Retro Review: The Death and Return of Superman (SNES) – NichePlays

Before superhero games allowed you to fairly accurately recreate your commute to your old job in NYC, they allowed you to experience a sparknotes version of one of the most controversial comic book stories of all time.

Ya know, the death of a Superman.

Released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo, The Death and Return of Superman is a single player beat em up that recounts the 90’s DC comic of Superman’s infamous battle with Doomsday, his apparent death/resurrection, and how he grew a killer mullet in the process.

It was developed by Blizzard, of Warcraft fame, and was published by Sunsoft, who had previously published several other licensed games involving properties such as Batman, Superman, and The Looney Tunes, among many others. Around a year after it’s release on the SNES, The Death and Return of Superman was also released on the Sega Genesis and was ostensibly the same game, albeit slightly rougher around the edges, with a smaller color palette, and with what looks like a slightly higher resolution.

Now I’ve always been a bit of a Superman fan; I grew up watching Superman: The Animated Series, the revolutionary Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940s, and I’m also a fan of his various live action film and television incarnations, especially 1977’s Richard Donner’s Superman movie and it’s various sequels. He’s probably my favorite DC superhero and Christopher Reeve’s incarnation of the character is the first thing I think of when I think of superheroes.

So you could say that I actually had some pretty high hopes for this one and was pretty excited to get to play it, especially because the only standalone Superman game I’ve properly played before this one is Superman 64.

And while that sounds like a relatively low bar for this game to clear, I’m gonna be honest with you and say that it isn’t because I kinda like Superman 64. Granted, that’s mostly for nostalgia sake and for the kind of reasons why someone might love a movie that’s played on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 though.

But, is The Death and Return of Superman worth playing? Because, at the risk of spoiling my own review, The Death and Return of Superman is a perfectly fine and playable game, but that doesn’t always necessarily lend itself towards being memorable or even worth a cursory glance.

Gameplay

The Death and Return of Superman takes place across 10 levels, which are traversed by one of five playable supermen, mirroring how several heroes appeared after Superman’s death to try and replace him. These characters are Superman, Superboy, a clone of Clark Kent, Cyborg Superman, who claims to be exactly who his name implies he is and unsurprisingly isn’t, The Last Son of Krypton, who’s also known as The Eradicator, and Steel, who’s ostensibly a Superman version of Iron Man.

Each of them play about the same, with there potentially being some differences between them in terms of their speed and damage, but nothing particularly noticeable outside of them having different special attacks, and the fact that Steel has the most range out of all of them due to his hammer. From there, it’s pretty standard, if not fairly simple, beat em up fare, with the occasional schmup-style level getting tossed into the mix to break up the action. It’s par-for-the-course, but feels pretty good in practice, in part due to the fact that, despite being functionally similar, each of the characters have different animations for their various attacks. Basically, you just go from left to right and mow down hordes of enemies that range from robots, to some demon looking guys, other Supermen, Superman 3 style, and gang members. Normal, non-super, gang members. Against freaking Superman.

Some of the levels also feature hazards that you’re supposed to avoid, such as land mines, falling debris, or a wrecking ball. What’s nice about these hazards is that you can actually use them against some of the game’s bosses, which honestly comes in handy due to how simple the combat feels.

Let’s just get something right out of the way, Streets of Rage, this is not. While that series offers tons of fun and unique combos for each of its characters and gives you an incentive to want to play as one character over another, The Death and Return of Superman makes no attempts to diversify its action out of their special attacks and a few different throws each of the different characters have. The most you get out of this game is the ability to fly at will, which makes disposing of some enemies in the later levels a bit easier, however even that mechanic doesn’t really feel fleshed out.

For most of the game though, you’ll be using the same basic punch combo or grabs on enemies. This wouldn’t really be much of a problem though, if the bosses weren’t so unnecessarily difficult. And the worst part here is that their difficulty isn’t really tied to any fair metric of challenge, either, as they usually do little more than stand over you and spam a standard attack. Instead, their difficulty stems from how easy it is to get you stunlocked due to the lack of invincibility frames in the game. Which is kinda weird when you think about it, seeing as one of Superman’s most well known powers is the superhero equivalent to having a ton of invincibility frames. It really isn’t even a problem outside of the boss battles either, as none of the other enemies in the game even begin to act as aggressively towards you as the bosses do.

