Retro Gaming Power
Back to the Future Part III
Sega Master System
Probe Software
Image Works
Added 2nd January 2016

On 29th October 2015, we officially entered the future. That was the date that Marty McFly time travelled to in the 1989 movie, Back to the Future Part II. To celebrate the fact that the present is now the future, or the future is now the present, I’m going to treat myself to a hoverboard. I believe Amazon are trying to shift a few. Conveniently, this event also brings me onto this review. It’s not of Back to the Future Part II though, as I played that game as a youngster and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Instead, it’s of Back to the Future Part III.

Hmmmm, I think I got away with using that slightly tenuous link to introduce this review.


Back to the Future Part III is a game that typifies everything that was wrong with games based on movies, games that were released just to cash-in on a lucrative film license. It was released on a variety of computers and consoles in 1991, including the Sega Master System. And rather coincidentally, it’s that version that I’m reviewing here.

I’ve never actually watched the movie in full, which is quite an achievement seeing as it seems to be broadcast every other weekend on ITV2, in between Jurassic Park and Scooby Doo. I have caught bits of it though - some of the end, some of the beginning, some of the middle. I get the general idea that it involves Marty going back to wild wild west times to rescue Doc Brown in the past, and there’s a bit involving them needing to get their car fixed to get back to the future. Or was that the first film? Could be both. After playing this game, I don’t think it matters at all whether or not you have seen the film. It appears to be loosely based on three scenes from it.

Yes, three scenes. That’s all. And each scene depicted isn’t spread across multiple levels. You just get one level for each scene. If you’re any good at mathematics, you’ll have probably worked out that this means that the game contains only three levels. Three levels for £25, or whatever it cost for games back then. A bargain. In modern money with inflation, tax rises and suchlike, that’s probably about £180 now.

But, it might just be that those three levels are three of the best levels in any game ever made. In which case, it doesn’t matter that there are only three of them. They are so great that you can play them over and over again and indulge in their quality for all of eternity. Unfortunately the reality is that they’re all a bit shit.

Bang bang. That reminds me. Has Chitty Chitty Bang Bang been on this Christmas?

Level one sees you controlling Doc Brown on horseback as he chases after some woman called Clara who appears to be getting dragged away in a horse and cart. It’s called a buckboard according to the game. To prevent her from being dragged over the edge of a cliff, Doc must catch up with her by leaping over hazards or shooting anything dangerous looking, like cowboys and birds. He can also collect items, although I haven’t got a clue what any of them actually are or what they do. This level is extremely tough as you don’t have time to react to the appearance of an enemy. Instead you have to remember what’s coming up by playing the level over and over again. Additionally, the controls require you to jump at exactly the right moment over chasms and hazards to avoid your horse coming to a sudden stop and flinging you over his head. Eventually you’ll get it, but it makes the level more a test of memory than of skill.

That's for stealing my steak bake. And don't think you're getting away so easily either, other birdy.

A little box at the bottom of the screen displays your progress in your rescue attempt of Clara, but you only appear to need to get half way across the display to complete the level. Either the programmers got bored and decided to end things at that point, or they forgot to come back to add the second half of the level to it. Whatever happened, it’s probably not a bad thing that such a horrible level appears to be over prematurely.

Plate tossing fun ahoy

Level two puts you in the time-travelling shoes of Marty McFly. It features a wild west shootout where you have to take on gun-toting cowboys by throwing plates at them. They might be custard pies, but whatever they are, controlling Mr McFly is a chore. His movement is very clunky, with the isometric layout of the level not making it easy to figure out which way to direct him. You seem to be able to apply some sort of swerve to your plates, but this only ever appears to result in them flying in every direction but the one that you want. The trick is to work out the correct place to stand and then throw your plate straight at your target. There are six enemies to take out with your crockery, with each requiring two well-aimed shots to do so. After you’ve done that, some bloke comes out of the saloon doors, firing badly at you. A few more plates in his face and he’s defeated too.


