LGR – Blackthorne – DOS PC Game Review

♪♪ [typing] When you think of Blizzard Entertainment, a few properties may come to mind. Understandably, you know,
stuff like Warcraft or maybe even Diablo. And maybe if you’re thinking really old school, you might think, oh, yeah… Lost Vikings. That was really cool game that they did. A nice little foray into puzzle platforming in the early ’90s. But how many of you thought about this? [VO]
Blackthorne, also known as Blackhawk in some regions, developed by Blizzard Entertainment and published by Interplay Productions in 1994 for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS PCs. “VENGEANCE. Sometimes it’s the only answer.” And while that may be a wonderfully cliched tagline, man this box is freakin’ awesome! Come to think of it, the cheesy line
just makes it even more awesome, fitting the uber-masculine box art perfectly. Inside, you get the game on two
3½-inch high-density floppy disks in this original release, some mailable registration doohickies, and the manual, featuring a whopping 14 pages of backstory, as well as the expected sections
detailing installation, controls, inventory, and how to enact the only answer: Blackthorne begins with a black background and some decidedly non-thorny logos, followed by a menu screen that appears
to be ripped straight from the SNES version. That’s because it is. While this kind of lazy porting
over might be ridiculed today, back then I just thought it was sweet to see
a DOS game that looked like a console game. Anyway, you’ve got a few choices here, the first of which is a– [soulful voice]
“Practice Mode…” which is a tutorial level to
get the hang of the controls. You can also enter a password
to enter where you left off, or start a new game and enjoy
Blackthorne’s pixel art prelude. No! Yes! The story so far is that on the planet Tuul, there are two groups of people that
have been at war for quite some time, and one of these groups is
led by a cousin of Diablo, the Lord of Terror, who goes by the name Sarlac. Seems that Sarlac got tired of
hanging around the Pit of Carkoon and decided to rule the land while
enslaving the opposing group’s people. The opposing group’s king decides
to send his son, Kyle Blackthorne, the heir to the throne,
to Earth to keep him safe. While he’s there, he becomes
a captain in the military and a mercenary,
and twenty years pass. But then he’s teleported back to his home world to enact the only answer: Batman… And now it’s time to get vengeful, armed with both a pump-action shotgun and hair that would cause Mötley Crüe
to pause and show respect. Here in Blackthorne, it’s
your job to be Blackthorne, which means making it to the end of the
seventeen levels by shooting dudes, talking to NPCs, collecting and using inventory, solving puzzles, and appreciating the stellar OPL3 music by George “The Fat Man” Sanger. ♪♪ If you’re getting a bit of a Prince of Persia vibe, then it’s functioning as intended, since it’s even described on the box as “Prince of Persia with a shotgun.” So if you enjoy games like that, Out of This World, Flashback, or even Oddworld, you’ll definitely find something to like here. However, if you’re not much of
a fan of puzzle-platformers with a highly-restricted level of movement and things that can kill
you on almost every screen, then this is gonna be a
“black thorn” in your side. It’s got it all: the maze-like platforming, the calculated movements
with fluid frames of animation, the copious traps and pitfalls, the puzzle elements that rely
on inventory and logic alike, and the enemies that try to murder you
as soon as you enter each screen. Now, other than the unusual setting of the game, what sets this apart from the rest is the combat. You can shoot left and right like you’d expect, but you can also shoot directly
behind you without looking, and although it’s not very useful very often, it does look badass. But while your shotgun
may have infinite ammo, it’s actually getting a shot to connect
with bad guys that is a challenge. Both you and your foes have the ability to go prone
against the wall behind you, and when doing this,
you’re out of the way a direct gunfire. So it becomes a waiting game. With a bit of strategy and luck, you’ll be able to let some
grunt move out of cover, and then still leave cover yourself to
shoot them without taking damage. If your timing is off and
they shoot you instead, you’ll lose some of
what little health you have and you’ll be knocked backwards, so make sure you’re not
standing right next to a ledge. Speaking of ledges, you’ll be doing a lot of climbing and
jumping across them throughout the game, so it’s very important to know
precisely how the movement works. The entire screen is
actually divided into a grid that would look more or
less like this if it were visible, and while the movement of everything
looks pretty fluid in between each square, it’s only an illusion. This means that there is always an exact point that you can reach a certain ledge, an exact point where you
can jump a certain distance while either at a standstill or running, an exact point to pick up fallen items, etc. This makes movement both highly
predictable and highly infuriating at times. Predictable because you know that
every time you press left or right once, you’re going to move one square
to the left or right in the grid. Infuriating because when you
time a jump slightly incorrectly or misjudge the placement of some object, you’re wasting time at best and dying an incredibly stupid death at worst. What really rubs salt in the wound is that there is no saving or
loading system in the game. It uses passwords,
only a certain checkpoints, and sometimes these
checkpoints are ten minutes apart, so you will end up retreading a lot of ground. Not only that, but you
lose all your inventory anytime you encounter a checkpoint, which is one of the most annoyingly
arbitrary ways to make a game harder. And thankfully it’s not all jumping
puzzles and cover shooting, since you have plenty of logic-based
progression to unlock more of each level, like doors on timers, explosive charges to pick up and throw, bridges to find keys for, gadgets to reach higher ledges, remote-detonated explosive drones to control, and other assorted goodies all help break
up the tedium of navigating and shooting. These also just make the
game a fun puzzle-platformer, and I really enjoy figuring out
how to progress in each level while taking as little damage as possible by outsmarting everyone. The main thing that holds me
back from saying this is great is when I have to outmaneuver everyone too. While I admit the combat is
unique and pretty engaging at first, and after half a dozen levels of
increasingly annoying enemies that all fight more or less the same way, it really wears out its welcome. And the checkpoint and password system
just grows more and more tiresome as the difficulty and complexity
of the levels continues to increase. I understand this kind of
limitation for the Super Nintendo, but for PCs of the time,
it just makes no sense, and quite frankly, it darn
near ruins the game for me. With that out of the way, Blackthorne is
still a game worth checking out though, if only to play a post-Prince of Persia
platformer with a peculiar premise. Not only is alliteration awesome, but it’s also just cool to experience
one of Blizzard’s classic games from before they were known for
Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and Hearthstone. There were also other releases of the game, like the Sega 32X and Macintosh ports, which featured enhanced graphics
and pre-rendered 3D character models, although the models give the
game a cheaper look, in my opinion. There was even a Game Boy Advance port in 2003 in which the game was reworked for the
original GBA’s LCD screen and fewer buttons, with brighter graphics and simpler controls. And if you want to try the original on the PC today, all you have to do is sign into Blizzard’s
Battle.net service and download it for free. Yes, the game may be a
bit infuriating before long, but it’s still got a great atmosphere
and some unique moments, and is worth at least a quick session
of thorny blackness in my eyes. ♪♪ And if you’d like some
more games full of thorns, you’ve come to the right channel. There are plenty of them
I have covered in the past, some of them can be clicked on here, and I also do more videos every single week. On games and hardware and software, and who the heck knows what else. So if you would like to be
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