What’s the deal?

Activision Blizzard is one of the world’s biggest and most well-known video gaming businesses. Never before has one organization had such a powerful presence in the gaming industry, with a monopoly on the most well-liked genres and alliances with the best creators around the globe.

What Blizzard became the most famous for is probably World of Warcraft, which paved the way for online entertainment in general and MMOs in particular, with its varied gameplay creating an opportunity for all kinds of platforms to spring up, having, amongst other things, in-game auction houses, racing mini-games, and gambling quests.

Projects like Atlantis online casino may also exist, thankful to Blizzard. And maybe its most significant constituent is Blizzard Entertainment, as the ever brightly shining star of the whole enterprise.

Last year, Blizzard Entertainment celebrated 30, and the Blizzard Arcade Collection was unveiled at the BlizzCon. This birthday gift included three SNES favorites from the firm’s early days, polished them up a bit, added some corporate history artifacts and Easter eggs, wrapped it up with colorful paper and a huge, glittery bow, and then unashamedly attached a fresh price label. What you could get was:

  • 3 Versions of The Lost Vikings
  • 3 Versions Rock’n’Roll Racing
  • 3 Versions of Blackthorne
  • A virtual museum with the artwork, music, and developers’ interviews

Recently, two more games were added: a sequel for The Lost Vikings and the Racing spin-off. So, is this package the ultimate Blizzard fan gift? Or are we wishing that fans still had the receipts?

Where it all began

Blizzard, a company with humble origins, created a number of timeless titles that are highly regarded by fans of old-school gaming. Who doesn’t feel emotional seeing Rock’n’Roll racing and the Lost Vikings? Incredibly, the same company is responsible for the biggest MMO in the world, maybe the most well-known strategy game ever, and a number of impending high-profile projects. Even while getting here wasn’t without its challenges and trials, the journey has been enjoyable. Let’s look back at Blizzard’s history and the history behind the Blizzard Arcade Collection.

The fact that two of Blizzard Entertainment’s three original founders are still actively involved in the business speaks volumes about its tenacity. In February 1991, immediately following their graduation from UCLA, where Allen Adham had studied computer science and had previously worked on game development with Interplay, Datasoft, and Software Toolworks, Adham, Frank Pearce, and Mike Morhaime created Silicon & Synapse.

The story behind the collection’s items

RPM Racing, a remade version of Racing Destruction Set, was published in 1992 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System by Blizzard (then still known as Silicon and Synapse). One of the company’s earliest original endeavors, the title served as the starting point. The Lost Vikings and Rock & Roll Racing for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System were launched the following year.

The Lost Vikings had an innovative feature rarely seen in the games released after it for maybe a decade that required players to swap between three characters to tackle platforming levels. Licensed instrumental renditions of iconic rock songs like Bad to the Bone are undoubtedly Rock n’ Roll Racing’s most well-known accomplishment. Oh, and Larry “Super Mouth” Huffman was commenting on the races.

1992 saw the hugely influential Dune II launched by Westwood Studios as Blizzard worked on their home console skills. Despite its modest economic success, this innovative strategy game significantly influenced Blizzard’s subsequent endeavors, and PC gaming as a whole was forever changed.

In 1994, Silicon and Synapse temporarily changed their name to Chaos Studios before deciding to go with the more recognizable Blizzard. They were also working diligently on their upcoming project, which would bear a name that would eventually become even more well-known than the studio itself.

Blizzard also published Blackthorne on the SNES in 1994. A shotgun-wielding space pirate battled foes who more than vaguely resembled the orcs that would eventually appear in so many Blizzard games in this gory platformer.

The Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans demo had been making the rounds among PC players by that summer. The series incorporated a relatable fantasy presentation to the top-down tactical techniques from Dune II. The vivid and frequently funny characters in Warcraft might be recognized by anybody familiar with Tolkein’s stories. Whoever “invented” the genre originally was irrelevant since Blizzard utilized their most significant competitive advantage by appealing to a broad audience.

What’s in the box?

So, with the introduction and a brief history of the package’s contents out of the way, the three games on today’s menu are Blackthorne from 1994, Rock’n’Roll Racing from 1993, and The Lost Vikings from 1992. Before the release of Warcraft in 1995, these were the relatively modest beginnings that set off a snowball effect for Blizzard’s mega-franchises, which have become cultural touchstones for successive generations of gamers. For the three UCLA grads we see in the “Early Years” picture collection, renting a barren office and spending lunch breaks on the floor with no furniture, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, and Overwatch represent unfathomable accomplishments. But now it’s 2022, Blizzard is 31 years old, and the three classic games are receiving a contemporary remake.

The first indication that we are no longer in the 1990s comes upon startup when you are eager to start a Rock’n’Roll nostalgia-fest but are forced to spend a full 15 seconds holding the d-pad to read through an End User License Agreement before you can pick “Agree.” Before telling you the tale of a determined startup, Blizzard Arcade Collection will drag you through its mega-corp legal formalities. So much for Rock’n’Roll, huh?

Immigrant song. Game, I mean.

The Lost Vikings, the oldest game in the Arcade Collection, will be examined first. In this puzzle-platformer, you switch between three Vikings and use each one’s special ability to help the others reach the level’s exit. The plot is endearingly absurd: Tomator, Space Emperor of Croutonia, imprisons Erik The Swift, Baleog The Fierce, and Olaf The Stout at his interstellar zoo. It gives Silicon & Synapse (as Blizzard was then known) permission to place the Vikings in various vivid environments, keeping the game interesting for the entirety of its duration.

