Oct 21, 2015

Video Games in Back To The Future

Today is October 21, 2015.  Every blog, message board, social media page, newspaper, talk show and office water cooler in the country is talking about Back To The Future II.

If you're reading this on the day that it was written, you are very likely sick of hearing about this movie for one day, and that's ok.  I'm doing nothing to promote this, so nobody's going to read it today anyway.  If you're seeing this at all, it may be because I post a lot of things you want to read in the future, and so you decided to go back in time and check out the archives.  Or, it could mean that this point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance; Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.

What isn't a coincidence is the video games that appear in Hill Valley in the Back To The Futurnaverse.

Wild Gunman
Nintendo - 1985

Perhaps the most often cited video game from the Back to the Future franchise, a Wild Gunman arcade unit sits at the Cafe 80's.  It is being studied by Elijah Wood, who went on to become Frodo Baggins, and John Thornton, who went on to become that guy who can go the rest of his life saying "I played Wild Gunman with Frodo Baggins and Marty McFly."

While the NES edition of Wild Gunman never had its own arcade unit, the 8-bit classic is actually based on a 1974 arcade game of the same name that used a 16mm projector,  The original was created by Nintendo visionary Gunpei Yokoi - the man who invented the Game & Watch series, the Game Boy and the traditional d-pad from the Famicom and NES (he came up with the Virtual Boy and R.O.B. too, but they can't all be hits).

As for the version that Marty played back in the Hill Valley 7-Eleven, it was one of the original 17 games that launched the NES on October 18th, 1985, and one of only 10 games for the NES that require the use of the Zapper.  While the technology isn't likely to impress the 8-year-old kids of 2015, I don't think any of them would mistake it for a baby's toy.  It's a fun gun game that anybody can pick up and play without a tutorial.

If you want to play it today, you'll need the cartridge and an NES with a working Zapper for now, but that may change very soon.  It's being released by Nintendo Europe on the Wii U Virtual Console tomorrow, so a US release is probably not far behind.

Namco - 1980

If you blinked, you may have missed it, but the godfather of modern gaming makes an appearance at the Cafe 80's.  It sits at the opposite end of the restaurant from Wild Gunman, behind two exercise bikes, and under a sign that reads "PRICELESS ARTIFACT - DO NOT TOUCH".  That's a bit of a stretch.  An original Pac-Man arcade unit will cost between $500 - $2,000 on eBay in 2015, not counting the various knock off "Multicade" machines.

Incidentally, why would a business owner put a "priceless artifact" in a restaurant that seems to have no human employees to look after it?

If you asked someone to name one video game that virtually everyone in the free world has tried at least once in their lives, there's a pretty good chance that they would choose Pac-Man.  To this day, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, if I see a Pac-Man machine, somebody is making a quarter off of me.  It's a timeless classic that has challenged and entertained millions for the past 35 years.  Few other entertainment entities have had half as much success.

The rest of the video games that can be found in Hill Valley are in the display window of Blast From The Past - the antique shop where Marty finds a copy of Grays Sports Almanac.  I find that this store is the most realistic prediction of 2015, and the most fascinating part of the film.  In fact, the items in this store have inspired a group of collectors from TheRPF.com who are trying to collect everything that can be seen in the shop, but that's another story for another time.

You can't see it too well in this screencap, but there's a Pac-Man lunchbox in the window between Marty's arm and the bust of John F. Kennedy.  However, there are a few NES games (complete-in-box) that can be seen more clearly.

LJN - 1987

While the 3-D shark from Jaws 19 gets all of the recognition, it's not the only appearance of the deadly great white in Hill Valley, 2015.

Jaws from LJN can be seen sitting in front of the VHS of Jaws 2 and on top of a Betamax. LJN had a large catalog of NES games that were inspired by major motion pictures (including a Back To The Future game that was released in 1989).  Unfortunately, most of these games are pretty bad, and Jaws is no exception.

A large part of the game has you controlling a character that dives off of a ship to shoot jellyfish and stingrays.  You also get to shoot at the shark, but in the words of The Angry Video Game Nerd, he dies "slower than hairs grow on a moose's scrotum."  This isn't just a step down from Pac-Man and Wild Gunman - it's a massive drop to the ocean floor.

Data East - 1987

The original Burgertime was released by Data East as an arcade game in 1982, and it is rightly considered to be a gaming classic.

One of the many food-inspired games of the early 80's (a genre of sorts that has a surprising number of fun games), Burgertime stars Peter Pepper, a chef who makes massive hamburgers the only way he knows how - by climbing ladders and walking across the ingredients on scaffolds.  Standing in his way are Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle and Mr. Egg - three very grumpy food items which are much smaller in size than the hamburgers, but equal in size to our intrepid chef.

The NES version isn't a perfect translation of the original, but it's not bad.  That being said, the music will drive you absolutely insane.

Now, if you thought Pac-Man was difficult to spot in Back To The Future II, the final game on this list is ridiculously difficult to see.  I assure you, it's there.  In fact, you've already seen a picture of it.  Look closely above the letter "A" in the Jaws photo.

Need some help?

That, my friends, is a copy of R.C. Pro-Am for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  If you don't believe me, have a look at this Continuity Polaroid from the now defunct Outatime.co.uk fan site:

I think maybe that I'm the one who needs some help.  But it's in the film, so...

R.C. Pro-Am
Rare - 1987

Rare is one of the most successful game designers in the industry, and R.C. Pro-Am was the first big hit.  I can tell you that every kid that I knew in third grade either had this game, or they frequently played it at a friend's house.

As a kid, it reminded me of a game that I played at Aladdin's Castle called Super Sprint, but when I play this game in 2015, I see the grandfather of the Mario Kart series.  It's got weapons and power ups, it has red speed boost arrows, and you earn trophies. Also, despite the missiles and bombs that you'll frequently use (if you're lucky), it's a non-violent game because you're racing remote control trucks.  We had to have something to distract Mom from the blood and guts of Castlevania.

R.C. Pro-Am was re-released earlier this year for Xbox One on the Rare Replay compilation.  Whether you opt for the modern console or the original recipe, this game is definitely worth your time.  If you haven't played it before, check it out.  If you have, I'm sure that you're already thinking about doing so right now.  Just don't travel back to 1987 and play against your younger self.  The consequences could be disastrous.