Developer: Paradox Development
No. of Players: 1 player
By: David Wilson
The Sega 32X: One of the most bashed, beaten and humiliated piece of technology ever to enter anybody’s home, in the last ten years anyway. This Genesis add-on did not reach the success of its predecessor, which was a real shame. When you think of the mistakes that were made in the releasing of this console, like the timing and price, disaster could really been prevented and I guess maybe the 32X could have been a small success instead of gargantuan failure.
It wasn't al bleak, though. One of the few decent games on the 32X was called Blackthorne, which was also released for the Super Nintendo with graphical differences for both versions. It was a part of a small group of 32X games that I tend to refer to as “lost treasures” mainly because they were pushed aside due to the console's failure and therefore their true potential was never really shown.
The storyline of Blackthorne is rather complicated but it is a fantasy story, as are a lot of games of that genre. Anyway, Prince Blackthorne’s kingdom has been overrun by monsters and is now under control of the evil creature and his army of monsters that resemble orcs of some kind. Most of the people of the kingdom were imprisoned, including Prince Blackthorne, who now has to bust them out. How, you may ask? Well, he has a shotgun for some bizarre reason and although that is not a bad thing it feels very weird because of the game's genre. I guess most people were expecting like a sword or bows and arrows or something out of The Lord of the Rings but instead you have a shotgun. This game is very unique when you think about it. Castlevania didn’t give you a shotgun!
The game is basically an action platformer and if you are familiar with the first two Oddworld games you will have a basic idea of what the game play in this game consists of. The controls are pretty awkward in some circumstances but are okay in others. Unfortunately the control gets testy at all the wrong times, like when you are facing an enemy and want to kill them quickly without having too much health knocked off. Another game that takes a very similar approach is Out of This World and if you have played that then you will have at least some idea.
As it says in the sub-heading, the Orcs may need a few hits to go down and others may just die straight away. Orcs are the primary enemies in the game and they also have shotguns (some even have hand grenades, which you will obtain later on). Other enemies are a lot harder to kill but I won’t spoil the gothic horrors that are lurking in further areas of the game, find that out for yourself. Orcs come in two different colours: green and red. The red ones are armed with grenades and take a bit more punch to go down. They can occasionally be a bit of a pain. Most enemies will take a few shotgun blasts to blow away and therefore they can take a while to kill. Blackthorne can also hide in the shadows and avoid being shot but it can be a pain in the ass trying to kill a bad guy that way.
You can pick up a small amount of items in the game but you never need to collect ammo for your shotgun. Items include potions for your health, which can be found from the corpse of a dead enemy. (If you kill a bad guy then you may be able to pick up an item he dropped). You may also find grenades, which are similar to those in Out of This World as they roll across the ground and slither up walls. They will either kill an enemy in one hit or critically damage him, allowing you to finish him off with a shotgun blast. Other items include keys that will switch on laser bridges, etc., allowing you to reach new places that were unreachable before. Mainly the blue guys with electric whips will drop these when you blast a hole in them.
You will come across other men in the levels that have been imprisoned by the monsters and it is your duty to help them. They, in return, give you a potion or something useful that will aid a bit later. These are incredibly helpful when you're caught in a gunfight with an orc and he is really wasting you. Men that are imprisoned will also give you helpful hints for getting further into the game so listen to their advice carefully and try and get as much out of it as you can. If you get bored, you can kill your friends with your shotgun just for the hell of it but I would recommend against it. Some people will actually give you a helping hand and even take down enemies for you off-screen so you don’t have to have another bloody gunfight.
The levels in Blackthorne all seem to have a metaphorical sense of darkness in them. The game does have a gothic type theme so it makes sense that most of the game's levels are dark and mysterious with bizarre creatures lurking about such as spiders, orcs, and everything that JRR Tolkein would be proud of. The game starts off in the Mines of Galadril. (I don’t think Mr. Tolkein would have liked that.), a dark and dingy place from which you have to escape. Other levels include a massive forest with huge trees with insects and spiders crawling about and a huge tower.
