Truth be told, even though WarCraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal is my favorite Blizzard game ever, it was not the first one of their releases that I ever played. That “honor” lies with The Death and the Return of Superman, an okay beat ‘em up adaptation of the multimedia event that happened around the death of the Man of Steel. Differently from now, the death of any superhero was a big deal then, especially considering the popularity of Shuster and Siegel’s beloved character. Still, despite its dubious quality, I was eight years old and played the heck out of that.
Blizzard’s a much much different company now than it was then. Back in the 1990s, they were plucky and hungry for success, and they eventually hit it REALLY big with WarCraft and eventually StarCraft and Diablo. I could type away recalling the infinite hours I spent with their games, and even now I can say I’m still a fan even though my gametime has basically been relegated to Hearthstone.
For as shaken up as Blizzard’s been with their acquisition by Activision and the departure of some of its key figures like Mike Morheim, Frank Pierce, Allen Adham and to some degree Chris Metzen, there seems to be some love left for their craft left somewhere in the company, or at least someone realized some dough could be made with their less remembered catalog, resulting in the Blizzard Arcade Collection, a compilation of their earliest works and hits.
Unfortunately, albeit understably missing, is my dear The Death and Return of Superman. Oh well. Instead, we get Rock n’ Roll Racing, Blackthorn and the original The Lost Vikings, each packed with different ROMs based on the consoles they were released in, and a definitive edition, which packs the best features of each of those, adding in widescreen support and extra goodies depending on the game.
Following in the footsteps of the wildly fantastic the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there’s a slew of extras to be had in regards to these games’ development, like video interviews with Blizzard’s founders, as well as one of their most popular artists, Samwise Didier, along with many pieces of key art and animation cycles, not to mention background info on the story behind the action in these games. Last, but certainly not least, is the feature of jumping in at any moment during perfect replays of any of the ROM versions of The Lost Vikings and Blackthorn, letting you skip straight to the end if you wish. That’s obviously missing from Rock n’ Roll Racing, and can’t be used for the definitive edition of any of the games, for some reason.
Emulation-wise, there’s nothing really to complain about their performance. Even the 32-bit version of Blackthorn that’s included runs exceptionally well and very faithfully to what you’d expect when playing an early CD-ROM game, that is, there’s slowdown and unskippable scenes to sit through, as you would back in the day. Blackthorn’s definite edition, on the other hand, lets you do just that, with the added benefit of having sprite graphics instead of the uglier pre-rendered style used in the higher bit version.
Blackthorn in particular is probably the one inclusion that’s probably aged the most, with its clunky controls and slow, deliberate movement. But it’s easy to see some of the creativity Blizzard would be lauded for in later releases starting to show in this game, like the ability to take cover and the overall colorfulness and smooth animation of its graphics.
Rock ‘n Roll Racing will perhaps be the weirdest inclusion in this compilation if World of WarCraft is the first thing that springs to your mind when you think of Blizzard. It’s an isometric racer with licensed metal music from some pretty well known bands. Given their recent snafu during Metallica’s performance via Twitch as the online edition of BlizzCon opened, it’s especially funny to see them not only keeping the original music to the game, but also blaring CD quality tracks when playing the definitive version of the game. Overall, it’s a very fun racer, and if you can get some friends together, you’ll be able to play with up to four of them, chaos ensuing.
But when it comes to people joining up and playing together, the one true star of the Blizzard Arcade Collection is The Lost Vikings. Originally supposed to be a Lemmings inspired game, The Lost Vikings puts you in charge of a trio of vikings who find themselves lost in time and space, having only their unique abilities to rely upon to figure out a way back home. Playing solo, you get to switch between each member of the group, a mechanic seen later brought into the Trine games, but the best way to play is to have each burly lovable brute be controlled by an individual player, joining arms in order to escape from the dozens of levels included in the game.
Out of the three games in the Blizzard Arcade Collection, The Lost Vikings is easily the most playable and full of charm. Blizzard’s knack for creating memorable characters and worlds shines through with the ragtag group. So much so that almost 30 years later, people still remember them enough to warrant their inclusion in Heroes of the Storm as one of the most unique heroes to pick from, for as ho-hum as that MOBA performed. It’s my favorite out of the collection, and makes me wish its sequel was also included.
If you’re a newcomer to Blizzard or have only gotten to know them over the last couple decades, the Blizzard Arcade Collection is an excellent way to discover more of their history, going to show that there’s more to them than only their catalog of established franchises. Even the (arguably) biggest companies in the business had to start small, and as the collection proves, creativity and passion can go a long way, even if the Blizzard of today might seem like a far cry from what it was back then.