Onto level three, in which you, as Marty again, must make your way along a speeding train, picking up what I assume are parts for your car to get it up and running again. They look like little bars, so they’re probably something for your car’s flux capacitor, or whatever it’s called. They all add 11 points to a counter at the top of your screen, so when you get eight of them, you have 88 points, which I guess represents the 88 miles per hour that the Delorean needs to reach to be able to travel through time. Making things harder for you are a choice selection of baddies. You can take them out by throwing more plates at them. Where Marty is keeping these plates, and why he seems to think they make good weapons, is a mystery to me. Maybe it’s explained in the film. Perhaps I should watch it so I can make sense of such things. If you’re not into throwing plates at people, if you time the collection of the car parts correctly, a whiff of smoke comes from the train and takes your enemies out for you. Time is very tight on this level, so it’s important to get the job done as quickly as possible. Again, the controls aren’t the most responsive, with it being all too easy to jump at the wrong time, misfire, or just completely fall off the train.

What are you doing lion around there? Get it? Lion? Lying around! Never mind.
Ooh, the number 131. I'll mark it off my trains in games spotting list

Once you’ve got all of the bars and made it to the front of the train, that’s it. No end of level boss, no big climax. You’re done. The game is over. You’ve made it. Fini. The ending contains some sort of semi-inspirational message about nobody’s future being mapped out for them and to make of life what you will, the likes of which you see in badly-compressed images that people share on Facebook. Sometimes with Minions. There’s a picture of the Delorean flying off into the future too, and a bit of music. It’s not much of a reward, but I suppose seeing as it only takes you five minutes to get to it, you probably don’t deserve any more.

Drama! Action!

Graphics aren’t actually too bad for this game, comparing quite well to some of the 16-Bit versions of the same game. They portray the film’s wild west setting quite well, although that only really entails using a lot of the colours yellow, orange and brown. A modified version of the Back to the Future theme and the rest of the music is bearable but forgettable, and sound effects do their job. But the main problem is that the game is just too short, and isn’t enjoyable to play anyway. Level one is a memory test, level two hardly requires any skill, and level three is a case of leaping from one carriage to another, shooting enemies and collecting bars, being similar to what you’d expect the first level of a game like Shinobi to be, only more frustrating. The levels just feel like a series of mini-games, which was an all-to-common way of adapting movies to video games. The sluggish controls detract further from any fun that can be had with this game.

Don't mind if I do Mrs Patmore

Bizarrely, from memory this game appeared to receive quite mixed reviews on its original release. I know that the video game versions of Back to the Future Part II were panned by critics, and rightly so because it’s garbage, but this one seemed to fare a little better in some magazines of the time. I don’t know why though. It’s awful. If you’ve got five minutes to spare, do anything but play this game. Phone your mum, make a cuppa, read another article on this website, sit and meditate, find pleasure in your own company. Anything but this.

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FORMAT: Sega Master System
MEDIA: Cartridge
A lengthy introduction of still images and text explains what’s going on, with similar intermissions between levels. The scenes are quite well-depicted in these bits with characters looking quite similar to their movie counterparts.
Large sprites and detailed screen layouts which reflect the game’s themes quite well, although it’s not always clear what some things actually are.
SOUND - 56%
Forgettable but inoffensive music. Sound effects are nothing special too.
Frustrating from the start, a pain to control and, when you’ve mastered it, you can play through it in five minutes, less if you skip through the cut scenes.
The definition of the phrase “lazy tie-in”. Just three short unenjoyable levels which are an insult to gamers and fans of the film. The only thing I gained from it is learning what a buckboard is, and I’m not even sure if the word was made up for the film or is a real word.
Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, PC (MS-DOS), Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, ZX Spectrum
The first film in the trilogy received adaptations for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Spectrum, MSX (all 1985) and again for the NES (1989). Part II found its way onto the Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad, ZX Spectrum, Master System and PC in 1990, and later for the Super Famicom in 1993. In 2010, Telltale Games released Back to the Future: The Game as an episodic series of five story-driven adventure games.
Mean Machines Complete Games Guide (UK, May 1992): 68%
"Marty is back! Featuring great graphics and sound, this is a fun game let down by the fact that it only has three levels and doesn't take long to finish."

Sega Force (UK, April 1992): 33%
"The gameplay is CRAP. I'm sorry to say this, but in all my years of gamesplaying, this is the worst ‘thing’ I've ever played. "

Sega Pro (UK, May 1992): 73%
"The relates to the film but is far too short and easy"