One of the more interesting idiosyncrasies of the 16-bit era was that titles appearing on both systems – even those made by the same company and sporting the same name – were frequently different. I’m not talking about censorship on Nintendo that Sega didn’t do, I’m talking about noticeable gameplay changes that set the two versions apart. I suppose this came out of wanting to play to each console’s strengths, or that developers were encouraged (if not demanded) by Sega and Nintendo to have “the better version” on their hardware. Whatever the reason, this is one such title that mildly suffers from a split personality.
To be clear, this is the very same title as Echoes of the Past on the Genesis. It seems Spectrum Holobyte created the game, and Sega licensed/bought/acquired the assets to do the Genesis reworking in-house. There are a number of quirky little changes between the two versions, like how the Vulcan doctor goes from wizened old hag in the Genesis to a smokin’ space chica here, but the basic game and the basic story is the same. The plot comes in the same order, the missions and most of the gameplay are identical. The major difference is that the two play out with a different focus, and the overall balance is changed to accommodate the two different goals. I called the Genesis version “reworked to be action-heavy” which I can confirm now that I can compare the two. Meanwhile, the SNES version is a little slower and thoughtful, though at the cost of being a fair amount more ponderous and plodding.
Future’s Past details the appearance of a powerful, ancient entity and the battle between races to win its favor and its power. You’ll battle ships in space in a tactical minigame that’s only part of the replicated bridge functions, have staff meetings in the conference room, and beam down on away team missions to solve various troubles on the planets you travel to.
All the elements you would expect in a decent Star Trek game are at least included or considered. Classic Trek clichés are also used to full effect – an omnipotent being tests and judges humanity, contact with new races is established, contact is lost with space miners who must be rescued, Romulans act overtly shady, Picard gets yanked off the bridge and into an unknown world, the list goes on. In fact, the plot tries to pack in so many references that it almost forgets to make a story of its own, and ends up offering not much more than a weak justification for standard video game puzzles. There are a few moments I enjoyed, like the alien ship repair mission, but the mazes, pathfinding, and force field sequence puzzles are overused and frustrating.
The space and command bridge sections have you spending a healthy amount of time darting to and fro in search for clues. A surprising number of plot destinations actually have no mission attached to them at all – you’ll go to all the trouble of warping to a planet, simply to communicate with a character on the viewscreen or engage in a short little away team trip to find a character on the surface. The rest of the galaxy is still enormous, available to travel to, and totally uninteresting. The ability to make side trips anywhere in the galaxy is admittedly neat, but completely worthless when there’s nothing to do there. There isn’t even a secret Easter Egg planet that I’m aware of, making it truly pointless to deviate from the plot.
You’ll want to keep your trips to a minimum anyway because, as in the Genesis version, the Romulans are roaming around and pissed. You can expect one encounter per warp trip at least, and you’ll lose control of the ship and move immediately to the Tactical station when you encounter them. While you could still warp away without a fight in the Genesis version, the SNES forces you to duke it out with every single ship you encounter. This tactical minigame is still a terrific pain in the ass, made doubly so considering all torpedoes now home in on your ship. The enemy will fire a salvo of six or so at a time, and you must spend more time dodging them and circling out of an enemy’s firing arcs that you do will in trying to line up your own shots.
Worse, you almost have to try and escape from all fights since damage accumulates far faster in this version, and takes easily three to four times as long to repair. Take enough hits and you’ll have to spend an actual ten minutes waiting for the transporters to repair before you can get on with your mission, or worse, be left crippled when a SECOND Romulan shows up after you defeat the first. You can easily get to the point where you cannot continue your game since you’ll have to fight too many enemies in a row, with no time for the painfully slow repair console to do any work.
Such escalation comes from a pesky little feature where every time you destroy an enemy, you’ll infuriate that race and face twice as many next time. The intent is for you to beat the attacking ship until they surrender, which means getting their health down to a sliver – exactly where one or two more torpedoes would kill them – and then mashing X+Y the very instant they give up. Miss your timing and you’ve increased your enemies and the encounters you’ll have for every trip. I’ve had torpedoes in the air when they surrendered, and it was too late to accept before they died. The game further requires you to travel to starbases to get your current password, which of course means a trip through angry Romulans both ways.
The other major difference between the versions is in the reworking of the away team missions. The missions remain the same, but the levels are slightly redesigned to encourage far more searching and investigating. Mine levels will have no air circulating, forcing you to send Data ahead to find and throw a ventilation switch. Robot sentry duplicators cannot be shot out as in the Genesis, forcing you to find a master control console you can shut down with the tricorder. Phaser energy is no longer infinite and must be recharged with giant icon pickups in the game world. You also get hearts for health, but doctor characters can also actually heal other players.
These powerup icons may be a little goofy, but this exploration adventure game is certainly closer to what I had in mind. There’s a larger emphasis on using certain characters’ special abilities (Data’s robotic advantages, Geordi’s enhanced vision), and less of a focus on solving puzzles through destruction and violence. Basically, if we had the space sections from the Genesis (fast repairs, no forced fights) and the away team missions from the SNES (smaller mazes, useful characters, exploration) rolled into one game then we might have had a winner on our hands.
Graphics make good use of the SNES’ extended colors, despite being the same artwork and locations from the Genesis. Some areas are expanded and redesigned, but the art assets remain the same. One notable exception is the way planets are drawn in this game – in the Genesis they were ugly, fuzzy balls in the center of your screen. Here, you get massive spheres with beautiful clouds, atmosphere, and detail, and a unique painting for each plot planet. There’s a nice recreation of the Star Trek theme on the sound end, but a massive number of generic and irritating themes for the levels and especially the tactical station. I already dreaded having to battle a ship, and the same terrible music that started playing each time didn’t help me feel any better about the prospects.
Good use is made of the controller’s extra buttons, and cycling through the away team members and the inventory each gets their own set of keys. It also allows for some expanded options, like an “auxiliary power” function in the ship combat game. You have an ever-charging supply of power you can either send to the shields or the phasers with the shoulder buttons. A nice feature that did help turn the tide of battle a few times, and was easily and quickly accessible.
Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with either version of this title. Both end up being unnecessarily laborious. The developers obviously thought the ship combat game was more fun than it actually is, especially when you’re forced into every fight and left unable to continue the game until you complete lengthy repairs. Away team missions are either surprisingly short, or laden with irksome platform switching puzzles and maze searches. I actually enjoyed 25th Anniversary for the NES more than this, and though that title shares a lot in common with this one, it at least knows how to do puzzles without dragging on.
True to the ideas of the show. Better graphics and away team missions than the Genesis version.
The space combat minigame is worse than on the Genesis. Still an average plot with slow gameplay.