For most of the boss battles in this game, all you can really do is brace yourself and spam punches or your special attacks and hope you can make contact with your opponent before he can hit you first.

As far as the difficulty level goes though, The Death and Return of Superman is actually a pretty hard game. Enemies are never that much of a challenge to take down, even in packs, but the games levels tend to drag a bit, which can lead to your lives getting whittled down and you getting a game over just before, or during, one of the boss battles.

While this is somewhat to be expected from the genre, it hardly makes for fair or engaging game design, and leads to the game taking a lot longer to beat than it should. I kid you not, I think I could’ve beaten this game in a third of the time it actually took me had the game just been a bit more liberal with the extra lives and had the game been just a bit easier.

Along your journey, you can recover your health and special attacks by collecting different colored Superman crests scattered throughout each of the stages. Superman’s classic red and yellow crest refills your special attacks, while a blue one lets you regain some of your health. You can also get an extra life through the ever-so-well-labelled 1-up pickup, and each of these can be found either in a part of the stage itself, or hidden behind some of the environment that you can throw enemies into. 

In fact, by the end of the game, I actually found myself throwing enemies against the wall of every area I could, because of how badly I needed those extra resources. The game’s design feels like a total war of attrition because of how many enemies it likes to throw at you towards the end of it. You’re expected to go through several screens that have multiple waves of enemies to take on with only a few health pickups along the way and, frankly, it’s fairly demoralizing. If it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to review this game, I likely would’ve turned it off because of that reason alone. Like, yeah, Cyborg Superman’s gone berserk and is gonna destroy the- yada yada yada. There’s a literal Brady Bunch intro of other Super-people out there, ask one of them to figure it out. I’m tired of constantly needing to fight this megolomaniac-Terminator-wannabe and I need a vacation from it all. I don’t have anything against hard games or games with long levels, but after a while I just felt like the game wasn’t doing enough to keep me engaged.

I should probably take a step back here and clarify though since it might sound like I didn’t enjoy this game. I actually did, and had a pretty good time playing it; it’s just that I think that there are some issues with the game that prevent me from having as good a time as I could with it otherwise. For example, even though it’s also a convention found in multiple other beat em ups, the inability to sprint here really slows down the action. As opposed to being able to quickly dart from one side of the screen to the other and, you know, feel powerful as you clothesline an enemy or something, we’re instead stuck doing this smug walk that looks like it’s straight out of The Office.

Likewise, while there are also really fun schmup-style levels in the game, I only remember one of them having a boss battle in it, which even then was fairly lackluster. And that’s a shame because these levels are genuinely a lot of fun and do a good job of breaking up the main style of gameplay, so despite the fact that half the boss battles in this game are already with Cyborg Superman, I actually would’ve loved to see a boss battle or level that revolved around chasing and battling with him in the sky.

Visuals/Presentation

When it comes to visuals and presentation, The Death and Return of Superman receives relatively solid marks, despite some obvious room for improvement. What’s on display here is all quite well done and clearly represents what it needs to, but also feels a little plain for my liking. The game’s color palette features a number of different shades and tones for detail, as well as some dithering here and there to get even more mileage out of the hardware, but stops short of being what I’d consider to be “vibrant.” While this was probably an artistic decision to bring the game more in line with the colors used in your average Superman comic or to make it look a little more realistic, it doesn’t particularly work for me and comes across as being a little dull. There also isn’t much, if any, use of some of the Super Nintendo’s sprite rotation and scaling effects which feels like a missed opportunity. 

However, the in-game sprites and environments are all fairly detailed and are easy to decipher. Each of the Supermen also have well designed sprites and different animations, which helps give them some defining characteristics. It also certainly helps that each of these characters were well designed in their source material to begin with too, as they all unmistakably look somewhat like Superman, but also look like their own characters at the same time. Except for Steel, due to him being a man in a mechanical suit that looks nothing like Superman, and for Cyborg Superman because he’s a straight up imposter. 


Anyway, I’m also a fan of the cutscenes in the game that play between each level. While they obviously compress the events of the Death of Superman  and the subsequent Reign of the Supermen story arcs from the comics, they do a good job of keeping the player in the loop about what’s happening and are pretty detailed from an art point of view. I can’t give them too much credit though as the character portraits for each of the characters get recycled multiple times, which cheapens their effect a bit. On some level, I think going with in-game cutscenes with text boxes similar to how RPG’s handle things would’ve worked better here, but whatever.