Although it has some of the player-hostile design peculiarities of the time (no checkpoints, mistakes penalized heavily by repetition), it was a well-reviewed game in its day and isn’t too offensively obsolete by current standards. If it were launched today, you might picture it selling well as a retro-style indie game due to the newly added ability to rewind and rfix mistakes.

The Lost Vikings entry includes both the SNES and Mega Drive / Genesis versions of the game as well as a new “Definitive Edition” that adds the Mega Drive version’s extra levels and three-player capability as well as a gorgeous widescreen title card and screen borders that improve with each stage. Unfortunately, there are no save states, no rewind, no screen size or border settings, and there are no filters, which are some of the key advantages of the remastered vintage versions. Therefore, avoid the Definitive Edition if you like big-screen gameplay, mod cons like save/load, and the rewind feature to calm your fury.

Keep rolling!

The next title, Rock’n’Roll Racing, debuted in 1993, one year after The Lost Vikings. The isometric futuristic racer with features popularized by Mario Cart, like pickable items on the track, added some customizability to the cars, garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews on various outlets, and is unquestionably the crown gem of the Blizzard Arcade Collection. But in this instance, the Definitive Edition is undoubtedly final. The soundtrack has been updated, the visuals have been subtly improved without detracting from the original material, and the entire game has been remade into a complete widescreen experience.

“Wait! Updated soundtrack?” you say. It’s possible that SNES fans were curious about how Blizzard would handle the licensed chiptune music. Take it out of the game? Replace it with something comparable but sufficiently distinct legally to prevent any problems? They chose the third option, which was to re-license all of the original songs in CD quality along with a few more for good measure. It is the ideal situation. The roaring “Breaking the law!” matches RNRR’s style so wonderfully that the entire thing reads like a self-parody. The action is still fast-paced, the controls are still precise, and the commentary is even more ham-fisted. It is rare for a vintage release to perform as you remember it rather than as it truly was, so job well done here.

A brand-new four-player split-screen edition of the game is available with the Definitive Edition. The ridiculousness of the concept is ideal for lean racing, while the circuit layout and handling are good for multiplayer. It’s important to note that you cannot play it (just like any other entry on the Blizzard Arcade Collection at that) with a single Joy-Con. Each player will require a Pro Controller or a pair of Joy-Cons. It seems like a lost opportunity because this is unquestionably the perfect game to squish your fingers together with a friend and place on the tabletop with that flimsy pop-stand. The SNES and Mega Drive versions of the game are also included in the box. But they are not contributing much compared to the top-notch modernized version.

There can be only one hasta-la-vista

And lastly, the 1994 rotoscoped sci-fi platformer Blackthorne. The setting and look of Blackthorne are unmistakably 1980s; the story is a cross between Conan, Terminator, and Highlander, with an extraterrestrial hero haunting the streets, hiding in the shadows, and smoking grunts with a shotgun in hand. However, Blackthorne keeps a narrower palette than The Lost Vikings, which uses its wild tale with various colorful stage locations. It has a more adult vibe, but it’s also a little more difficult to stick with when vintage game design’s dark side forces you to revisit challenging areas.

Unfortunately, we are once again unable to endorse the Definitive Edition. It includes a new auto-mapping function and level-themed screen borders, which might be confusing because they resemble the landscape. The quality-of-life add-ons, such as save/load, rewind, screen size, etc., are also absent from the Definitive Edition, as they were in The Lost Vikings. The ability to see the whole game being played from beginning to end while being able to skip to the sections you wish to view and immediately take over control and play from any point in the recording is another feature that puts the older console versions ahead. Similar functionality may be found in The Lost Vikings. It’s an excellent method to refresh your memory of the game’s contents and to play your favorite section once more.

With the addition of assistance to the console versions, Blackthorne is a terrific game that is worth finishing. Comparisons with the 1992 game Flashback, which is also on the Switch, are unavoidable and unfavorable. But, if you’ve played Flashback to no end, Blackthorne will seem different enough to scratch that itch, even though it isn’t as masterfully paced or smooth as Flashback.

Extras

The museum component of the Blizzard Arcade Collection is an additional feature. In addition to Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings music, you can view game boxes, concept art, and pictures of the crew starting in the 1990s here. The video interviews with the Blizzard founders and team are what really make this material stand out. The videos are still the distinct memories of those who were present, even if they don’t disclose anything particularly startling. They convey the human aspect of the magnificent Blizzard narrative and seem valuable.

Verdict

Blizzard Arcade Collection has been thoughtfully put together as a birthday present from Blizzard to itself. However incredible some minor features here may be, they are mostly superficial. Two of the Definitive Edition games are inferior to the SNES games that are also there, and Rock’n’Roll Racing’s success makes having the SNES and Mega Drive versions merely unnecessary extras. As a result, it becomes necessary to launch each game version several times to determine which is truly worthwhile playing, which ruins the party. Despite these flaws, there is still much to love: even if it may not be precisely what we had in mind, the message is what matters, and the message is that Blizzard still cares about its fans, and this is not just another low-effort cash grab manny companies are guilty of nowadays.

 

 

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