Loath though I may be to perpetuate the cycle, no evaluation of a Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya game can escape comparison to Cave Story, the auteur’s magnum opus and one of the most influential indie games of all time. Kero Blaster exists as a follow-up to the beloved side-scroller that bucks expectation by decreasing in scale instead of doubling down on its predecessor’s sprawling design sensibilities. Three years after its PC release, this bright and quirky tale of an overworked frog tasked with dangerous eco-maintenance finds a new home on PlayStation 4. Is it better than Cave Story? Well, no, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes a light snack is enough to satisfy a craving.
If Cave Story is an entrée, Kero Blaster is an hors d’oeuvre. It requires a scant two to three hours to finish: five weapons, seven stages, a few lines of dialogue – that’s it. It’s a simply constructed sort of game, an homage to retro run-and-guns with Mario-esque physics that control just like the moustachioed plumber might if he ever picked up a pistol. (Nintendo, don’t get any funny ideas. Shadow the Hedgehog should be warning enough.) If there’s a single prominent issue with the game, it’s that it feels too zoomed in; I had to sit back further than usual from my TV to avoid eye strain from staring too hard at its chunky pixels.
Beating the game once unlocks Zangyou (the Japanese word for ‘overtime’) mode, an arranged “Master Quest” of sorts that ups the difficulty by adjusting the layout and enemy placement of each stage. Because Kero Blaster is such a brief experience, this is a welcome addition that makes it worth returning to as a midnight snack after devouring the main campaign.
Kero Blaster has a magnetic quality that shines through despite its brevity. Fans of retro Japanese games will find plenty to love throughout this small-scale adventure. Just be nice to the frog, okay? He doesn’t get paid enough for this.