Overall, The Death and Return of Superman’s visuals get the job done. While they don’t do much that I’d consider out and out impressive, the game clearly illustrates its environment and characters and the inclusion of cutscenes between each level is appreciated. I know I said I’d have preferred for the game to be more colorful and stuff, but that’s just honestly just my preference for how I like my depictions of Superman to begin with, so it hardly factors into my thoughts on what’s objectively on display here. 

Music/Sound

And the same goes for the games music, which is mostly solid if not a little bland. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the music of The Death and Return of Superman by any stretch of the word, it’s just not the best superhero soundtrack on the console. In fact, it actually sounds more like something you’d hear on the Sega Genesis, if I’m being honest. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but something about the specific soundfont and the different tones being used in the game just feels like it fits in better with the Genesis’ typically grungier sound palette.

While the music lacks some of the Superman punchiness that one might expect thanks to the Christopher Reeve movies and some of the other popular media for the character, what’s available here is appropriate for the visuals, gets the job done, and definitely works. It’s not the games fault that it’s adapting a darker story in the Superman saga to begin with and that the bright and triumphant John Williams’ Superman fanfare is so synonymous with the character. Plus what’s available here is good, even if it doesn’t do a particularly great job of conjuring images of the Man of Steel. It just would’ve been cool to hear the characters iconic fanfare, or potentially even cooler to give each of the different Supermen a theme that tried to feel like royalty free knockoffs of the song. That actually would’ve been pretty fun in execution, I think, seeing as each of the Supermen in the game were ostensibly the RC Cola version of Superman to begin with. 

Closing

So does The Death and Return of Superman hold up? While it might sound like I didn’t like this game and don’t consider it worth anybody’s time, I actually totally recommend it! There may be a number of better 16-bit entries in the genre, but I still think that this is a fun, relatively short, game and honestly holds up as one of the best Superman titles to date. It’s got detailed graphics, a decent soundtrack, and a seemingly endless horde of enemies that are mostly Cyborg Superman for you to take down. And despite the fact that the game has its fair share of things I would’ve preferred were done a bit differently, what’s on display here is all solid and a lot of fun to play through.

Is it the best Superman game I’ve ever played? Probably, but like I said earlier, I have a weird relationship with Superman 64 that I might have to cover in a future video. What I can say though is that this game is absolutely worth a look, even if a loose copy can go for a bit more than I think it’s personally worth. Still, if you’re a Superman fan, you can’t go wrong with picking this one up for your Super Nintendo.


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Opinion: No, Earthbound hasn’t been added to Nintendo Switch Online yet. Yes, the world will continue to turn.

Nintendo recently announced the latest slate of free NES and SNES games to come to Nintendo Switch Online, the company’s online subscription service, which include games such as Joe and Mac, Magical Drop II (which looks especially fun), and Spanky’s Question. And, quite naturally/to nobody’s surprise, this led to Earthbound (also known as Mother 2 in Japan) trending on Twitter. As usual.

It feels like Earthbound trends on Twitter at least once a month, either due to fans clamoring for Mother 3 to finally get localized, or due to fans begging Nintendo to at least make the game available on the Nintendo Switch. And, while I can’t blame fans for wanting these games to be made accessible on what could easily become Nintendo’s best selling console of all time, I honestly am starting to feel oddly exhausted by their constant requests.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would love to play Earthbound on the Switch. Part of what’s keeping me from picking it up for my Wii U or simply emulating it is the prospect of being able to play it on handheld mode/on my TV at a moments notice. But there’s something about the way people online react to any new NSO games that simply bums me out.

Taking a look at Nintendo’s YouTube upload that announces these new games, you can see that (approximately 12 hours after it’s been posted), the video has already received more dislikes than likes on it. And while I’m perfectly fine with people speaking their mind about these new releases and (especially as a person whose day job is in tech) think that’s is actually really important that we tell companies how we feel about their product decisions, I also can’t help but roll my eyes at how many of the negative comments on this video/Nintendo’s tweets about the new games are squarely about Earthbound.

