Years before Blizzard Entertainment achieved fame as the company behind the Starcraft and Warcraft PC game franchises, it developed a variety of games for the PC, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis platforms--including such classics as Rock 'N Roll Racing, The Lost Vikings, and a glitzy Prince of Persia knock-off, called Blackthorne. Rock 'N Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings have already been ported to the Game Boy Advance, and now it's Blackthorne's turn to undergo the portable treatment. Whether or not you'll enjoy Blackthorne depends on how much you enjoy platform-based puzzle games--a genre that includes games like Prince of Persia, Out of This World, Flashback, and Heart of Darkness.
The best way to describe Blackthorne is to say that it's Prince of Persia infused with Turok's atmosphere. Kyle Blackthorne, the main character, is a shotgun-toting warrior type with long hair and face paint. Each of the game's 16 side-scrolling levels is set up like an intricate puzzle full of pitfalls, cliffs, and switches. Your character has all of the basic moves you'd expect, like the ability to run, jump, somersault, and climb ladders, but the real challenge comes from figuring out how to interact with the environment so that you can transition safely from one area to the next. When you come to a ledge, you have the option to leap across to the other side, jump down, or dangle and drop down to the ground below. Once in a while, the only way to reach a ledge on the other side is to take a running start and initiate a leap at the last possible moment. A fair portion of the game's challenge comes from surviving these situations, since Kyle can lose massive amounts of health if he hits the ground after a lengthy fall. Allies within the dungeons can give you health potions if you need them, as well as other items that will help you on your quest, such as bombs, keys, and portable levitating platforms.
One major difference between Blackthorne and similar games, such as Prince of Persia or Flashback, is that in Blackthorne the main character is always armed. When you press the B button, Kyle will draw his shotgun. You can press the A button to shoot straight ahead or tap the R button to fire off a stylish behind-the-back blast. If you want, you can dodge enemy attacks by pressing up on the directional pad, which causes you to hunch back into the scenery. The opposition is a motley crew of mutated monsters armed to the teeth with machine guns and spider mines, but killing them requires more than button mashing. Like Kyle, they can dodge into the scenery. In order to land a shot, you need to press the fire button during the split second between when the enemy stops firing and when it goes back to hiding. Even though you'll encounter dozens of enemies throughout the game, combat really isn't Blackthorne's strong suit. Primarily, it's just one more thing to keep you on your toes while you search for the keys you need. On the upside, you can shoot allies just as easily as you can shoot the enemy, which does provide a sort of sadistic catharsis during those times when you can't seem to find the item you want.
Like the majority of games in the puzzle-platform genre, Blackthorne gets the most out of its levels by forcing you to backtrack. Some puzzles require you to trigger a switch and run through a doorway before it shuts. If you don't make it in time, you'll need to work your way back to the switch and try again. Often, a gate or elevator near the beginning of a level will require a key found toward the end of the level--which means you'll need to successfully navigate every chasm and puzzle in the level multiple times. Some people love this sort of thing, and others may feel that the repetition artificially inflates the game's overall play time. Even in light of this tendency to make you backtrack, Blackthorne isn't a lengthy game by any means. Most players won't need more than five or six hours to reach the end.
Blackthorne was originally released for the Super NES, PC, and Sega 32X platforms. While it's tempting to suggest that the GBA version is a port of the Super NES game, there are really too many differences between the two to allow reasonable comparisons. On the positive side of things, the GBA game uses an automatic save feature to record your progress as you go. Previous versions of the game used a password-based save system. The graphics, on the other hand, haven't been improved since the Super NES game. In fact, they've taken a step backward. The levels have a dark, gothic look to them, and the character animation is remarkably fluid, but the variety of colors used to draw in the visuals is exceptionally low--often to the point that the game resembles something you'd find on the 8-bit NES or Master System and not the Super NES or GBA. As for the audio, it's fine. Things like footsteps and screams are depicted using digitized sound samples, while the soundtrack has a ghastly tone to it and makes good use of a wide variety of instruments.
Despite the fact that its graphics leave something to be desired, Blackthorne's gameplay and atmosphere are just as satisfying as they were on the Super NES nearly a decade ago. This game is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys platform-based puzzle games.