third movie, so vividly remember how shocked I was to find out that this game existed. In fact, the original Japanese rom for this game was one of the first things I had ever emulated when I had gotten my first laptop in middle school. I was so excited I was to play this game back then and I couldn’t care less about how it was in Japanese. After all, it was Back to the Future II! I know the trilogy by heart and could practically recite the thing from memory anyway!
But while I remember being excited about playing the game for the first time back in middle school, I actually don’t remember playing the game itself. In fact, the only other thing I know about this game is that I have a reproduction cart for it’s fan made English translationslation.
So does Super Back to the Future II hold up? While a quick scan through YouTube and the internet would have you believe that it’s a fine game that may even be a bit of a hidden gem, I honestly had a rough experience with this one. Now this could be because of the nostalgia and regard I have for the movies themselves placing unfair expectations on this game for me, or it could just be due to the fact that I don’t think the game is particularly well designed. At any rate, it is really interesting though, so let’s dive into things.
Super Back to the Future II was developed by Daft Co Ltd and spans 20 stages, across 6 levels, including boss fights. The game revolves around Marty McFly zipping through stages and avoiding hazards while riding the Mattel Hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II. In between levels, you’re treated to cutscenes that provide a sparknotes glimpse into the plot of the movie. While they’re simple in execution, and leave out a lot of the story from the movie itself, there’s no denying that watching them during my playthrough brought a smile to my face and made me wanna rewatch the trilogy itself. I mean, look at these things; they’re adorable.
For the most part, the level design is relatively uninspired, if not somewhat problematic. It typically switches back and forth between flat or inclined terrain where Marty can pick up some speed on his hoverboard and platforming segments where he’ll need to carefully navigate through. In a lot of ways, the game is actually designed like the classic Sonic games, giving the player areas where he can pick up a lot of speed and zip through obstacles before being forced to slow down and play more cautiously. These open areas even include coins, which are used as currency to buy health and other temporary power ups. While I love some of these open areas and think that zipping around them can be fun, there are a few too many moments where jumping off of a ramp or platform will lead to Marty spending an extremely long time spiraling through the air with nothing to do. This comes in stark contrast to the games more platform heavy sections, which are almost too full of platforms and obstacles to navigate past. These platform challenges also happen to stick out like a sore thumb and ruin any immersion you may have in this game. For example in level 3, section 1, there’s a long shaft that you’re tasked with climbing up. However, instead of disguising this platforming challenge as something that could potentially be a part of the world that the level takes place in, it’s literally just a bunch of platforms that you need to climb. The level doesn’t even designate which of the platforms you’re about to step onto are moving ones, meaning that you’ll need to trial and error your way through the section the first few times you play the game until you’ve memorized the layout. Moments like this are relatively dull, as there’s no inherent challenge here, outside of a few enemies that can fall on top of you. While I’m glad that there isn’t a bottomless pit at the bottom of the shaft, that’s also a bit of an issue in itself as there is literally no penalty for failing this section, other than needing to restart it. Again, I actually like that there isn’t an instant death at the bottom of this segment, but I can’t help but feel like the lack of any real hazard here makes this section, at best, pointless. That actually extends to several other corridors in levels that are similarly tedious. I understand the fact that you need platforming challenges in a platformer, but I can’t help but feel like these segments feel extremely inorganic and take me out of the colorful and playful world that the game has done such a great job of constructing. And this isn’t the only time that this happens in the game, there are multiple instances where very “gamey” obstacles are presented that make little to no sense for existing in the first place. While one does need to suspend their disbelief when they’re playing a video game, seeing sharp, mega man esque spikes in the middle of a cemetery or casino is still pretty jarring, especially when they’re thrown all over the place and slow the game down to a crawl. It’s actually really jarring too, because so much of this game seems like it’s trying to encourage me to try and clear the stages as fast as I possibly can, while also forcing me to constantly stop and wait for platforms or hazards to move. I guess it’s a bit like Marble Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog in that regard.
One thing I do need to compliment here is the game’s art style though, as it’s the best thing on display here by far. Everything is portrayed with a really likeable and cute edge; even when you’re facing up against drunks and gang members in the Alternate 1985 stage, it’s kinda hard not to find their designs charming. The games sprites are all well detailed and appropriately playful — you really wouldn’t expect 16-bit kawaii art to fit Back to the Future as well as it does, but it really works here. The only problem I have with this games graphics is that, by featuring larger and more detailed sprites than what you may find in your typical platformer, the game runs into the sort of screen crunch issues you might find in stuff like the Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Game Gear. There’s no denying that this game is pretty to look at, but I can’t help but feel like the sprite sizes in this game hinder the gameplay at the same time. The game’s backgrounds are also well designed, though they don’t seem to have much, or any, parallax scrolling in them. It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of the word, as they’re incredibly detailed for the Super Famicom, but they definitely feel a little flat.
