Review | Blizzard Arcade Collection
During BlizzConline, Blizzard made a surprising announcement to their fans. Not exactly to their fans of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo or Overwatch, but instead to their longtime fans. The Blizzard Arcade Collection delivers a throwback to those that were there from practically the beginning, the Silicon & Synapse days. Collecting The Lost Vikings, Rock n’ Roll Racing and Blackthorne into one package was already a welcome idea, but Blizzard went beyond to deliver not only all the original versions of each game, but a definitive version as well. While some games hold up better than others, this is still a great way to experience the early history of Blizzard’s work.
The Blizzard Arcade Collection offers elements like save states, filters and even a rewind feature. Oddly enough, these only apply to the original games and not their Definitive Editions. Regardless, the fact the collection offers so much is rather impressive. On top of that, there’s even behind-the-scenes videos and artwork for fans to partake in. There’s even a music player, though oddly, Rock n’ Roll Racing is completely omitted here. I suppose it makes sense with the licensed tracks, but it’s still a strange look. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of the individual games of the collection.
My memory of The Lost Vikings is vague, but I have played the original SNES classic once before. It was at a hotel with a Super Nintendo that allowed occupants to rent games for an additional charge. This was how I first experienced The Lost Vikings, and to be honest, I was too young to actually “get it.” Thanks to the Blizzard Arcade Collection, I now get another chance to play it, and with my collective experience, I finally understand this game. At first glance, The Lost Vikings would appear to be a platforming action game, but in reality, it’s actually a puzzle game. You’ll play as three Vikings: Erik the Swift, Olaf the Stout, and Baleog the Fierce. Each character has their purpose, and you’ll alternate between each one to progress in the game.
The game introduces us to the Vikings in the beginning, giving a demonstration of their abilities in the opening scene. After getting abducted by the Croutonian alien lord Tomator, the three Vikings set out to find their way home. This includes visiting various places in time, meeting strange creatures, and working their way to a final confrontation with Tomator. The Vikings do all this while having witty banter amongst themselves between each world. It’s an interesting concept for the SNES days, and honestly feels very much like something Blizzard would make. The game would also release on the Sega Genesis, adding five new stages, extra scenes, and support for three players. With the Blizzard Arcade Collection, the game offers a Definitive Edition which combines both the releases.
The gameplay is rather interesting, as each Viking has unique abilities. Erik can run faster than the others, with the ability to jump and ram obstructions. Olaf wields a shield and can block enemy attacks and traps, though he can also use it to glide. Finally, Baleog can use his sword and bow to attack enemies and even activate switches. Each Viking is necessary to advance, and should one die, you’ll be unable to finish the level. It’s a bit frustrating at first, but this is where the puzzle aspects come into play. Each Viking is a key to progress to different parts of the level, and it’s actually really fantastic level design because of this. I do think that the game should automatically end the level should one die, though I suppose you could use the remaining vikings to test the waters before giving up.
Each Viking will also have an inventory for collecting items. This incldues health pickups, keys, and even weapons like bombs or screen clearing power-ups. The inventory system is a little awkward, though for the time, this was how things were. Players can even trade items between their fellow Vikings, which is super helpful when one needs to heal. There’s five worlds to navigate, each with a unique theme, and one getting a revisit in the end. The science-fiction setting of the Spaceship, the primitive times of Prehistoria, the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the industrial technology of the Factory, and finally, the zany Wacky World. They each have their own gimmicks and hazards, but help to support the awesome level design.
While the game has great variety in visuals and fun dialogue, the pacing is a bit lacking. It helps to play it with multiplayer, and the game is definitely not a long one (roughly about three hours), but the game definitely requires some patience. Some trial and error might be necessary, but once you get the fundamentals, you’ll be in full swing. Overall, this is a great way to revisit this Blizzard classic, even getting your choice of music between the SNES or Sega Genesis version. If you’ve played Heroes of the Storm and wondered about The Lost Vikings, this is your chance.
As the next classic in the Blizzard Arcade Collection, Rock n’ Roll Racing takes players on a high octane thrill ride to the music of several iconic rock tracks. Unfortunately, one song wasn’t able to make the transition due to licensing, but it’s still a killer soundtrack. With the SNES and Sega Genesis versions in the collection, fans can get the experience they remember. Getting into the Definitive Edition, players can experience not only a full selection of racers and courses, but also the authentic songs in all their glory. It’s the spiritual successor to Blizzard’s first game, RPM Racing, but thanks to the rocking soundtrack, it has an identity all its own.
Rock n’ Roll Racing offers three different difficulty levels: Rookie, Veteran, and Warrior. Players will select various racers from different planets, and can even unlock a familiar face from Valhalla. Once you select your racer, you’ll buy a car and be on your way to the races. Professional entertainment announcer Larry “Supermouth” Huffman would commentate on the race, and he even came back for new lines in the Definitive Edition. Races will consist of four racers, each one a different alien with the intent to win. It’ll not only take excellent racing skills, but also smart use of your weapons to achieve victory. Each vehicle comes equipped with three items, two offensive and one supportive. How you use them will make the difference between glory and defeat.
