Biff receives his just desserts, 16-bit style.
I’m home sick in bed today, so I figured I’d do something I haven’t done in a while: Play through a Japanese exclusive game. In this case, it’s Super Back to the Future Part II for the Super Famicom, published by Toshiba EMI in 1993. I picked this one up at a gaming expo last year and haven’t gotten around to it until now.
This is a really weird one, which I’m guessing accounts for a lot of why it was never released outside of Japan. The character designs and humor are quintessentially Japanese and games with these sorts of aesthetics rarely saw localization back then, despite some awesome exceptions like Konami’s Legend of the Mystical Ninja.
Super BttF is a side-scrolling platform game based entirely on the famous hoverboard sequence from the film, which is genius if you ask me. I certainly never would have gotten off that thing. You play as Marty McFly and travel through time to stop the now uncomfortably presidential Biff Tannen from changing the future.
I found the game to be a pleasant romp for the most part. It took me four hours to get through the first time, which is about what I expect from a typical platformer. There are six levels, each of which consists of between one and three platforming segments followed by a boss battle. Each individual stage and boss encounter has its own password in the form of a four-letter word like BACK or KING, so it’s easy to resume a play session at a later time where you left off, if you so choose. Marty begins with three lives, but continues are unlimited, so the only consequence of losing them all is that you lose all your collected coins and will have a harder time purchasing health and power-ups from the vending machines scattered throughout the levels.
The core platforming is solid, but has some strange quirks. The controls are one of them. Only two of the controller’s six main action buttons are used here, in the form of a jump button and an acceleration button. You’ll be holding down the acceleration button most of the time, since Marty crawls along at a snail’s pace without it. In fact, Marty won’t even be able to build up enough momentum to jump any direction but straight up without using the accelerator. You’ll need to hold it down to jump between platforms and also get used to releasing it each time as you land on the smaller ones or else Marty’s momentum will carry him right off it. It’s odd and takes some getting used to, but it can be adapted to. Imagine Super Mario Bros. if Mario had to rely on running much more than he does just to get by.
Marty can kill enemies by jumping at them while spinning on his hoverboard and he’ll gain a little height on his jump with each enemy he kills. This makes for some totally gonzo sections where Marty has to ascend vertical sections of the level with no platforms by continuously shredding on his board up a cascade of falling boulders or other dangerous debris. Very fun.
The game does have some outright flaws, too. Marty is very, very fast on his board, but the view is very zoomed-in. Much like in the early Sonic the Hedgehog games, you want to have the exhilarating feeling of flying forward through the level, but the lack of warning you get of incoming hazards makes a patient, methodical approach more advisable much of the time.
There’s also a lot of slowdown when many sprites are on the screen. This is pretty common on the system, but it’s especially severe in this game, which can throw your jump timing off considerably.
One final thing worth mentioning is that the levels in this game can be quite huge and none of them have any checkpoints. Patience is definitely a necessity. From level four onward, making it all the way through a stage on Marty’s three hit points will require some focus.
Although Super BttF is short, simple, and a little rough around the edges, it’s far from the worst way you can spend an afternoon. The graphics are cute and colorful, the music will get you pumped, and the weird factor is a constant source of amusement and befuddlement. It’s a good option for Western gamers who don’t know the language, but still want to check out some quality Japanese imports.
Now why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?