BLASTER MASTER ZERO

BLASTER MASTER ZERO

Platforms: Nintendo Switch (played), 3DS
Developer: Inti Creates
Release Date (WW): 3/09/2017


The original Blaster Master is highly regarded by most to be one of the great action-adventure classics of the original Nintendo Entertainment System – “NES” to the layperson. A sprawling game – it dared to define exploration as more than just left and right, but also up, down, and all around in a time when few games tried to. Now IntiCreates steps up to the plate to remake the classic for the next generation of Nintendo systems. Will it capture the same essence decades later?

“STORY”

The game’s story is still driven by a guy (Jason) trying to find a frog (Fred) in a tank he finds (Sophia III), only now there’s all sorts of anime shit everywhere.

Anime shit in Blaster Master Zero
This is not how I remembered it. (image: http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/03/15/blaster-master-zero-review)

Shortly into the game you meet a mysterious anime girl (Eve) who has – you’ll never guess – lost her memory! Nevertheless it’s not all that important as the focus of the game is exploration and being the master of blasting.

And since this is a modern game, the action is frequently interrupted by the main character talking to himself about whatever is going on. Once Eve joins up with you, you can even opt to interrupt the gameplay by talking to her on the communicator. While it’s mostly a random canned message describing one of the tank’s sub-weapons, sometimes there can be an exchange that talks more about the world and what’s going on, which is slightly more interesting, but not as interesting as the blasting tasks at hand.

TO BLAST, PERCHANCE TO DREAM

There are two main modes of blasting you can enjoy mastering as you traverse the game’s eight main areas. Your primary method of getting around is in the tank, SOPHIA III, in classic 2D platforming action.

Blaster Master Zero tank gameplay
Sophia III blasts on the surface… (image: inticreates.com)

Jason can pop out of the tank at any time to get into smaller sections of the map or to die tragically from slight falls. Each area is littered with smaller dungeons that you explore on foot from a top-down perspective for some more intimate, smaller scale blasting.

Blaster Master Zero dungeon gameplay
…while Jason blasts in the dungeons. (image: inticreates.com)

In one of the dungeons in each area is a boss with an upgrade for your tank that you can use to get past whatever obstacle is obstructing your way into the next area. This is very reminiscent of Metroid where progression into new areas was regulated by whichever powerups you had collected. I would call this “Metroidvania” style, except the original game predated Castlevania: Symphony of the Night by 9 years, when Castlevania somehow married into what Metroid had been doing all along. The style of game should be “Blastroid”, or “Metraster”, or something. Anyway.

Mother Brain boss in Blaster Master Zero
This boss is even named Mother Brain! (image: Tired Old Hack https://tiredoldhack.com/2017/03/09/blaster-master-zero-switch-review/)

While on foot, Jason can upgrade his gun to eight different levels by picking up powerups. Each level of fire behaves differently and has a different effect. For example, the first upgrades extend the length of the shot and the rate of fire, but some of the later upgrades behave completely differently, such as providing a shield, or an electrical pulse that zaps all nearby enemies. This would be a cool feature, except…

There is never, ever a reason to not use the last powerup level, the Wave Gun. This thing is fast, easily the most powerful, and has a great wide area that it covers too. You can stand still and decimate some bosses with it. The only time I didn’t use it when I had it was in the ice area, where the flamethrower can outright break some of the ice mechanics making it much easier to get around. The only downside is that whenever you take damage, you lose a level of gun power, so it’s easy to quickly drop down quickly when you’re stuck with whatever garbage that is not the Wave Gun, which is incentive to stay on your toes.

1988 VS 2017, HOW BLASTING HAS CHANGED

Aside from the obvious modern 16-bit indie coat of paint, the core game has changed in a few ways since the original version 29 years old. Good Lord, was it that long ago? I feel so old.

Gone is the lives and continues system. Introduced is a series of checkpoints that are generously placed throughout the maps. You can respawn here without any real penalty should you perish on your mission. This really takes a lot of the wind out of the Blaster Master challenge sails, but I can’t see save points not being a thing in the year 2017.

In the original game, you could just beeline to the dungeon where the boss was so you could get the tank part and move on. Now exploring is incentivized, as more bosses have been added to the once waste of time dungeons along with new upgrades. Jason and Co. can now find new sub-weapons and health upgrades to turn the tables on the mutants. There’s a pretty fun sense of progression as you can see your character and his means of conveyance get more powerful as you get further along, to the point where you can shoot damn Kamehamehas from your tank.

Ridiculous beam weapon from Blaster Master Zero
Blaster Master has learned a thing or two from Goku. (image: Blaster Master Zero trailer)

An in-game auto-map has been added, which is much appreciated. In the old game, you had no idea where you were going, which was most of the challenge. In fact, the only “map” you were provided was in the instruction manual, and it was more a slap in the face than anything.

"Map" from original Blaster Master instruction manual
Seriously? (image: Blaster Master (1988) instruction manual)

EVEN I CAN BEAT THIS

The original game was renown for its difficulty and being Nintendo Hard. Blaster Master Zero is nowhere near as difficult. I can safely declare this as I completed Blaster Master Zero with ease, and I never in my life got past Area 6 in the original.

Footage not found
Screenshot of Area 7 from the original Blaster Master

None of the bosses really posed any real challenge, provided you go in with a fully powered up gun. Fortunately, powerups are abundant, and if you do die on the boss, you’ll just restart outside the boss’s room with your full gun level back again. Still, I’d argue that the main fun lies in the platforming and blasting large colorful bosses, and not breaking controllers in a rage.

I LIKED THIS

By today’s standards, the game is pretty short. I polished this one off in a little under seven hours, finding everything and stumbling onto the “true” ending while I was at it. Beyond that there isn’t a whole lot of replay value, honestly. But, I had a lot of fun with it for what it was. At only 10 bucks, it was a treat to play and definitely worth it for players like me who wanted a nostalgia trip and some vindication after loving and failing the original version for decades.

FINAL RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 BLASTS

Random anime victory pose

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