Sunday, March 15, 2009


Blackthorne was created by Blizzard Entertainment and released on the SNES in 1994. The story is told through cut scenes that show at the end of each area and through what the player can gleam from talking to the inhabitants of the planet Tuul. The player is quickly learns that Kyle Blackthorne is the son of the previous king of Androth who fell to the power of the demon Sarlac and the might of the Ka'dra'suul kingdom. There are some mentions of a light stone that is given to Kyle before he is beamed to Earth, but the exact reasons as to why it is important are a secret to Kyle in the beginning. Our hero spends the next 20 years on Earth, joining the military, being court-martialed, and preparing for the day that he will return to Tuul to retake his kingdom.

And return he does, after a surprise encounter in the desert, Kyle wakes up in the mines, and the game begins. The game play is very similar to games like Prince of Persia and Flashback. Meaning each screen is made up of three floors that the player must navigate via climbing, jumping, fighting and exploring. Though the game is a lot more linear than Prince of Persia (by that I mean that there are fewer secrets), those that are familiar with the old version's game play will feel right at home with the methodical pace.

Movement through the game isn't slow, per se, but it is deliberate. There is a run button, but more often than not, it makes the player's movements a bit more unruly than is safe. And as a deadly or damaging drop may be only a screen away, it is often better to walk than to hope you can notice and stop before bumping into something nasty.

The combat in the game is focused on gun play, but unlike the gun play in Flashback, one is more likely to survive going toe to toe with an enemy even if they are heavily armed. This is due to a simple cover system that Blizzard included. While the shotgun is drawn, pressing up on the d-pad causes Kyle to lean into the background. While in this state, all dangers will pass him by without dealing any damage. Of course, his enemies can do this as well, so the fire fights end up being more about timing than having a quick trigger finger. One thing I feel compelled to mention, is that like Prince of Persia, healing items are hard to come by. So even a mistake that didn't kill you at the beginning may have disastrous consequences later as the level slowly eats away at Kyle's health.

The world that Kyle explores is broken into four areas with different levels in each. At the end of each level, the player is given a short 4 digit alphanumeric password that will allow them to return to that section. These passwords are always the same and do not take into account any items the player might have in their possession at the end of the level. This is, unfortunately, normal as the game always strips Kyle of all items at the start of every level. Of course, Kyle's health is also refilled, so after a few of the more difficult levels, the player may feel more rewarded than gypped.

Not only that, but because all items that are needed for a level are found in that level, it is impossible for a player to get completely stuck. However, it is possible to mess a section up badly enough to need to restart. Such as if the player misses a grenade toss and ends up blowing up the wrong thing, a quick press of the start button will bring up the level restart menu, allowing one to go back and fix said mistake. Of course, the games difficulty will force the player to restart levels many times simply due to punishing them for any mistake that is made.

Unfortunately, this means you'll be playing the same sections of the game over and over again, trying to complete a run that will get you to the end of the level before your health is whittled away by enemies, traps, and falls. This can get a tad repetitive as the levels do not change at all. The enemies will always be in the exact same place and for the most part will act in the exact same way. Thankfully, this is elevated somewhat by the music, which has a heavy and oppressive feel that adds to the sense of danger and mixes well with the dark and somber tones of the backgrounds. One interesting thing about the music is that there seems to be a thread of power and defiance that is struggling against the surrounding, bleak tones. This thread seems to grow stronger as the player progresses though the game until it is the driving force behind the music.

All in all, Blackthorne is a very good game. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by it. It was one of those games I remember reading about in magazines as a child. I was obsessed with Flashback, and because of that I had always wanted to play Blackthorne. Over the years, I must have created in my head the idea of a game that was far better than Flashback. I don't know if that's just the nostalgia talking, and maybe if I went back, I'd find Flashback a tad underwhelming. I do, on the other hand, know that Blackthorne did not live up to my own self-created hype. It's a fine game, though, a lot of fun and well worth the few bucks you'll spend on it if you find it in a used game store or if it ever comes up on the Virtual Console. Just make sure you're ready for the methodical pace.

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