Players will have access to all types of weapons depending on the vehicle. This includes landmines, missiles, plasma rays and more. Of course, their support weapons will also give them an edge, including speed boosts and jumps. As you race, you’ll avoid obstacles while trying to collect money to use for upgrades after the race. You’ll also be able to collect armor repairs to replenish your vehicle’s armor after taking damage. All of this while you speed your way through tight turns, ramps, and of course, your competition. Finish the race in the top three and you’ll earn points. Earn enough points and you’ll make your way to the next division and eventually to another planet. It’s a pretty addicting experience and the energy from the announcer and the music all support it.
Speaking of the music, the soundtrack is pretty impressive, even on the SNES and Sega Genesis versions. Songs include George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone,” Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme,” Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” As mentioned before, due to licensing, the game was unable to include Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” To make up for it, we instead get a more appropriate Blizzard addition with Elite Tauren Chieftain’s “Power of the Horde.” All the songs provide a great sense of energy and go well with the hectic action on the screen.
With the money you collect, you can put it towards upgrades, improving your armor or even increasing your weapon amount. The only downside is that buying a new vehicle makes it so you have to buy upgrades all over again. It’s a risky move, but do well and you’ll be back in the action with full force in no time. This is also the only four-player game on in the Blizzard Arcade Collection, so you and three friends can get together and rock out to some awesome races. Rock n’ Roll Racing is easily my favorite in the collection, and I had a blast during each race. SNES, Genesis or Definitive Edition; whichever you choose, you’re going to have a good time.
Finally, we get to Blackthorne, a much darker storyline that builds the foundation for some of Blizzard’s future games. In a lot of ways, this was Blizzard’s Prince of Persia, but with shotguns and demons. Set on the planet Tuul, Kyle Blackthorne returns to the planet of his birth after spending years on Earth. Earth has earned him plenty of experience, gaining skills as a mercenary before being arrested. After breaking out of prison, Kyle gets strange dreams, only for the magician Galadril to send him back to Tull to save the Androth people. Armed with only a shotgun, his goal is to kill the Ka’dra leader Sarlac, and mount his skull for display. If that isn’t enough crazy names to get your interest, then perhaps the gameplay will appeal to you.
Blackthorne gives players a detailed sidescrolling platformer with some action elements and light exploration. Using rotoscoped sprites, the game gives some excellent animation, even adding more detail with the Sega 32X version. Wielding a shotgun with unlimited ammo and guerrilla tactics, Kyle is ready to face the Ka’dra. You’ll find several Androth people in shackles and many more forced into labor. The monsters you face are demonic looking and wield their own weapons, though also a cocky attitude. If you take damage from them, they’ll even laugh, leaving them wide open for a few shells from your shotgun. With a little skill, you can even avoid damage by pressing against walls. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about many of the prisoners.
Over the course of the game, Kyle will pick up bombs, keys and potions to help him on his quest. While some of these items are useful as weapons, you’ll want to hold onto many to use for progression as well. This mostly relates to bombs, as many of them will be necessary to destroy sealed doors. Players will want to speak to prisoners to get important intel and earn items as well. It’s a pretty elaborate game despite the genre, and it all works very well. Taking place through four different areas, including mines, forests, deserts and castles, there’s plenty of variety here. It’s honestly amazing to think that this was once a Super Nintendo title.
While gameplay offers a lot of options, there are some areas where it falters. The controls take a little time to get the hang of, especially when it comes to the actual platforming. Kyle can’t jump up ledges while holding his gun, and you don’t even use the jump button to do so. Certain actions also move pretty slowly due to the rotoscoped animations. While it doesn’t take long to adjust, it’s still a bit off-putting. Like The Lost Vikings, this is also a game that has moments where the player can’t progress. The “give up” option is still available, though you’ll lose significant amounts of progress. Of course, this is only the case in the Definitive Edition, as the original versions have save states and rewind features.
All in all, Blackthorne is an interesting example of early Blizzard titles. The storytelling shows clear signs of the direction they’re going at the time and the graphics remain consistent with their early PC games. While the gameplay is an adjustment, the overall production values are pretty impressive. For a handful of hours, it’s a lot of fun, though it’s also a lot of challenge. The final fight with Sarlac alone is pretty intense. It’s worth mentioning that the music is a little subdued, but nothing to really complain about. It honestly surprises me that this game doesn’t have a sequel or barely any other reference. I would love to see what modern day Blizzard could do with it, though that likely won’t happen at this point.
As mentioned before, the Blizzard Arcade Collection is a great way to look at the company history. With three unique games, each with three different versions, behind-the-scenes artwork, videos and more, there’s plenty to enjoy here. It’s still unusual that the Definitive Editions don’t offer save states or rewind, but they’re still a fantastic way to experience the games. For those that prefer the original experiences, they’re almost perfectly in tact and just the way you remember them. Overall, if you’re a fan of retro titles or even a fan of these games in general, this is worth picking up.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10