By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on October 17, 2014
I'd like to start this brand new Big Red Timemachine by asking you a question; What were you doing in 1994? Now, take your time to think about this, I know it's a very long time ago. Some of you might have still been just the glint in your mother's eye, while others were struggling with the eternal question of what to do with the opposite sex, except bravely stating that you thought they were stupid. If you were anything like me though, you'd be locked away in your sanctuary (by sanctuary I mean bedroom, and by locked away I mean hiding from the rest of the world...), while the bleak light of your HUGE 14" monitor did nothing for your already pasty complexion. Nevertheless, you would be preparing to undertake a journey to the planet Tuul. You would be ready to embark on a quest, if you will, to rid Tuul of the evil forces of Sarlac.
Are there any bells ringing or lights flashing in the deepest recesses of your mind? Does any of this sound even remotely familiar? It should! Because if it did, you might have very well been one of the lucky ones to be playing (and probably loved playing) Blackthorne!
Developed in 1994 for the SNES and PC (and remade for the Sega 32X and Mac OS in 1996, as well as for the Game Boy Advance in 2003) by our friends at Blizzard Entertainment and produced by Interplay, Blackthorne is an action-packed 2D side-scrolling platformer with a vengeance. In Blackthorne we meet Kyle, son of King Vlaros (ruler of Androth, the kingdom of light) Kyle has been sent to earth as a boy by said king and an Androthi magician named Galadril. Kyle is sent to earth to save his life, because a great war is ravaging Tuul. Androth is under constant attack from Sarlac, all-round bad guy and pain in the ass. Sarlac (ruler of Ka'dra'suul, the kingdom of darkness) and his troops mean to overthrow Androth and claim the entire planet for their own.
Now, one might reason that two kingdoms on one planet isn't that much. So they should get along fine without being at each other's throats, due to the abundance of room on Tuul. Well, one would be wrong. Once there was lasting peace on Tuul, but that was years ago, when the old King Thoros still reigned and Tuul was one big, happy kingdom. Alas, this was not meant to be. You see, king Thoros had two sons and one major problem. He didn't know which of his sons to appoint as his successor. So the king hatched a brilliant plan (or so he thought...)
King Thoros leads both his sons into a nearby desert and then... wait for it...oh man, this is going to be the best plan ever... wait for it... KILLS HIMSELF! wait, what?! Yes, the old king kills himself after which his body transforms into two stones, one light, one dark. What do you mean: "I don't get it"?! It's clear as day! King Thoros provided both sons with a magical stone so they could...so they could...eeehm...right, moving on!
Following this strange turn of events, they kingdom is effectively split in twain because the brothers cannot agree who is to rule over Tuul (no surprise there) and each start ruling their own half of the original kingdom. So it came to pass that the kingdoms of Androth and Ka'dra'suul were born. While the people of Androth respected the power of the stone and live wonderful and prosperous lives, the people of Ka'dra'suul thought: "to hell with it!" and started partying their slowly degrading asses off. This partying slowly turns them into monsters with a thirst for power and destruction. Then a still young Sarlac unites this band of party-monsters, builds an army and starts a campaign to conquer the whole of Tuul, and war ensues...
Meanwhile, back on earth, Kyle receives army training and amasses great combat skills, a cool hairdo and a killer shotgun. After a few years however, he goes through a rough patch, turns mercenary and faces court martial. After escaping from prison, he ventures forth into the world, haunted by dreams of his home planet and its destruction. These dreams are sent to him by Galadril, his fathers' mage. He slowly realizes it is his destiny to return home, rid the planet of all evil and open up a gigantic can of whoop-ass on Sarlac. So he grabs his shotgun, travels to Tuul and starts doing just that.
Blackthorne is comprised of 17 levels throughout 4 different stages, each with its own specific feel and look. As you travel through this war-torn world, you will come across things like: keys that open specific doors in the level, secret passages behind waterfalls, health kits and bombs (we'll come back to those in a minute). Every once in a while you will encounter some of your kinsmen, put to work as slaves, sometimes chained to the walls. I'd like to pause my review for a bit here. It's time for another question! Who of you can honestly say they NEVER EVER shot a shackled-up slave in the face ON PURPOSE? No, put your hand down, you're lying. Don't lie to me, I can sense when someone is lying! I mean, come on. They're chained to the wall, down on their knees. As you stand beside them with your gun unsheathed, they tend to look up at you...AND LOOK RIGHT INTO YOUR GUN BARREL. If that isn't asking for the trigger to be pulled, then I don't know what is...
Ok, un-pause review! Next to the collecting of items and the talking to people who think their lives sucks, Blackthorne is also crawling with bad guys for you to obliterate. This obliteration but is mainly achieved by walking up to your enemies and shooting them squarely in the face! That sounds easy right? Ok, awesome and easy then. Awesome it is, easy...not so much. Gun fighting in Blackthorne mostly resembles a heavily armed version of hide and seek, since you and your opponent can both press your backs against the wall, thus effectively evading enemy fire. Some enemies fire only once at a time, others might fire two or even three times in a row. So keep your eye out for the opportune moment to leap out of the shadows and rearrange your enemy's facial features with a blast of buck shot. If timed right, you blow your opponent to kingdom come and stand victorious. If not, your enemy will pump you full of lead and laughs you in the face as you fall to the floor (the bastard), so time your attacks right!
Oh, I almost forgot the single-most awesome thing about using your shotgun. When you press a certain key or button, Kyle casually extends his arm behind his back and unleashes double barreled hell without even looking...HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! I regularly found myself turning my back towards an enemy just so I could use this attack. Notwithstanding the awesomeness of your shotgun, sometimes it's just not enough.
While traveling through Tuul, you'll come across steel doors that cannot be opened by a key and is impervious to shotgun shells. In these cases Blackthorne provides you with an array of bombs, like the hover bomb. After deployment, this explosive device hovers across the floor until it reaches the door and blows it to tiny smithereens. These bombs are also useful when fighting a particularly pesky opponent. One bomb and down he goes, clearing the way for you and bringing you one step closer to your ultimate goal; revenge on Sarlac!
Blackthorne's controls were actually excellent, easy to master and well mapped out across your keyboard or SNES controller. I cannot judge the control scheme on the Sega 32X, Mac OS or the Game Boy Advance due to the fact that I never played this game on any of these systems. I can tell you however, that it handled like a dream on both the PC as well as on the SNES. The graphics really brought the game to life with vibrant colors and well-drawn backgrounds and characters. Put this all together with great game play and an ominous soundtrack and what do you get? Probably one of the finest 2D platformers ever!
I really loved playing this game and I'm sure that I'm not the only one. I would recommend this game to everyone who loves a decent challenge, 2D platformers and blowing shit up! So dust off your trusty boom-stick, take a trip to the planet Tuul and start blasting your way through enemy forces. Sarlac is going down!