Blizzard Arcade Collection Review (Switch eShop)

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Recorded on Nintendo Switch (Handheld / Undocked)

Blizzard Entertainment is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the announcement was made at BlizzCon last month to mark the occasion Blizzard Arcade Collection. In this birthday package, three SNES classics from the company’s early years are searched, the dust blown away, spiced up a little, some artifacts from the company’s history mixed, then wrapped in colored paper and tied together with a large piece of sparkling bow – then he claps blatantly on a brand new price tag. So are these games the gifts that keep giving? Or do we hope they keep the receipt?

The three games in question are from 1992 The lost vikings, 1993s Rock and roll racing and 1994s Blackthorne. These were the relatively humble beginnings before Warcraft came out in 1995 and started the snowball for Blizzard’s million-selling, million-selling, and million-selling mega-franchise businesses that are cultural touchstones for generations of gamers. World of Warcraft, Stars ship, Diablo and Overwatch: Unimaginable achievements for the three UCLA graduates we see in the Early Years photo gallery. You rent a bare office and take lunch breaks on the floor with no furniture. But here we are in 2021, Blizzard is 30 years old, and the three vintage games are being modernized.

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Recorded on Nintendo Switch (Handheld / Undocked)

At launch, the first sign we’re not in the 90s anymore: If you’re looking to kick off a rock and roll nostalgia festival, the first thing you need to do is spend a full 15 seconds on the D-Pad scrolling through an end-user license agreement before you can select “Agree”. The Blizzard Arcade Collection tells you the story of a brave startup, but not before you are booted through the legal rituals of the mega corp. Rock ‘n’ roll!

First, let’s take a look at The Lost Vikings, the oldest trio in the Arcade Collection. This is a puzzle platformer where you switch control between three Vikings and use their respective skills to get all three to the exit of each level. The setup is lovably crazy: Erik The Swift, Baleog The Fierce and Olaf The Stout are confiscated by Tomator, the space emperor of Croutonia, for his intergalactic zoo. This grants Silicon & Synapse (as Blizzard was then called) the license to lead the Vikings to all sorts of colorful settings in order to keep the game fresh for most of its run. It was a well-reviewed game in its day, and while its design incorporates some of the gambler’s quirks of the era (no control points, mistakes that are severely punished by repetition), it’s not all that awkward for modern tastes. With the newly added ability to rewind and correct bugs, you can imagine that as a retro-style indie game it will be fine when it releases today.

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Recorded on Nintendo Switch (Handheld / Undocked)

In terms of features, the presentation of The Lost Vikings features both the SNES and Mega Drive / Genesis versions of the game, as well as a new ‘Definitive Edition’ that adds the extra levels and three-player support of the Mega Drive- Version, as well as a nice widescreen title, has map and screen borders drawn to enhance each level. However, some essential strengths of the revised vintage versions are missing: There are no memory states, no rewind, no screen size or frame options and no filters. So if you want big screen games and modern conveniences like save / load and the frustrating rewind, leave the Definitive Edition alone.

Next up is Rock ‘n Roll Racing, released in 1993 a year after The Lost Vikings. The futuristic isometric collectibles racer to tune your car with is certainly the jewel in the crown of the Blizzard Arcade Collection, which has been released for critical acclaim for multiple formats in the past. In this case, however, the final edition is actually final. The entire game has been redesigned into a full widescreen experience, the graphics have been subtly improved without defacing the original content, and the soundtrack has been updated.

“Wait! Soundtrack updated ?!” We hear you cry. Fans from the SNES days may have wondered how Blizzard would handle the licensed Chiptune soundtrack. Cut it out of the game? Replace it with something similar, though legally different to avoid problems? Well, they decided on option 3: Re-license all original titles, lyrics and all in CD quality and throw in more for a fair amount. It’s the dream scenario. The growl, “Break the law! That To break the law!” fits the RNRR aesthetic so incredibly well that the entire package is like a parody of itself. The controls are still tight, the action flows freely, and the commentary is even tougher. In general, Son et Lumière was cranked for a retro release that plays the way you remember it, not the way it actually was. Brilliant.

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Recorded on Nintendo Switch (Handheld / Undocked)

In addition to the Definitive Edition, there is a new split-screen version of the game for four players. The track design and handling are good for multiplayer, and the silliness of the concept is just right for throwaway races. It’s worth noting, however, that you won’t be able to play it (or indeed any of the Blizzard Arcade collections) with a single Joy-Con. You need a pair of Pro Controllers or Joy-Con for each player. This seems like a missed opportunity: if there ever was a game where you could stick to the tabletop with that flimsy pop stand and clench your fingers with a friend, then this is it for sure. Also included in the package are the SNES and Mega Drive editions of the game. But given the superb modernized version, they add little to it.

And finally Blackthorne, the cinematic science fiction platformer rotoscoped in 1994. Blackthorne’s taste is decidedly 80’s; The plot and the aesthetic are somewhere in between Conan, Terminator and HighlandersFeaturing an alien hero who hides in the shadows and then grunts one hand with a shotgun. However, unlike The Lost Vikings, which uses its wild narrative for all kinds of vibrant sets, Blackthorne stays on a much narrower palette. It’s a more mature feeling, but it’s also a little harder to hold out when the dark side of retro game design makes you replay tricky sections.

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Recorded on Nintendo Switch (Handheld / Undocked)

Unfortunately, the Definitive Edition is again not one that we can recommend. It brings a new auto-mapping feature, but it also adds layered borders to the screen that can confuse things by making them look like a landscape. As with The Lost Vikings, the quality of life additions – save / load, rewind, screen size, etc. – are not included in the Definitive Edition. Another feature that puts the old console versions in the foreground is the surveillance mode, which allows you to see the entire game from start to finish. You can jump to the parts you want to see and instantly take control and play from any point in the recording. The Lost Vikings does the same thing: it’s really well implemented and a great way to remember what’s in the game and just play that one favorite part all over again.

Blackthorne is a good game and well worth playing with the assists that have been added to the console versions. compare to Flashback – also available from Switch from 1992 – are unavoidable and unflattering. Blackthorne isn’t that artful and satisfying to move around in, but it’s something else if you’ve played Flashback to Death.

There’s one more thing in the Blizzard Arcade Collection: the museum area. Here you can see game boxes, concept art and photos of the team that formed in the 90s, and listen to music by Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings. The standout pieces here, however, are the video interviews with the founders and employees of Blizzard. The videos don’t reveal anything too surprising, but are nonetheless the unique memories of people who have been there. As such, they feel invaluable and convey the human side of the impressive Blizzard story.

Conclusion

As a birthday present from Blizzard itself, the Blizzard Arcade Collection has been put together with some care. However, sometimes good things come in smaller packages, and much of the content here is redundant. Two of the Definitive Edition games are inferior to the also included SNES titles, while Rock ‘n Roll Racing is so successful that including the SNES and Mega Drive versions only really caused a mess. The result is that each version of each game has to be started a few times to find out which one is actually worth playing, which spoils the party a little. But for all these imperfections, there is a lot to love: it may not be exactly what we have always wanted, but the thought that matters.

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