Nintendo fans have long been passionate about the company’s IPs. After all, Nintendo has played a huge part in the history of gaming and has, for the most part, remained one of the first things people associate with the industry. But something about the discourse that comes to a boil whenever Nintendo does anything for NSO that isn’t releasing Earthbound for SNES online feels entitled at best, and kinda toxic at worst. It often feels like, anytime someone tries to defend Nintendo’s decision not to re-release the game, they’re often ratio’d in the comments and are repeatedly and, at least a little ironically, referred to as “Nintendrones” that blindly love anything the company does.

I get being passionate about Earthbound and wanting to make sure Nintendo does right by the series, but something about how that’s actually been going in practice just rubs me the wrong way. As I mentioned earlier, I’d actually love to see Earthbound make its way to the Nintendo Switch, either through Nintendo Switch Online or even through a “definitive” rerelease on the eShop that adds a few quality of life improvements and such. It’s one of their seminal games and, poor sales history aside, deserves the same attention that some of Nintendo’s other franchises gets. Point blank, that’s not really up for debate. It’s just that so much of the vitriol that seeps into the Nintendo-fandom anytime Nintendo doesn’t re-release the game comes across as childish and lessens the impact of the genuinely well articulated conversation online about how much people would love to play the game on their Switches.

On top of that, Earthbound isn’t even the the only seminal/iconic game to go without a much-needed re-release. Take Sonic 3 & Knuckles for instance; that game has gone without a meaningful rerelease in what has to be at least 10 years now, due to licensing issues over it’s music. Despite arguably being the best Sonic game and being one of the hallmark/best selling/most important releases on the Sega Genesis, it’s basically been ignored by Sega on any of their recent compilations or mini-consoles. In fact, Sega has only just seemingly gotten their act together about rereleasing the game if rumors of a new Sonic compilation are to be believed. And much like with Sonic 3, which is at least still available via an emulated PC release on Steam, there are at least other ways to play Earthbound, such as on the Wii U or New Nintendo 3DS Virtual Consoles, and via emulation.

Unfortunately, Nintendo doesn’t really owe us anything here. The company is free to rerelease whatever games they choose to, just as they’re free to hold off on localizing Mother 3, delist Mario anniversary titles, and shut down fan projects. It sucks and is potentially a little anti-consumer, but they are well within their rights here.

I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with being upset about all of these things, but I do draw the line at being a dick about it online, especially when some of us are pretty psyched about some of the games Nintendo is adding to the service. While none of these new games are iconic 90’s classics, by any stretch of the word, I’m actually pretty excited to give Joe and Mac a shot. I’ve heard pretty decent things about it over the years and playing it on my Switch is just the push I needed to actually give it a shot. I also think that Magical Drop II also looks pretty fun, especially because I’ve been on a serious puzzle game spree lately.

I, perhaps naively, look at Nintendo Switch Online’s retro offerings as a bit like going to a restaurant for the first time. I may not be familiar with everything on the menu and may not find the particular dish that I’m looking for, but there are some old standby’s like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario World available for me when I’m feeling less adventurous, as well as a bunch of more obscure things that I might enjoy if I give them a chance. And much like a restaurant that doesn’t cater to my particular palette or adhere to my dietary restrictions, I’m also free to leave at any time.

At the end of the day, Nintendo really should get to adding Earthbound to the Switch in some way, shape, or form. There’s no denying that and I’ve even joked about it on my post about why the Nintendo Switch is my favorite console of all time. And while I see/understand how frustrated we all are about it, in no small part due to how infuriatingly vocal Twitter gets about it without getting much of any sort of acknowledgement from Nintendo themselves, I just think we should reassess the way we make our feelings heard on the subject. Because what a lot of us are currently doing, which feels more like huffing, puffing, and stopping short of a temper tantrum clearly isn’t working.


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Opinion: Is Secret of Mana (SNES) too long for it’s own good?

Released in 1993 for the SNES/Super Famicom, Secret of Mana is arguably one of the greatest games of all time. It follows a sprawling and charming story, features addictive three player multiplayer gameplay, and has one of the greatest soundtracks to ever grace a video game. Simply put, I think Secret of Mana is fantastic and has aged particularly well. Sure, it’s a fairly buggy game with a very simple story and gameplay loop, but it’s extremely fun to hop into and play through nonetheless.

