This year, the juggernaut that is Blizzard Entertainment celebrates 30 years in the business. To celebrate this milestone, the studio has rolled a brand new collection that compiles together three of its most beloved hits from the 16-bit era. The selection of games includes The Lost Vikings, Rock N' Roll Racing, and Blackthorne - three games which appeared on the SNES and the SEGA Mega Drive. They might not be as synonymous with the studio as Diablo and Warcraft might be, but they certainly showcase the diversity and sheer potential possessed by Blizzard in its formative years.
The game that I naturally gravitated towards within the collection was Rock N Roll Racing. Personally, I love isometric racers and classic rock music, so it felt like a real match in heaven for me. Originally released in 1993, the racer feels fast and chaotic, and its soundtrack is loaded with hits from the likes of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. There's Mario Kart-like weapons here that you can use to trip up your foes and there's even the opportunity to upgrade your ride with the price money you accumulate.
I also ended up developing a soft spot for The Lost Vikings. This puzzle centric game tasks you with utilising three different Viking's abilities to reach the end of a stage. Erik can run and jump, Olaf can use his shield to block projectiles and Baleog can attack with his sword and a crossbow. Many of the puzzles here feel creatively designed and there are new obstacles and traps constantly introduced to keep things fresh. What I didn't like, however, was the trial and error nature of its levels. In order to progress, all Vikings need to reach the end of a stage, so you're forced to abandon your run if one of your Vikings is accidentally killed.
Blackthorne was the one game within the collection that I couldn't really get behind. It's a cinematic platformer in the vein of classic Prince of Persia that features a pretty primitive form of cover-based shooting. Whilst I am a big fan of the game's look and overall atmosphere, I couldn't forgive how sluggish it feels to play. In order for you to jump or climb ladders, you have to make sure your weapon is holstered, and you walk at a painfully slow pace unless you've got your thumb firmly held on the run button. The game has been showered with positivity since launch, so it certainly has its fans, but approaching this for the first time in 2021, I just couldn't seem to gel with how it controls.
Along with the three games present, there's also a whole treasure trove of goodies for fans to delve into, which offer insight into the development of these games and the early years of the studio. Within the main menu, you can browse original box art and manuals, there's lengthy behind-the-scenes interviews, and there's even a music player for original music (this of course excludes the copyrighted tracks in Rock N' Roll Racing). Touches like this help it to feel like a real love letter to the fans, and it's great to see Blizzard go above and beyond what Nintendo offered, for example, within the Super Mario 3D All-Stars Collection.
Also included here are the original SNES and Mega Drive versions for all the games, as well as reworked definitive editions. These definitive versions include additional features not present in the original games like an auto-mapping feature for Blackthorne and CD quality versions of the soundtrack for Rock N' Roll Racing. Alongside these selectable versions, there's also save states and the ability to rewind your progress should you accidentally get killed, and there's the option to change the screen size, or apply different imaging filters.
By far my biggest criticism here though is the price. I can't fault the games included within the collection, and the extra goodies are a nice touch, but a trio of titles verging on three decades old does feel a little pricey for £16.99. Quality was likely favoured over quantity here, but The Lost Vikings 2 is noticeably absent, and it received almost as positive scores as its predecessor. Also missing from the same era is RPM Racing. Sure, it wasn't exactly well received, but it's an important part of the studio's legacy being its very first release.
Although its selection of titles might be limited, the Blizzard Arcade Collection still showcases the very best of what the acclaimed studio had to offer in its early years. The trio of games here are varied as they span across a variety of different genres and there are tons of appreciated extras including behind-the-scenes interviews and a music player. It's undoubtedly a solid package, but you'll need to determine yourself whether you deem it to be worthy of its price tag.
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