Blaster Master is a bit of a cult classic series that has never gotten the respect it deserves. Hopefully launching so close to the release of the Nintendo Switch changes that, because it is a damned good game, so much so I hope this reboot starts a new long running series.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Blaster Master originally launched on the NES, then later had a couple of Game Boy titles, a Sega Genesis sequel exclusive to North America, an original PlayStation game, and then a not so well received remake on the Wii. Blaster Master Zero serves as a remake of the original but with additional content such as some new bosses, areas, and a sub-weapon as well as a more detailed story. I can say without a doubt that it is the definitive version of Blaster Master, so now is not a bad time to get into what may be a revitalized series.
The story is simple, if not a bit stupid. Sometime in the future, a man named Jason finds a creature he has never seen before (a frog) and names it Fred. One day Fred escapes from his tank and Jason sets chase only to end up following his pet into a portal to a different world where he finds a high tech tank called SOPHIA. He immediately climbs in and can drive the tank without training, because of video game logic.
Long story short, Jason goes from area to area slaying giant mutants, both on foot and while driving SOPHIA. The scenes driving the tank play like most platforming Metroidvania titles in that you can jump, shoot, use sub weapons and travel to and fro as you see fit if you’ve discovered the upgrades required. Jason can also get out of SOPHIA where he is much smaller than you might expect, and only has a basic weapon. Most of the time players only need to exit SOPHIA to enter specific areas only Jason can fit in and/or dungeons.
Dungeons change the viewpoint to a top-down view similar to what you’d find in classic Zelda titles or Binding of Isaac. Inside dungeons, Jason has a selection of weapons and sub-weapons to use and unlock the weapons via power tanks that enemies or breakable objects drop, and the sub-weapons via upgrades found in dungeons. Most bosses are also tackled while in dungeons in small rooms that don’t leave much room for error.
That said, Blaster Master Zero is considerably easier than the game it is based on, which is what many would call “NES hard.” Many bosses’ health bars can be depleted in mere seconds by spamming the strongest weapon as quickly as possible as soon as they appear on screen. It also helps that sometimes attacks will stun bosses, making them some of the easiest I’ve ever seen in a video game, which is a shame because their designs deserve a bit more screen time. I found myself getting killed more by the enemies in the overworld more so than anything in the dungeons, but even then I’d say I died maybe ten or so times in the nearly seven hours it took me to complete the game.
My only other complaints are that some dungeons are pointless to enter and waste the player’s time as they offer no upgrades, bosses, or any reason to go there. Worse, when you reach the end and realize this, you’ve got to traverse all the way back to the entrance, unlike dungeons with bosses and upgrades that automatically warp you out when finished. Also, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to backtrack other than when the game tells you to, which is always just to go directly to a new area you can now access, rarely if ever are there areas you can get to optional unlockables at during these times. Minor complaints, but worth mentioning.
Otherwise, the gameplay here is solid. Moving around in SOPHIA is especially fluid, which is great as the platforming requires tight controls while being fair. Blasting through baddies is fun from beginning to end and only gets better as you go on unlocking upgrades that let you do so in different ways.
The chiptune music found here would feel at home on the NES, though isn’t quite as memorable as the original games (of course it had decades to drill into my brain.) The visuals are obviously better than what could be offered by the NES, while still keeping that retro pixel art aesthetic that most people wouldn’t even think twice about if I told them this was actually an NES game. Not a bad thing, by any means, unless you’re the kind of person that hates pixel art. It is also worth noting that the entire screen is not used as there are black lines at the sides. I’m not 100 per cent sure why this is, but if I had to guess it is based on the screen ratio of the 3DS version of the game.
I didn’t get to play the 3DS version but the Switch offers a few exclusive features such as a two-player mode and HD rumble, neither of which are anything to write home about. The two-player mode is literally just an aiming reticle on the screen the second player can move around and shoot enemies with, while the HD rumble is a bit cooler as it can simulate explosions, drills, water running and other feelings. While HD rumble is nice, I don’t think you’ll be missing out on much by not having it.