As for the games’ sound… it’s awesome. Daft Co managed to snag the rights to the Back to the Future theme and it’s two variations in the games’ soundtrack are amazing. I’m particularly fond of the second arrangement for the games second level, even if it’s on the short side. There’s something about the playful whistle sound effects in it that just gets me, you gotta hear this.
The games original music also isn’t that bad, and neither are it’s sound effects. At the very least, everything lines up pretty well with the games visual presentation, which means that the weaker tracks in the soundtrack’s biggest offense is that they just aren’t as catchy as the Back to the Future theme.
But, once we get the games music and graphics out of the way, there’s only one thing left to talk about — the gameplay. And unfortunately, that’s where this game loses me. I’ve already mentioned that the level design and layouts are a bit on the uninspired side, and while I can overlook that for a lot of games, I just wasn’t able to do that here. And I couldn’t do that because of two very important things in the game, it’s controls and it’s performance.
The controls are fairly standard. You can control Marty by hitting left and right on your D-Pad, and you can get him to jump and dash with the Y/A and B buttons respectively. While it’s a little weird having to jump with the Y/A buttons at first, given this is a Super Famicom game and that 16-bit games usually mapped that to the B button, that’s hardly the start of it, and is something that you can get used to pretty easily. The main problem with the controls is how Marty himself handles. While moving from left to right is controlled with the D-Pad, I never feel that confident that Marty is going to move the way I’m trying to get him to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this games sense of physics and momentum feel off. It kinda feels like my inputs either aren’t being read properly, or as if I were streaming the game over the internet and don’t have a solid connection. The same also applies to the games jumping and, honestly, it’s general performance when there are multiple moving assets on the screen. I mean, there are moments when this game chugs, and it totally pulls me out of the game.
Take for example this segment where I’m expected to hop from car to car in Future Hill Valley. I see the cars, I know their pattern, but the games controls and framerate tank and make this segment harder than it needs to be. And that shaft I mentioned in Level 3 Section 1, that segment is so monotonous due to how hard it is to get Marty to either start or stop moving on such small platforms. It isn’t helped that you can clip through them, seemingly at random, and that there are enemies on the top of the shaft waiting to drop you all the way to the bottom.
And it’s a shame too, because I’m convinced there’s a decent enough game behind these issues. The games’ presentation shows that it had so much potential, but I can’t look past those issues because of how it impacts my experience of actually playing through it.
The game itself is seemingly designed for pretty quick and stylish gameplay, again sorta like Sonic. For example, the game really likes to line enemies up in a row so that you can bounce from enemy to enemy, using the inertia of your previous hit to keep moving you forward. In theory, that’s awesome; you can tell that they may have been inspired by Bonk’s Adventure for the PC Engine and how you can similarly string along combos in that game. But again, it’s hard to actually enjoy stuff like that, due to how the games performance issues ramp up the difficulty.
And, if it weren’t for these issues, this game honestly wouldn’t be that hard. While it doesn’t have checkpoints and it does feature gameovers, each level has an easy to remember password, and you can set the game to start with five lives. You also get three hits before you lose a life and you can pick up health in vending machines if you have enough coins. But that unfortunately isn’t enough to offset the games very artificial difficulty problem; if anything, it feels like trying to put a bandaid on a broken arm. If you decide to give this game a shot, I highly recommend playing this game on an emulator that supports overclocking your game for improved performance. I was initially playing this game on OpenEmu from my Macbook and, after switching over to an overclocked Snes9x core on RetroArc, found that the game ran much better. It certainly doesn’t fix this game, as it’s issues extend to the controls and level design as a whole, but it does improve the experience by a noticeable amount.
So is Super Back to the Future II the best Back to the Future game?
While this may have been the best option gamers had for over 20 years, TellTale’s take on the franchise was a much truer to the film experience and provided fans with the opportunity to go on a new journey through Hill Valley. Super Back to the Future II, on the other hand, is a barebones and undercooked, dare-I-say-raw platformer that does a fine-enough job of recapping the second movie, but fails to actually be worth playing. For what it’s worth though, I don’t hate this game. I actually think it was pretty ambitious and creative for what it did with the Back to the Future property. Like I said earlier, I loved the games large detailed sprites, and I also loved it’s playful and solid soundtrack. The game itself was just a bit too underdesigned and unoptimized for me, which is a shame. This game feels like it was begging to be on different, more optimized hardware. And that makes me wonder whether this game would’ve benefited from something like the SuperFX chip or appearing on something like the 32x or Genesis, what with it having a faster processor than a stock SNES. At any rate, outside of emulation, I can’t really say I’d recommend this one to fans of the series. It may have been the best Back to the Future game we had back in the day, but this game has aged terribly due to it’s performance issues. I am kinda happy that I own a repro of it’s english patch though, I guess. At the very least,it looks nice on my shelf…