The game begins with the plot of young Marty McFly being stranded in 1955, needing not only to get back to 1985, but also to get his parents George and Lorraine together before he goes back home. However, most of the game is spent traveling through the streets of Hill Valley collecting clocks to keep his family photo from vanishing entirely while avoiding bees, hula hoop girls, workmen, bullies, and even the natural obstacles of the streets. There are three places in Hill Valley that Marty needs to visit — Lou's Cafe, where he must throw milkshakes at Biff's gang to keep them from reaching the counter and throwing Marty out the door; the high school, where Marty must block Lorraine's hearts of affection that she sends towards him; and the dance, where Marty must catch flying musical notes with his guitar to build up the Love Meter so that George and Lorraine can have their first kiss. The final goal of the game is to get to the DeLorean and dodge lightning bolts while trying to get enough speed so Marty can travel back to 1985.
This game provides examples of
- A Winner Is You: Upon successfully clearing the final Event Stage (the Delorean), all you are rewarded with is a "Congratulations, Marty" text screen and that's it.
- Bar Slide: Fail to stop Biff's goons from reaching the counter at Lou's Cafe and Marty will get picked up and slid down the counter and straight toward the door.
- Bee Afraid: One of the most common enemies of the street level.
- Delayed Ripple Effect: As you progress toward your goals, you must collect clocks to keep the family photo from fading completely, which is a visual reminder of how your future is being affected by your disruption of the past. Once you complete the mission of getting your parents to kiss at the dance, the picture stops fading for the rest of the game.
- Diner Brawl: The part of the game where you fight off Biff's goons at Lou's Cafe with milkshakes.
- Driving Game: The final part of the game is driving the DeLorean to the clock tower.
- Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Or at least knock you down and make you waste valuable time.
- First Kiss: The objective of the dance is to get George and Lorraine to have their first kiss by catching musical notes.
- Food Fight: Marty throws milkshakes at Biff's goons at Lou's Cafe. Eventually they throw milkshakes back at Marty, which you must avoid.
- Game Over: The game ends either when you run out of lives or you complete the last goal. Can also happen if you FAIL the last goal.
- Heart Symbol: Lorraine sends hearts toward Marty that he must block to keep her from falling in love with him.
- In Name Only: It's barely recognizable as following the film's events, and the ones that it does follow are very strange. Most of it comes across as more like a strange, hyper-literal analogy of the film, translated into dodging stuff and catching stuff. Marty never wears his Iconic Outfit, and most of the game consists of running along the street avoiding obstacles and collecting clocks, which you could generously say is an approximation of the skateboard scene. It doesn't help that while it does have music from the film, it's sped-up to the point of being unrecognizable. Even the scenes that are clearly based on scenes from the movie, like the DeLorean's appearance, make little sense in light of the film—why are you trying to dodge the lightning, when the entire focus of the scene in the movie was to get the car hit by lightning?
- Nintendo Hard: The game lacks any continues to deal with its length and difficulty.
- Sheet of Glass: Two guys carrying a sheet of glass appear as your enemies on the street levels. Oddly, the pane itself is invisible until you crash into it.
- Shoot 'em Up: The street levels turn into this once Marty gets the bowling ball power-up. He even gets bowling pins to knock down along the way.
- Three Quarters View: The street levels.
- Timed Mission: Each section of the street levels must be completed before time runs out or Marty's family picture fades completely.
- Video-Game Lives: The game gives you four to start with.