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The Blizzard Arcade Collection review: Pre-Warcraft time capsule

Before Warcraft, StarCraft, Overwatch, and the rest, there were three 16-bit era classics and they're all playable in the Blizzard Arcade Collection. Our review.

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Anyone who watched the BlizzConline Opening Ceremony got a surprise in the form of a trio of Blizzard classics. The Blizzard Arcade Collection dusts off three forgotten gems from the pre-Warcraft days: The Lost Vikings, Blackthorne, and Rock N Roll Racing. It's been many years since some of these games have seen release, so it's exciting to see them back in any form.

But how do these games hold up? All three of these games are not only unlike anything Blizzard has out today, they're also unlike any game that was released during their heyday. Let's give each of these games a look individually while also judging the full batch as a collection.

The Lost Vikings

There's a cult following around The Lost Vikings, both the game and the titular characters. The characters are Nordic warriors who were abducted by aliens and had to escape their captivity by combining their unique abilities. In a company known for recognizable characters, The Lost Vikings were among the first of Blizzard's well-known heroes. There's a good reason for that, because the game bearing their name is a puzzle platformer unlike anything seen at the time or released since.

The Lost Vikings requires players to use each of the three characters' different abilities to solve different puzzles. Erik can run and jump, Baleog can fight, and Olaf can defend with his shield. Players can only control one character at a time and must be aware that the other two Vikings are vulnerable when they're not being used. That makes these puzzles incredibly tricky, because all three characters must make it to the end of each room safely. If one dies, the whole exercise goes belly-up and the room needs to be reset. In that sense, the game shows its age, because there's no way to respawn a character once they're dead. Fortunately, there's a rewind system in place, which I'll get into a little later.

The Definitive Edition of The Lost Vikings, however, is an interesting amalgamation of the SNES and Sega Genesis classic versions. The Definitive Edition offers a mixture of stages from both games, as well as the ability to play local co-op. Playing locally is a must for this game, because managing the three heroes individually can be a headache. If you have friends, the puzzles are a little easier to manage, though no less creative or devious.

Blackthorne

Of the three games in this compilation, Blackthorne is the one that feels the most like a product of its time. The story follows a warrior named Kyle, armed with a shotgun and seeking to save his people on the planet Tuul. The long opening cinematic sets the stage for players to navigate a giant Metroid-style labyrinth filled with dangerous orcs, hidden secrets, and more.

Unfortunately, there's a lot here that makes Blackthorne feel like a relic. Players must manually switch between holding their shotgun and holstering it. The former opens the door to fight enemies, while the latter allows players to jump and climb. Response times on the shotgun feel horribly inconsistent and it doesn't take very long to get plugged by an orc.

As frustrating as Blackthorne's gameplay can be, the old-school versions have a password system in place to at least help players progress. While the Definitive Edition offers a few quality-of-life improvements, like a mini-map, the password system is still in place. That's an idea that baffles me, especially because none of the Definitive Editions of the three games offer save states.

Rock N Roll Racing

Rock N Roll Racing was a blast when it first released and it remains so to this day. The SNES version still handles beautifully and features crisp, responsive driving controls mixed in with combat racing elements. Think more Twisted Metal than Mario Kart, as players utilize missiles and oil slicks to take down the opposition. The tracks are competently laid out, the obstacles are plentiful, and the action gets intense quickly. Completing the package are old chiptune versions of classic 80s rock and metal hits.

Beyond the racing, the soundtrack is what makes Rock N Roll Racing so memorable. The SNES version captures this perfectly. The old Sega Genesis version, less so. More than the other two games, Rock N Roll Racing illustrates a major different between the old 16-bit consoles, as the SNES version could play music uninterrupted while the Genesis version broke into awkward silence during any instance of dialogue.

The Definitive Edition of Rock N Roll Racing is modeled more after the SNES version and expands the backdrop noticeably. Ever wanted widescreen RNRR? This is the compilation for you! While the graphics are still mainly stuck in the SNES age, several other elements have been upgraded. That includes a new announcer doing a spot-on impression of the old announcer while recording new dialogue. And it also includes the actual songs, which comes as a bit of a double-edged sword. For average players, it's a cool addition and one that makes RNRR live up to its title. For anyone hoping to jump on Twitch or YouTube, it's a DMCA nightmare. Fortunately, the latter crowd can access the in-game options and switch back to the original chiptune soundtrack.

The Definitive Edition also offers a four-player option, which is the first time where all four racers in each race can be humans. There's a big downside to this, though. It's local multiplayer only. It's heartbreaking for a game like Rock N Roll Racing to not have an online component, especially given that it's Blizzard with a full Battle.net client they can take advantage of and the exclusion of online play is a total head-scratcher.

The Package

As a compilation, the Blizzard Arcade Collection is outstanding. It's a pleasant surprise to see Blizzard go the completionist route and collect multiple vintage versions of each of these games. It's also cool to see the addition of save states and rewind features for each of the vintage games. There's even an option to watch a full playthrough, which comes in really handy for The Lost Vikings whenever there's a particularly tricky puzzle.

Unfortunately, the save states and rewind functions are not available for any of the Definitive Editions, which is another odd design decision. This is especially aggravating in Blackthorne, because that essentially means you're completely reliant on the archaic password system. That means for Blackthorne or The Lost Vikings, you're either choosing between modern features on a classic game or outdated features on a remastered game. It's a weird choice to have to make.

The Blizzard Arcade Collection isn't a perfect compilation by any means, but for the advancements that Blizzard made on some of these games without compromising the old-school visuals make it a must-own. The Museum is also a fun look back at the making of some of these old gems. Rock N Roll Racing by itself is more than worth the price of admission, but The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne are such unique time capsules of old-school Blizzard design that they're worth experiencing.


This review is based on a digital copy provided by the publisher via a free Blizzard Celebration Collection. The Blizzard Arcade Collection is available now on Battle.net, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, and the Nintendo eShop for $19.99. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Pros
  • The Lost Vikings and Rock N Roll Racing still hold up
  • Definitive Editions look updated without compromising old-school visuals
  • Rewind, save states, and watchable playthroughs added to vintage games
  • Museum is a fun time capsule
  • The updated Rock N Roll Racing soundtrack rocks
Cons
  • Blackthorne hasn't aged so well
  • Rewind and save states not available on Definitive Editions
  • No online play on Rock N Roll Racing or The Lost Vikings
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