Time-travel is a staple of science fiction in any form. Everyone has at some point dreamed about going back in time to fix a mistake or witness a momentous occasion, and this wide world of entertainment allows us to do that vicariously through various means. One of the more popular examples of time-travel shenanigans is Back to the Future, the epic franchise first directed by Robert Zemeckis. The brand started off on a high when Marty McFly first traveled from 1985 to 1955 and has since grown into a screen icon. Michael J. Fox became a bonafide superstar, Christopher Lloyd obtained his most iconic character ever, and everyone wanted a Delorean. Passion has definitely grown in recent weeks as we’re now at the precise period of time Marty arrived in the future with Part II (October 21st was the exact date). 2015 is clearly not the hoverboard riding, self-lacing shoes wearing period Zemeckis imagined in 1989, but there’s no doubt that this era would still be just as strange if someone skipped 30 years.
As anyone already knows, the past three decades have been very good for Back to the Future. The franchise isn’t nearly as stretched thin as many others but the love for it runs exceptionally deep. Marty McFly’s story has come back in many different forms, including official recreations and completely non-canonical parodies. Out of the official adaptations, all of them have done quite well (musical notwithstanding since it hasn’t premiered yet). However, the one category that has also received heapings of criticism is definitely the one you’d expect to get lambasted left and right: video games. Games based on film properties are rarely ever good, and Back to the Future is no exception.
The singular game most people remember is the 1989 NES release. The Nintendo Entertainment System, which conveniently is also celebrating the 30th Anniversary of its October 18th North American release, was a global phenomenon. It came during a time when most countries were severely disillusioned by the gaming market, and companies making films into games without caring about quality was an influencer. How else can you explain the steaming pile of E.T.? Nintendo sought to remedy this with their groundbreaking console, but it too had to deal with a sizable list of completely terrible games that a lot of people shouldn’t buy. For many, the 1989 Back to the Future was one of those.
This game gets the exact opposite reputation of its original material. Whereas the first film is considered one of the greatest movies in cinema history, the NES Back to the Future is overwhelmingly viewed as terrible. It’s the classic example of a company, this time LJN (long since defunct), trying to recreate a movie that doesn’t actually lend itself to virtual entertainment that well. The only way it was justified back then was by turning several elements from the movie into mini-games, like avoiding Biff Tannen’s bullies, and collecting clocks throughout various levels. This all contributed to a creation many people considered a shameless cash grab to profit off an extremely successful property. To make matters worse, Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale openly admitted that fans should not buy the game. You know you have a real dud on your hands when people involved with the very source material don’t want it.
Branding is stronger than diamonds though, so a colossal failure didn’t deter anyone from recreating Back to the Future in video game form several more times. Fortunately for fans, most of those games actually turned out very good. The latest and considered one of the best came in 2010 developed by Telltale Games. Before Telltale entered the stratosphere of popularity with their Walking Dead games, they produced five episodes based on these movies, and the end result was something a lot of people were happy with. It solidified Telltale’s reputation with property recreation and showed fans that, with a delicate enough touch, the best stories can come back in great form. If you’re hankering for this one, it was re-released on October 13th for current gen systems for the film’s anniversary.
While there are definitely much bigger fans out there than I, I’ve really enjoyed this incredible property Zemeckis and his team cooked up back in the 80s. How can you not? These films are just pure fun and they all combine to form one of the best trilogies cinema has ever seen. As for the video games though, I’ve missed them entirely. It doesn’t help that when most of them came out, I wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate the property (the trilogy ended about a year after I was born). The games that would have worked perfectly for me were Telltale’s, but even those escape my attention. Clearly this is something I’ll need to remedy at some point in the future.
It’s commendable that, 30 years down the line, no one has sought to make Back to the Future bigger than it already is. As other major franchises like Star Wars have proven to us, you don’t always need to focus on the film’s principal characters to produce more material. Back to the Future doesn’t always have to be about Marty McFly or Doc Brown. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone being happy with a setup like that. Back to the Future is as much about Marty as it is about time travel. The two are so intertwined, no one would want to break it apart. Surely, there are some things out there that are just too sacred to tarnish with new material that no one is really asking for.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.