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Blizzard Arcade Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2021


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PC Review - 'Blizzard Arcade Collection'

by Cody Medellin on March 11, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The Blizzard Arcade Collection features enhanced releases of Blizzard's early hits—The Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing, and Blackthorne.

Contrary to what the title suggests, Blizzard never had a presence in the arcades. Even when it was known as Silicon & Synapse, its experience with games started on the SNES and the Sega Genesis with ports of other games. It started development of its original games on those same platforms before branching out to the PC, where it would eventually find its greatest success. As part of the studio's 30th anniversary celebration, Blizzard offers three of its old titles in a compilation titled Blizzard Arcade Collection, and the result is better than expected.

The first game in the package is The Lost Vikings, which will remind modern players of the Trine series. Kidnapped by aliens, the three Vikings — Baleog, Erik and Olaf — work together to escape the large alien ship and return to their families. This isn't a typical platformer, as combat is light and there's more of an emphasis on puzzles. Your three Vikings are distinct because each specializes in only one ability type. Erik is great at running, jumping, and smashing through walls, but he has no means of attack or defense. Olaf can't attack at all, but he can use his giant shield as a way to defend against attack and as a makeshift platform for others. Meanwhile, Baleog is excellent at attacking up close with a sword and from afar with a bow and arrow, but he has no defensive capabilities and can't jump. The puzzles come from figuring out which Viking to use at the right time and switching constantly between them to get all three of them to the end of a level in one piece.

The second game is Rock n' Roll Racing, long considered to be one of the best racing titles on the SNES. The game is presented in an isometric viewpoint, so players will be reminded of the NES classic, R.C. Pro-AM, since you'll be pitted against three other racers on a track that usually takes three laps to complete. You have a few weapons in your arsenal, such as spike traps and a forward-shooting missile, but those are usually limited to one use per lap, so you can't fire away indefinitely to immobilize the competition. Completing each track earns cash to improve your vehicle, while points are key to getting into future races. Aside from being able to play the whole campaign in two-player, split-screen mode, the big selling point is that you'll race to real classic rock tracks like "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath and "Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf, while the track commentator Larry Huffman barks out race updates and standings.

The final game in the package is Blackthorne, which was often compared to Another World or Prince of Persia due to its rotoscoped animations. Like those other games, the action is seemingly static as you move from screen to screen instead of going around the world with a moving camera. Platforming can feel stiff, since there's some wind-up time for jumps and ledge climbs, but it isn't too difficult to get used to it. Puzzles usually involve hitting levers and pressure-sensitive switches, and you can gain a few items from rescued prisoners, like healing potions and various bombs. The game's selling point, beyond a fairly elaborate story for the time, was the action. Your hero, Kyle, wields a shotgun that can hit rather accurately from any distance, and he can do so while facing forward and wielding it with one hand; he can also shoot backward without looking, like some action heroes. While he lacks the ability to duck or defend, he can lean into the background to avoid enemy fire unless it's an explosive.

This isn't the first time that Blizzard has re-released these games. The first time it did so was back at the turn of the century with Game Boy Advance versions. Blizzard released all three titles for free on the PC in 2013, but they were rather bare-bones, as both Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings were merely the DOS games tweaked to work with a modern OS for the keyboard only, while Rock n' Roll Racing was an SNES ROM running on the ZSNES emulator, only had three race tracks, and had none of the licensed songs.

By contrast, what you have here is more fully featured, since the package gives you both console versions of each game. That means that you'll get the Genesis and SNES versions of both The Lost Vikings and Rock n' Roll Racing, while Blackthorne comes with both the SNES and Sega 32X iterations. That seems rather unusual since most companies would stick with one version, but the versions feature different content. The SNES iterations may have better soundtracks and graphics, especially in the case of Blackthorne, where the pre-rendered characters don't hold up as well compared to the original rotoscoped sprites, but the Sega versions had more content. Blackthorne got four new levels; The Lost Vikings got five more levels, a few new cut scenes, and a three-player mode; and Rock n' Roll Racing got double the number of race tracks and one new song, "Radar Love" by Golden Earring.

While it could have stopped there, Blizzard took things one step further by including definitive editions of each game, which aren't modern remakes so much as re-engineered versions of the titles. Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings clean up the original PC graphics, merge them with the SNES sound library, and ensure that all of the content from the Genesis and 32X iterations are bundled into one version. In addition, both games come with all of today's commonly supported languages. Blackthorne has an in-game map, and The Lost Vikings has the three-player mode as well. Both games come with the ability to rewind and save at any point; the password system remains, and old passwords do still work, and there's also the option to watch a playthrough and jump in at any point. There's even a dynamic border system that matches with the scene you're in. These things do a stellar job of ensuring that the games live up to their Definitive Edition subtitle and give those who have played them before even more incentive to revisit the titles.

Rock n' Roll Racing has perhaps gone above and beyond that. With no PC iteration to speak of, the SNES was used as the graphical base with the Genesis content mixed in, but the game has been redone to properly fit a 16:9 screen without distortion. A four-player mode has been added via split-screen, but it doesn't come with the campaign's trappings, like car upgrades. More surprising is the soundtrack, which has been completely redone with the real songs, including vocals, instead of the old MIDI interpretations. That alone makes this a real treat for longtime fans and perhaps the main reason for them to grab the compilation.

Beyond the games, the package brings back something that hasn't been seen in too many recent compilations: supplementary material. You have some sketches and artwork associated with the games in addition to all of the ads made for the titles. There are some photos dealing with the early days of Blizzard for good measure, and you can also play the soundtracks for Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings, though only the SNES iterations. There are also new video interviews with some of the people responsible for the three games in the package. The inclusion of all of this stuff hearkens back to the PSOne and PS2 days, when games were trying to emulate DVD releases by having these extras as standard, and the return to that mentality here is very welcome.

The absence of two games prevents this from being a complete history of Blizzard's original works pre-WarCraft. The first is RPM Racing, which some consider to be the predecessor to Rock n' Roll Racing. Although the SNES title didn't have as many colors as Rock n' Roll Racing, it featured sharper visuals and a track editor, so there is some value there, even though the successor is more well known and loved. The other missing game is The Lost Vikings 2. Even though Blizzard was only responsible for the SNES version and not the ones that appeared on the Saturn/Windows/PlayStation platforms, which were developed by Beam Software, it would've been nice to see the duology together in one pack.

Although it's light on actual games for the price, the Blizzard Arcade Collection shows off an intense amount of love for the included games. While the creation of the definitive editions of these games is welcome and the result does a great job of matching it up with modern standards, the inclusion of the different console editions is a great forward-thinking move for game preservation. The inclusion of lots of supplementary material is excellent for those who are interested in the history of these titles, and the games stand the test of time rather well. It also helps that the titles remain fun even today. Whether you're discovering these games for the first time or want to play them again, this is a compilation that's worth checking out.

Score: 9.0/10

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