Who would have thought that in 2017 I would get to talk about one of my favorite games on the Nintendo Entertainment System? Blaster Master on NES was originally released in 1988 and was a highlight of my childhood. I fondly remember running through caves or swimming in enemy infested waters blowing up anything that stood in my way.
Now, Sunsoft and Inti Creates are teaming up to revisit the franchise and release Blaster Master Zero for Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS to allow a new generation of gamers a chance to discover and enjoy a classic series. I’m often skeptical of developers using my nostalgic memories of video games against me by “rebooting” or “retelling” retro franchises, but after my time with Blaster Master Zero I have been made a believer that it can be done in the most respectful way possible.
Blaster Master Zero attempts to make sense of the silly intro of the original Blaster Master. This time around our main protagonist, Jason Frudnick, is a robotic engineer who comes across a strange frog-like creature. He names this creature Fred, but before long the creature escapes and jumps in hole in the ground that appeared out of nowhere.
Jason follows Fred into the hole and finds a tank armed with a cannon called SOPHIA III. I could actually get behind the updated story of the classic game as I never had any strong feelings towards the original opener. The included text is also helpful in explaining just what was going on and left no room for misinterpretation.
Blaster Master Zero has two different modes of gameplay: 2D side scrolling and over-the-top shooter. As you progress through the levels in SOPHIA III, you’ll encounter areas that the vehicle cannot enter. Jason is then able to jump out and venture forth without the protection of the tank. During these moments, Jason can take a considerable amount of fall damage. After dying a few times as I figured out his limits, I just attempted to get as close to these areas as possible so I didn’t have to put him in any danger.
Once inside the areas, the game changes to a style similar to Ikari Warriors. Now here, Jason packs a much bigger punch as he has access to a rather large arsenal of weapons. Gun level power-ups can be found from enemy drops or laying around on the field. As the level grows you can switch to different guns and choose the best that suits you. However, if you get hit you will lose gun level along with HP. This offers a type of reward for players that can get through areas without getting hit.
Mid-bosses can be encountered that offer new upgrades to SOPHIA III. These upgrades are mostly different styles of guns that drain a power gauge (SP) as they are used. This isn’t so much of a problem as the gauge refills at a steady pace, but still requires the player to think before using the special weapons up too fast. Additionally, defeating these mid-bosses are not required to move on to the next area so they can be skipped all together. I actually missed a few on my first playthrough that I was able to find during a second go.
Bosses in the game retain their difficulty from what I can remember. Each time I went up against one it took me a few tries to figure out their patterns and know when to use my special bomb. Often, I found certain guns to be more affective than others, but to use them I would have to avoid getting hit during the battle.
The visuals in Blaster Master Zero steal the show as being the most improved aspect of the original. Inti Creates somehow keeps the charm and nostalgia exerted by retro games while upgrading them to be approachable by a new generation of gamers. Every area of the game seems to have received a considerable amount of work to ensure that it lives up to the beloved Blaster Master title.
The boss stages are what stand out to me as some of the most important improvements. In the original, the arena was simply a black screen. Now, the boss battles hold the theme of the area they are fighting in and even have obstacles such as sludge in the corners that need to be avoided.
New to the game is a save feature that was missing in the original Blaster Master. These will appear as portals throughout the game and all that is needed is to drive or walk over them. If you die you either get sent back to these points or to the last area that you exited. Sadly, I didn’t experiment with the multiplayer feature as I seem to not have many friends, so that mode will not be considered in this review.
The music heard throughout the game is recognizable and had me humming along with every tune. I’m not sure if the new generation of gamers have interest in these 8-bit tunes, but these tracks are a work of art. This reinforces the stance that I believe Inti Creates understands the importance of staying true to someones work and keeping their artistic vision intact.
The controls are responsive and easy to figure out. However, I feel like the joystick on the Joy Con is a bit too sensitive at times and this had me fighting to shoot vertically or horizontally when the controller would have the character in a diagonal position. I wasn’t able to figure out if this was truly because of the Joy Con because as of right now there wont be Switch Pro Controller support until March 16.
Another issue that I found that might not be an issue for others is the intense vibration the game uses. Everything that happens in the game activates that HD rumble to the loudest setting it can get. With that said, there’s an option to turn this off which I ended up doing after two hours of gameplay.
Blaster Master Zero does everything right in terms of rebooting an old franchise. The game retains all the quirks and cues fans of the series adore and presents them in a way that a new generation of gamers can enjoy. The pacing and difficulty is set just right to keep gamers entertained for hours. In short, this is now the definitive way to play a game from my childhood that I’ve held so close to heart.