Launched as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, the Blizzard Arcade Collection combined three classics from Blizzard’s early days, well before Diablo was a thing and online multiplayer was a thing of the future. The Lost Vikings, Rock ‘n Roll Racing and Blackthorne are all classics in their own right though, and this is the first time they’re available on modern consoles.
If re-releasing these games sounds familiar to you, then you’d be right. Blizzard made them available for free back in 2014, but those were the originals and would only run on a PC. The new Blizzard Arcade Collection streamlines the process by making sure that compatibility is no longer an issue, and also branches out to consoles, where for many this will be the first time they can play these absolute classics in many years.
Of course charging $20/€20 for a collection of games that was previously (and still) available for free in its Windows/DOS form seems like a steep jump in comparison, but these are top notch games that have received several enhancements for this release even in the versions that mostly rely on emulation.
To start with the latter – this collection includes both the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis versions are included, as well as a modernized (“definitive”) version that makes use of things like widescreen support – something that wasn’t an issue in the 4:3 era of television. The improvements aren’t limited to the definitive editions though, because the home console versions now support things like save states and a rewind option. Things that are coming our way because they were implemented in emulators somewhere along the way, but nice conveniences to have nonetheless – and the same is true for visual filters that weren’t in the original releases.
Compared to the earlier freebies, this collection brings back mostly all of the licensed music tracks to Rock ‘n Roll Racing, which is of course a wonderful addition. On the definitive edition, this even means that you get original recordings rather than the MIDI bips and bops of the original games. For a game that literally has audio tied into its core concept and name, it’s a massive improvement – and it also extends to the in-game voice-overs that were redone. Away from the audio department, the game now also supports four player split screen action, which is great for some local multiplayer sessions.
The Lost Vikings is a great puzzle platformer that was well ahead of its time with its mechanics when it originally released. Controlling three characters with different abilities, you had to cooperate in order to beat levels and overcome their challenges. Nowadays, franchises like Desperados, Commandos and Shadow Tactics have refined this mechanic quite a bit, but between this and Gobliiins the early 90s there wasn’t much to choose from back in the day. The new versions add conveniences like three player multiplayer as well as adding new levels, both of which I never played in the original MS-DOS version.
Blackthorne is possibly the least well-known of the three games because it was released in the latter days of the SNES era, and as a result the Sega version included is the 32X version – complete with the kind of slightly awkward-looking pre-rendered cutscenes that were prevalent at the time. It was a firm favorite with many PC gamers though, who embraced it as a darker equivalent of games like Flashback and Another World, 2D action adventures with a story to tell. Blackthorne’s gameplay has held up very well in the 25+ years since its release, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a successor at some point – though Blizzard’s heart isn’t really in the single player narrative adventure anymore these days. Technically the improvements for Blackthorne are minor though – especially coming from the improvements that Rock ‘n Roll Racing saw.
On top of three excellent games, the collection also grants access to artwork and reading materials regarding the games, as well as videos with some of the developers. I’m sure some will still see it as a cash grab, but those who are fond of the games will find this to a wonderfully assembled package that fuels their nostalgia. I can’t figure out why this is the “arcade” collection though – these are classics from the 16-bit era of home computing and consoles that were never in arcades.