However, I recently came to a conclusion about this classic JRPG that I feel needs to be explored. And, don’t get me wrong, I say this with the utmost respect and love for the game and feel like I’m about to commit a warcrime with this simple suggestion, but hear me out:

Secret of Mana (also known as Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan) might be too damn long.

I picked up Secret of Mana last spring and begun to play through it on my Nintendo Switch via the wonderful Chronicles of Mana collection. And, after booting it up for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the game. Everything about it jumped out at me as being extremely playful and whimsical, and it quickly earned a spot amongst my favorite SNES games.

But something happened to me along the way. The further I got into the game, the more I begun to feel fatigued by my adventure. Now I’m no stranger to RPG burnout; I am very familiar with getting worn down by how long games in this genre usually are. It’s why I haven’t beaten games like Fallout: New Vegas or Persona 4 yet. Hell, it’s why it took me close to 6 months to beat Final Fantasy IX for the first time last year, despite it being my favorite game of all time. These adventures tend to take place within drawn out and meticulously detailed narratives. While I’m usually somewhat deterred from the genre due to how long these games are, I’m often happy with the games I do end up playing because of how their extended playtimes encourage deep theming and a comprehensive lore.

Which brings me back to Secret of Mana. As a real-time action RPG, it has a lot more flair to it than it’s contemporary turn-based adventures. This results in the game feeling a lot more action packed and, generally faster paced than those adventures too. However, Secret of Mana also has the same length issue that I have with other roleplaying games despite this, having an adventure that is approximately 30 hours long for most players. Sure, it’s shorter than something like Final Fantasy IV or the SNES’s Dragon Quest installments, but I can’t help but feel like it somehow feels longer. This may be due to Secret of Mana being a decidedly simpler and easier to pick up experience that, especially when compared to the aforementioned RPGs, doesn’t really concern itself with its storytelling or trying to give its characters all that much depth.

While I don’t have anything against the game choosing to keep things accessible in that regard, quite the contrary honestly as I picked SoM up expecting this/initially picked it up as an in-between game for after I had completed Final Fantasy IX last year, I do think that the adventure being as long as it is doesn’t do the plot any favors (and vice versa).

Once games start to pass the 15 hour mark, I usually begin to need a reason to want to stick around for the rest of the adventure. Whether it be due to enjoying the plot itself and wanting to see how it unfolds, being attached to the characters, or being offered any other sort of compelling reason to keep playing, there needs to be something that justifies that length.

And, unfortunately, I simply don’t think Secret of Mana has that. At about 15 hours into the adventure, the game goes from being a linear experience to being more open world after you get the ability to call Flammie; while this is a huge sign of progression in the game and does technically shake things up. Only, the game opening itself up and becoming more exploratory doesn’t really do it any favors for me; I was perfectly content being told where to go and following a linear path to that location. Being told to now fly and navigate an open world (without an in-game map) just doesn’t click for me, because so much of the adventure up to this point revolved around combat and following the story. And while the game has really fun combat, I just didn’t see myself wanting to troubleshoot my way to the next dungeon/story beat in order to fight new enemies to face up against.

At the end of the day, I love Secret of Mana. I can’t say that enough. But I also need to be honest with myself when I say that it lost my attention due to how long it is. And unfortunately, this also extends to it’s sequel, Trials of Mana, which runs into nearly the same exact problem halfway through that adventure. Both Secret and Trials of Mana (specifically the remake for the latter of the two) were two of my favorite games that I played in 2020. In the time of a worldwide pandemic and suffering through chronic illness, I found refuge from the stresses of the world in both of these titles. And while I have nothing but love and affection for them/look back at my time playing both of these games rather fondly, I just don’t see myself coming back to them to finish those adventures.

At least not for a while…


Thinking of buying this game and want to help support TallyhoGaming in the process? Feel free to use these Amazon affiliate links to pick up Secret of Mana for the Nintendo Switch! I’d also highly recommend the remake of it’s sequel, Trials of Mana!

Collection of Mana – Nintendo Switch

Trials of Mana – Nintendo Switch


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Retro Review: Super Back to the Future II (Super Famicom/SNES) – Is It Good?


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.

Gameplay

Super Back to the Future II

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.

Visuals

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.

Music

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.

Gripes

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.

Closing

So is Super Back to the Future II the best Back to the Future game?

No.

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…