As you can clearly see the game takes many aspects from the novel The Lord of the Rings and changes them to suit the needs of the developers. This is one of the weaknesses Blackthorne has and it is sad to see a fantasy game copying another’s work but most games of that genre do anyway and get away with it. It doesn’t really matter too much and does not make the game a better or worse for it. The only person that would complain, I guess, would be someone who is absolutely obsessed with the Lord of the Rings. The final bad guy, the monster king, Sarlac living in a tower, and the last level of course all harken to that classic trilogy (though getting to the tower is damn near impossible).
A strange thing about Blackthorne is that the two versions of the game are not better than each other. The SNES version was a lot brighter, clearer, and had less realistic graphics than the 32X version and it is hard to say which is the best. I do prefer the 32X graphics because they are darker and tie in well with the horror-like theme. They also have a bit of 3-D rendering which makes it my favourite. The SNES graphics are very bright and cheerful and it seemed more like some kind of kids game but the 32X gives it that special enhancement that made the game look so much better.
Blackthorne was also different from most 32X platformers (not that there were a huge amount) because its graphics were a lot more realistic, especially when you think of Knuckles Chaotix and Pitfall which had cartoon-like graphics, I guess it made a change for those who were bit sick of cartoon-style platformers like Mario, Sonic and Bubsy. The game's characters were given a touch up and now look a lot more realistic than they did before. They almost look real. If you were to take a sprite from Mortal Kombat and shrink it down then you'd have the characters from Blackthorne, (well, pretty close anyway). That’s probably the best and easiest way to describe it. The problem with this is that the sprites are given next to nothing in detail and look like different coloured boxes stacked on top of one another.
Enemies, on the other hand, look so much better and really show off Blackthorne’s graphical prowess. Orcs, demons, robot wasps, (another bizarre fantasy/technology cross-over) are given a better brush over than humans and do not suffer the box problem that they seem to all have. Although the enemies are an improvement they are still basically mediocre and do not really seem to do anything to help try to boost the game play.
The game's graphics are a massive improvement from the SNES version and despite the problems it still has high ratings (remember the realistic style the Blackthorne attempts to portray that most other 32X games don’t). The game is very dark so you will have to turn the brightness of your TV up when you play, which is a bit annoying at first but the game is great so I didn't really mind.
I could go on for ages taking the 32X sound system and how bad it is and how much better it could have been but I won’t. Blackthorne is no exception and although the music is very jumpy and not very clear, it does seem to wind in with the dark and creepy theme. The unclear and terrible quality of the music really spoils the game, although this happens on most of 32X games like Doom. I heartily recommend that you turn your sound off when you play because you do not really need it, to be honest. Put some music in your stereo instead and do yourself a favour.
The music does fit in with Blackthorne and although it is bad, it's dark and creepy and I guess it fits in with the genre. It does sound a bit like someone kicking an empty trash can around a back alley but that isn't too important when you consider how good the game is. In fact, you really don’t seem to really notice anything major when you get into the game and this game is one of types you want to get sucked into when you play. The same theme is used in the game through-out and that was probably the best idea because it really was a waste anyway.
I find that sound effects can be very important but it depends on the system and its capabilities. The 32X really did not have any games with great sound but Blackthorne was the worst. The SFX are really quiet and unclear (even though the orcs laugh is pretty sweet) and that’s the best SFX in the game, no kidding! Other SFX are very quiet and the music is incredibly loud so most of the SFX are shrouded out by the dreary and jumpy music. There is barely any speech and that is probably for the best, (a 32X cartridge game with speech, boy, that’s a bad idea).
Blackthorne is definitely in the top few 32X games and is just as good as all of the other versions. Despite few flaws and minor problems, this game turns out to be very decent. It is terribly underrated in my opinion anyway and is (this is going to make me very unpopular) ten times better than Super Metroid. It’s highly probable that the 32X version won't be easily obtained so I think getting the Game Boy Advance one would be a better and easier bet.