Back to the Future (video game)

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This article is about the NES game. For the movie, see Back to the Future. For the MSX game, see Back to the Future (MSX game). For the 2010/2011 game, see Back to the Future: The Game.

Back To The Future
DeveloperBeam Software
Game SystemNES
Release Date1989
Genre2D Scroller
Number Of Players1

In 1989, a video game, based on the hit 1985 movie, Back to the Future, was produced for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) by video game publisher LJN a subsidiary of Acclaim games.


In the game you take the role of a time traveling teenager named Marty McFly who is trapped in the past in the year 1955 and must venture through various stages, most of which happen to be street down to up scrolling and avoiding obstacles and collecting objects all the while. Also included in the game after three street stages are completed are mini-game based stages where you have to reach a goal of a target amount of items collected to move on to the next, more difficult set of street based stages.

Back to the Future NES Screen

A street stage.

The street stages are filled with clock icons that the Marty character must collect to keep the picture of himself, and his two siblings that is displayed at the bottom of the screen from fading away. If he fails to keep said picture from fading away through the clock collecting he will lose a life by way of fading into nonexistence and have to start the stage over again. Fading would also occur if the character failed to complete the stage before the timer expired. Collecting 100 clocks would restore the picture to full sharpness no matter what its state was.

There are also enemies of all types trying to stop Marty from reaching the end of the long street stage. Those include bullies, hula hoop girls, moving men carrying a pane of glass and giant killer bees. Marty can also pick up a bowling ball and skateboard (only after acquiring the bowling ball previously) to fight back at these enemies who are trying to stop him all the while.

The first set of streets end at Lou's Cafe which is a mini-game type of stage where Marty behind the cafe counter must toss milk shakes at the various bullies trying to get him. If he is able to hit at least 50 of them before they reach the counter to tackle him, you can advance to the next set of street stages. There are also super milk shakes that a waitress will sometimes deliver to Marty's counter that when used can take down all bullies on the stage instantly. The player had to be careful not to hit the waitress, or else she would turn the other way. As the player advanced some bullies would toss milkshakes back at the character, whom if he was hit would be stalled for a few seconds as he wipes himself off. If even one bully succeeded at reaching the counter, Marty would be thrown out of Lou's Cafe by the seat of his pants and be made to redo the last street if he hit less than 50 bullies. Hitting 99 bullies automatically ended the subgame and gave the player a bonus for surviving the onslaught.

Back to the Future NES Screenshot

A simplified map of Hill Valley.

The rest of the game follows a similar formula to this. With street based stages, mini game stage following and needing a certain amount achieved in said mini games to move on to the next phase of the game.

Some of the other levels in the game include a level at Hill Valley High School, where Marty has to use a book to block at least 50 kisses coming from his mother, in which if he lets even one kiss slip by he would be out of the subgame and have to redo the preceding street. As in the fight at Lou's Cafe, should Marty block 99 kisses he would be awarded a bonus.The penultimate subgame was the Enchantment Under The Sea dance where the player moves the guitar that Marty is playing to catch the notes, sharps, and flats that are coming at him, with a song that sounds amazingly close to "Johnny B. Goode". As in the other two, failing the subgame would cause a redo, but this was different as Marty needed to complete it before the song ended. No bonus was awarded in this case, rather the player needed to fill a thermometer-type "love meter" where missing notes would cause it to decrease and catching notes would increase it. When the meter topped out, George and Lorraine would kiss.

The final mini-level of the game involves Marty having to drive the DeLorean up to 88 mph while avoiding lightning that will slow him down all the while. The climactic scene would show the DeLorean blasting off into the future and leaving behind the signature flaming tire tracks.


Many a video game reviewer have reviewed this game either on YouTube or in professional media forums. Most if not all reviewers have given negative views of the game. Most notably for its poor relation to the film and for its overly difficult game play. While it has the fringes of some themes from the movie, if anything it is a poor representation of what actually occurred in the 1985 film it was supposed to be based on. This has some similarity to the 1983 Atari video game E.T., where producers felt it would sell solely on brand association to the hit movie and the game designers were only given five weeks in order to produce a product to get it on the shelves for the 1982 Christmas shopping rush. Interestingly, the opposite scenario was the case with this game, as it debuted in 1989, the same year as the debut of Back to the Future II, which may or may not have been to piggyback on the anticipated sequel. As both the NES and the first film debuted in 1985, critics believed a window of four years afforded more than enough time to program a decent game, as rushing was clearly not an issue in this case.

Reviewers also cited that both ET and Back to the Future were virtually unlike the movies they touted, with the former being a major player in an economic disaster known as the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, where second-generation video game systems ceased production; Atari was bought out and their major competitors, Mattel and Coleco exited the gaming market, having previously produced the Intellivision and Colecovision, respectively. Although the economic impact from the BTTF NES game was nowhere near as acute as the Great Video Game Crash of 1983 (with 1989 actually being a hallmark year for gaming), LJN, the company that commissioned the game, went bankrupt in 1994. Like many LJN games, the product was outsourced, in the BTTF case to Beam Software. LJN had gained a reputation as the "Ralston of gaming", a reference to Ralston Cereals making cereals based off fads, while LJN made games based off popular movies at the time, both figuring they would sell solely on brand loyalty and to make a fast buck before the fad fizzled.

Official stance

In 2010, Bob Gale, who was a consultant with TellTale as their game was being produced, responded to fan questions about connections to the new TellTale video game and noted that "the previous BTTF video games have all sucked eggs - particularly the Nintendo 8-bit cartridge made by LJN in 1989 - truly one of the worst games ever." and even linked to the YouTube video of the Angry Nintendo Nerd. Gale continues that "The LJN people did not want any input from the filmmakers, but they promise to show us the game when 'it was ready'. I was outraged when they finally showed it to me and had all kinds of things I wanted changed, but of course we were told it was too late to change anything. I actually did interviews telling the fans not to buy it because I was so ashamed that a product this bad would have our brand on it. Obviously, Telltale has the correct approach."[1]


  • There are only two songs found in the entire game. One is "Johnny B. Goode" which will play during the school dance that Marty is playing on stage and sounds close to the version heard in the film. The other song is a repetitive looping song that will play throughout the game in non-mini game moments. There are suggestions that the song is supposed to be "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News sped up and cycled differently. But it winds up sounding nothing like the actual song made famous in the movie.
  • The last stage of the game involves Marty having to race the DeLorean down the main street of Hill Valley towards the clock tower while driving at 88mph. As the game does tell you via a cut-screen text moment, you have one and only one chance to compete this last stage successfully. If you do hit the wire with the lightning strike while at 88 you win the game and are awarded to another text based still screen telling you that you have made it back to 1985. If you don't do so you get a screen telling you that you were not successful and are trapped in 1955 and the game ends right there going back to the start screen, with you having to start all over again back to square one if you want to beat the game properly. The losing text screen would also be shown if the player ran out of lives, which read "Tough luck Marty! It looks like you are stuck here."


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