Blaster Master

Blaster Master is a game I didn’t think highly of initially.  That more than likely has to do with the terrible Worlds of Power novelization I read beforehand.  Talk about coloring your expectations.  But after about ten minutes I began to realize how truly great the game is.  A few hours later and it would rank as one of my favorite games for the system and a true classic.  Buy this game.

I realize most video game stories are bunk, especially in the 80s but Blaster Master is really special.  Jason is playing with his pet frog Fred when it escapes from its jar and sits on a chest of radioactive waste in the backyard.  Yes, read that again.  The waste mutates Fred and he dives into a hole where the tank SOPHIA the 3rd is waiting.  Jason hops in to pursue Fred.  Seriously all this for a god damned frog?

That is a serious deviation from its Japanese counterpart, Cho Wakusei Senki Metafight.  Here you are Kane Gardner, pilot of the Metal Attacker tank sent to fend off the invasion of planet Sophia.  You would never know this if you didn’t read the instruction manual as the game has no intro.  As corny as it sounds the American release wins out in that regard.

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Blaster Master is essentially two games in one.  For the majority of the game you are control of Sophia.  This mobile tank is extremely agile, able to leap with grace and equipped with a turret that that can be controlled independent of movement.  As able as Sophia is it only gets better as you collect upgrades from around the overworld.  The controls are one of the best aspects of the game.  As you upgrade the tank to eventually fly, climb walls, and even function underwater they remain incredibly simple and responsive.  Easing off the weight of Sophia and essentially making it a platforming character like Mario makes exploring the overworld that much more fun.

Those new weapons are the primary reason you’ll need to exit your vehicle.  While you can wander around as Jason in the overworld he’ll die in seconds to enemy fire.  Even the smallest drop is fatal.  Entering caves and doors leads to the game’s second half, an overhead shooter.  Here you control Jason who is equipped with a standard blaster that can be upgraded up to eight levels and an endless supply of grenades.  The various entrances usually contain dead ends that at least contain a few power-ups for both Jason and Sophia.  They respawn after leaving and can be collected endlessly.  However only one contains the boss of each Area and only Jason can fight them.  These encounters can be difficult but the rewards allow you to progress deeper into the game’s world.

Blaster Master has a Metroid like quality to it as you explore the game’s overworld.  There is a suitable amount of platforming involved and while the individual maps are large they aren’t completely confusing.  When taken as a whole the game is absolutely massive; each of the game’s eight areas is incredibly large.  You are given no guidance and left to figure it out as you go along.  Even once you’ve acquired a new piece of equipment there are no hints as to where to go next.  That is left up to observation and exploration.  You’ll see plenty of areas that aren’t accessible, even as early as the game’s opening moments leading you to come back later. 

The map is expertly designed and as your upgrades mount the number of shortcuts previously inaccessible make traversal that much quicker.  There’s a great deal of variety as each area is visually distinct and the game switches things up midway through in Area 5.  Here Sophia is initially ill equipped to move underwater and sinks like a brick.  You’ll actually spend the majority of your time as Jason, avoiding humanoid fish and the larger ships to win a part that will allow your tank to swim.  This entire segment is well done and a much needed break.

As much as I did like stumbling into the next area on my own there is no question that it is frustrating to wonder around with no direction, especially as the game is very difficult.  You get no extra lives and continues are limited.  For the most part energy drops frequently from enemies but towards the end of the game the number of environmental hazards and monsters that can decimate your life bar increase significantly.  The boss battles can be a nightmare and in spite of a convenient pause trick it doesn’t work on the worst ones. 

The one thing Blaster Master needed above all else was a way to save progress.  This is a long game and having to start over every single time is a bitter pill to swallow.  Even Metroid used passwords and while this isn’t as long as that game its close.  Having to find each individual area all while dealing with limited continues and no extra lives is rough.  I’m not joking when I say I spent a portion of the summer of 1994 working my way through this.  That frustration would have been lessened if the game allowed some manner of saving progress.  It is far from a deal breaker, you just need to know what you are getting into.

In Closing

That small flaw aside Blaster Master is one of the best NES games of all time.  There aren’t many games that blend multiple styles of gameplay together, let alone so effectively.  This is a truly excellent game and one that remains just as engaging now as it did almost thirty years ago. 

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