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‘Blaster Master Zero’: A Blast from the Past

Hopefully this won’t be the last of the Blaster Master franchise, as it fits surprisingly well in the modern era.

Hopefully this won’t be the last of the Blaster Master franchise, as it fits surprisingly well in the modern era.

The original Blaster Master for the Nintendo Entertainment System offered up an extremely unique gameplay system for it’s time, forcing players to swap between side-scrolling tank gameplay and bird’s-eye-view shooting stages. All of this was wrapped up in a Metroid-style package that let players explore the world around them while collecting various items and upgrades to help them reach new areas. Regardless of its uniqueness, the original title never caught on quite as much as some of its NES counterparts, developing a cult following that fondly remember it to this day. Fast forward to 2017, and Inti Creates has taken the reigns of the franchise in an attempt to bring the original title up to modern standards.

Blaster Master Zero falls somewhere between a new game and a remaster, as many of the stages from the original make their return here (albeit with a gorgeous new coat of paint). The gameplay remains largely unchanged; players navigate through environments using an agile tank named Sofia all while blasting various aliens and robots to bits. This changes when caves are discovered, as they can only be explored by Jason (the protagonist) on foot. During these segments, the game changes from a side scroller to a top-down shooter, which does a fine job of mixing up the gameplay. Powerups that come in the form of health upgrades and new abilities are often found in these caves, making them essential for progression.

Caves are explored from a bird’s-eye point of view.

While the story was clearly not the focus with this title, it still succeeds in providing an adequate degree of cohesion to this world. Jason is on a mission to find his pet frog, Fred, who has jumped inside a hole in the earth. The plot seems simple, but it develops quite a bit throughout the campaign. Occasional dialogue exchanges help progress the story at a nice pace while making sure to never intrude on the gameplay.

Blaster Master Zero excels when it comes to its presentation, as both the sound and visuals impress on all fronts. Old tunes have been remastered to sound crisp, clear, and catchy, which is a must for retro-themed titles. Inti Creates has also gone the extra mile with the graphics, as each area looks both unique and detailed. Backgrounds scroll with the player’s movement, dust kicks up front the ground when movement begins, and bosses look as detailed as they do intimidating. It’s clear that a lot of work was put into making sure Blaster Master Zero was up to par with modern standards, and the work is certainly appreciated.

As good as the sights and sounds are, it’s the gameplay that steals the show. Blaster Master Zero plays like a dream, especially when piloting Sophia. These segments strike the perfect balance between feeling powerful and vulnerable, which can be tricky to nail. The tank is equipped with a variety of offensive options that increase in number as the game progresses. While some of them are more useful than others, they all add a nice variety to the gameplay. Sofia’s movement takes a bit to get used to, as it certainly feels more like a vehicle than a generic side scrolling character. Mastering the tank’s movement is extremely rewarding and offers ample opportunities for satisfying platforming tricks.

The majority of the game takes place in the tank.

Blaster Master Zero’s biggest flaw shows up during the top-down shooting segments. Pink orbs can be collected to level up Jason’s weapon up to eight times, with each level providing a unique shot type. These can be things like a long range shot, a flamethrower, or a shield. Taking damage causes the weapon level to decrease by one unit. While this system sounds good on paper, the level eight weapon upgrade all but breaks the game. It’s an extremely powerful beam that travels through walls, stun-locks enemies, and deals massive damage. This upgrade is so powerful that it trivializes the vast majority of these shooting segments, including the boss fights. Many of the bosses can be taken down in seconds with this upgrade, and once the player reaches level eight, it becomes harder to take damage. These segments become so easy that they start to feel repetitive, and this issue only remedies itself near the end of the game.

Luckily, Blaster Master Zero includes plenty of post game content to challenge those looking for more. Collecting all of the powerups in the game allows the player to pursue the true ending after tackling another stage. This secret stage is easily the best in the game, as it’s both varied and challenging (to a certain degree). The true ending also does a much nicer job in wrapping up the narrative, especially after it’s epic final battle. Because of these things, Blaster Master Zero is absolutely a title that needs to be fully completed, not just finished. It’s worth the extra time.

Most boss fights take place during the on-foot segments.

Inti Creates has released Blaster Master Zero for both the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo Switch, and while both versions benefit from their portability, the Switch version is the clear winner. Not only does it boast an improved frame rate (60fps vs. 30fps on the 3DS), it adds a nifty co-op mode that lets a second player control a reticle on screen. It works similarly to the co-op in Super Mario Galaxy, and while it isn’t incredible, it’s a nice feature to have.

Despite the lack of difficulty during the majority of the adventure, Blaster Master Zero provides an excellent retro package that does the original title justice. Ten bucks nets players a highly polished experience that encourages full completion, which is nice to see in 2017. Hopefully, this won’t be the last of the Blaster Master franchise, as it fits surprisingly well in the modern era.

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