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The Blizzard Arcade Collection is a modestly priced compilation of three games developed before the famous California studio released 1994's Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (subsequently kicking off a huge franchise) - including two that came out under the company's original name, Silicon & Synapse. Available now for Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch (version tested), it's a curiously titled proposition for two reasons.
Firstly, only one of the games here has that all-important instant accessibility that really made the best arcade games shine. And secondly, none of them were released in arcades, at all. I've checked that, given my memory isn't always reliable, and sure enough, these were only ever home-release productions. Nevertheless, as a package, Arcade Collection is at least two-thirds worth your time.
The game with the most arcade-like qualities, that takes mere seconds to make sense and gets its hooks into you right away, is Rock n' Roll Racing, originally released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo and subsequently ported to several other platforms. It's an isometric racer that takes a few cues from Micro Machines and RC Pro-Am, gives its circuits and vehicles a futuristic aesthetic, and throws in weapons and jump boosts to mix up the on-track mayhem.
It's a lot of fun, still, and Arcade Collection's 'Definitive' version of the game makes it even better. This kinda-remix combines elements of the SNES and Mega Drive releases (both of which are included in their original guises), snaps the screen to 16:9, and switches the 16-bit chiptune renditions of famous rock n' roll songs for the fully licensed real deals. No more glitchy-sounding 'Breaking The Law' - now, you get CD-quality Judas Priest playing as you tear around the courses. (Streamers, beware!) There's also four-player, split-screen local multiplayer, which runs perfectly well; and commentary that lands somewhere between amusing and painful, depending on how you're performing. I've not got to the point where I've needed to turn it off, but silencing the chatter is an option.
If racing's not your thing, The Lost Vikings is a brilliant puzzler from 1993 where the player has to use three different characters, each with different skills (one is fast and can smash through obstacles; another stout, with a shield to protect against any enemy; and the third's a fighter, with sword and bow at his disposal), to complete brain-teasing levels set on a space ship. They've been captured, you see, for an intergalactic zoo. Another Silicon & Synapse original that debuted on the SNES, it's again here in both SEGA and Nintendo versions and a 'Definitive' form that takes the Mega Drive's extra levels and three-player mode, and provides multi-language support.
Finally, there's the weakest of the three games, Blackthorne. A SNES release in 1994 and SEGA's doomed 32X add-on a year later (both versions included), its visuals feature some smooth, rotoscoped animation and detailed environments and enemies. But it's a frustratingly stiff affair which aims for Flashback-like cinematic platforming but totally fails to stick its landing. The 'Definitive' version adds an auto-mapping feature to encourage hassle-free exploration, but it's hard to see this title being anyone's favourite from the trio on offer.
The game's controls are the absolute opposite of intuitive, and the simple act of drawing a weapon is so slow and fiddly that the whole game soon drags. Blackthorne is so bleak and depressing, and so awkwardly 'edgy', compared to Rock n' Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings - and with 2018's 25th anniversary version of Flashback regularly on sale, you're recommended to opt for that over this if it's precision chasm-leaping right after some NPC nattering you're after.
Other extras in the Blizzard Arcade Collection include an informative museum with insightful video interviews about each game, digital instruction manuals, a small selection of visual filters and borders, save states (not on the 'Definitive' version of The Lost Vikings, oddly), and the option to rewind gameplay when you mess up - most of which is fairly standard fare for these releases, nowadays (again, rewind isn't active on the 'Definitive' versions). A total of a dozen languages are supported, which is great to see, and a 'Watch' feature will play the games for you - Blackthorne and The Lost Vikings - up to whatever point you want to take over. Neat, I guess.
Overall, this is a comprehensive, complete-feeling package in terms of its original inclusions, that gives you two very excellent games from the earliest days of a gaming giant - games that will bring a smile to your face whether you played them at the time or not. And alongside those, a curio that might pique the interest of some, but is probably best left in the past; and 'Definitive' versions of varying results.
Pros: 'Definitive' version of Rock n' Roll Racing is worth the entry fee alone; quality-of-life extras are welcomed; properly licensed music makes for some huge earworms
Cons: Blackthorne was rough in the 1990s and it's still rough today; curious lack of save and rewind support on 'Definitive' versions; no room for Rock n' Roll Racing's predecessor, RPM Racing?
For Fans Of: Micro Machines, Lemmings, Flashback
Blizzard Arcade Collection is available now for Nintendo Switch (version tested - no remarkable differences noticed when playing docked or handheld, given the age of the games), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Review code provided by Activision. Check out a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores, here.
Featured Image Credit: Activision Blizzard
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