Reviews: Blaster Master

(Blaster Master Zero review) Easier, with a more fleshed out story, and more detailed gameplay

Blaster Master is a classic, but if you were to ask its fans, it had a few flaws which did not age well: namely, the lack of savegame or password feature, and the very high difficulty.

What would happen if the game was brought back and modernized?

Blaster Master Zero is a Retraux game, this time apparently themed after the Turbo Grafx-16 rather than the NES, judging by the change in audiovisual style. However, the new game uses most of the buttons on the controller. There's now separate buttons for aiming diagonally when riding in the vehicle, firing special weapons, and even enabling/disabling the wall climb feature. Weapon and hover energy have been combined into one, and it recharges on its own.

Many modern conveniences have been made which make the game easier. There are save points, and death revives you at them, or at the last entrance you passed through. Naturally, you now have unlimited lives.

But that's not all. A lot of new content has been added to the game.

In the original game, when you entered the overhead view "dungeons" (as they're now called), you never knew which ones would have useful things like temporary weapon upgrades, hover energy, or the area's boss. Now, however, most of them have some kind of reward at the end, often in the form of a new weapon for either Jason or his tank, or the area's map. Many have an optional boss fight at the end.

Yup, I said map. You can pause and look at the map showing where you've been, and if you obtain the area's map, it will also show where all hidden items and bosses are.

Going further, there's a major incentive to collect all these new upgrades: the happy ending, and the hidden area 9. The game has two endings, and one of them is not at all a happy one.

Story plays a bigger role here, see. Recognizing that Blaster Master was most popular in the US, rather than its native Japan, the developers attempted to create a new story that captures the Japanese sci-fi feel while keeping the "boy looks for his frog and ends up saving the world" theme of the original US version. They even added a major new character, Eve, who actually originated from a US-written children's novel based on the original Blaster Master! Jason has many conversations with Eve, the bulk of them being accessible only from the "transmit" feature on the pause screen. These conversations reveal a ton of character and backstory, and I recommend talking to Eve when entering any new area and after any major plot revelations. I'm usually not a huge "story" person, but in this case, I enjoyed the story so much, I made a video about it (which contains spoilers). Even my 8-year-old nephew was engrossed in the story, and asked me to have more chats with Eve, and wanted me to keep playing the game when we were on vacation together.

In the end, even with its lowered difficulty due to the modern conveniences, I liked this game, and I'd recommend it.

(first game review) Very creative and original concept I'd like to see done better

The NES, back when all video games were low budget by today's standards, had a lot of creative ideas and experimentation. Games like the Beat Em Up RPG River City Ransom experimented with crossing readily recognizable ideas with original ones to create a unique experience.

Blaster Master is a mix of ideas itself. It's an action/exploration game, with upgrades. You travel on foot or in a vehicle, with pros and cons for each. It's side-view 2D, and overhead view, depending on whether you are outdoors (relatively speaking) or indoors. The game is divided into clearly numbered levels, but the levels are connected to each other, requiring you to look for ways to reach them as you upgrade your hovercraft-tank to fly, swim (something you can initially only do outside of your vehicle) or climb walls.

The game sadly suffers from flaws that would not be tolerated today. Upgrading your gun is a matter of discovering randomly-placed gun power-ups that make it stronger, which can sometimes take a while. Downgrading is quicker - just get hit once and your gun will lose a lot of power as it drops one whole level. It's much easier to lose this power than to gain it, making the game needlessly punishing, and forcing you to grind to stand more of a fighting chance - a fighting chance you could lose at any time.

The game also does the whole "lives/continues" thing - 9 lives and you're gone for good, with no passwords or savegame.

There have been sequels and remakes, but they're generally considered not very good. Personally, I think the concept of Blaster Master could easily work in today's world, if modified to fit modern game mechanics. Picture either a First Person Shooter, or one with a perspective similar to Kid Icarus Uprising, with the ability to hop in and out of a vehicle, the same type of Metroidvania world connecting levels together, same type of upgrades, a weapon system that doesn't punish mistakes so harshly, respawn checkpoints and infinite lives, and add a save feature, and you'd bring back all the appeal of Blaster Master while updating it for today's world. If nothing else, I'd like to see a true Spiritual Successor to the game.