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Blackthorne Review

Developer: Blizzard Publisher: Interplay
Release Date: August 10, 1995 Also On: None

Blizzard is best known for Warcraft and Starcraft, but those aren’t the only games they’ve ever made. Before either of those games came on the scene, there was at least one other game that they made, a game called Blackthorne. Blackthorne is one of the most realistic 2D games I have ever played. There is no jumping four times the character’s height or any of that typical 2D game stuff here. Instead, this is a game that almost tries too hard to be realistic, and it comes off at some points at going farther than the point of true realism.

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Graphically, most of Blackthorne is dark and foreboding, but that fits the mood of the game well. Like most of the rest of the game, realism is a major theme in the graphics. There are no bright, flashy colors to be found in this game. When you’re in a cave, it looks like a cave and such forth. Even the explosions look as realistic as the SNES can allow for. The only element of this game’s graphics that aren’t completely realistic is the fact that most of the enemies aren’t human. The SNES’s graphics card probably isn’t pushed to the absolute limit with this game, but the graphics are very realistic and are done quite well.

There isn’t really much to speak of in the realm of music in this game. Indeed, what music there is is more akin to ambient noise met to set the dark mood of the game. When combined with the realistic-sounding explosions and gunfire, and even grunts from landing on jumps or thuds when ending a fall, the atmosphere that the sound in this game sets is the one that the game is going for, a dark realistic approach. The sound, like the graphics, adds much to this realism.

The gameplay in this game, to the uninitiated, must seem the most convoluted control scheme in the history of gaming, and, to be honest, in some ways it is. Of the four buttons on the SNES controller (L and R aren’t used), two of them have two uses depending on whether your weapon is drawn or holstered, with one switching weapon positions. For example, the button that fires your weapon forward when it’s drawn is the same weapon that makes Kyle Blackthorne (the main character) jump when it’s holstered. The button that causes Kyle to fire backward (a move which, not particularly useful, still looks cool) is the button that causes him to run when his weapon is holstered. Yes, that’s right, your character can’t run or jump with his weapon drawn, which is why I said that this game sometimes goes too far in its quest for realism. Kyle can also climb ledges when he’s directly under them by pressing up (but, of course, he can’t do this with his weapon drawn either).

Luckily, it isn’t absolutely necessary to have your gun out all the time, because the enemies aren’t as numerous in this game as they would be in a Contra or Mega Man title. The fights don’t come down to the same mechanics either. When you’re facing an enemy, you can hide in the shadows by using up on the control pad (luckily, the guy can do this with his weapon drawn). Essentially, the method of attack is to hit the enemy at a certain point in his attack routine (what point depends on the enemy type).

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this game is more of a stealth and maze game than it is an action game. You can get items all over the place, but most of them have to be used at certain places and wasting them will result in your being unable to complete the level, so you need to conserve items in this game. That is one of only three difficult things about this game. Groups of enemies are another. Battles tend to be fairly simple when it’s one on one, but when you get two or more enemies on the screen at once, it can be a matter of knowing how much time you have before one enemy starts attacking when the other is at his vulnerable point. It usually doesn’t take too much to catch on to which order to take the enemies out in, but it can be a challenge at times.

The third thing, and my worst complaint about the gameplay, is the running jump. I don’t know if it’s unresponsive control or what, but it seems near impossible to hit the jump button at the right time when you’re running. Indeed, I found myself taking more damage from falling because the jump button didn’t work than I did from enemies. Still, if you have enough health potions on you, this isn’t as major a problem as it could be otherwise.

Blackthorne consists of seventeen levels, four sets of four levels each in various locales, and then the final battle with Sarlac, the bad guy. The story develops reasonably well for an action game between each four-level set. Also, most of the levels are reasonably long, making this a decent-lengthed game. You can’t save your progress, but there is a password system that gives you a password at the beginning of each level.

Even though this review is of the SNES version, if you don’t have an SNES, the PC version is just as good, if a bit slower paced, and there is also a version on the GBA, probably a port of the SNES version. Whatever version of the game you play, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try at some point. It’s arch-realism may be a bit much for some people, but it is a fun and challenging game in its own right anyway.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 7
Final: 7.7
Written by Martin Review Guide