The Mastery of Blastery

Did you ever play Blaster Master on NES? I have. Many times, in fact. And I’ve never managed to get very far because holy gosh is it ever difficult. Like, five minutes to Game Over difficult. Because I felt compelled to do a random Wikipedia check on it before writing this, I’ve learned that there are also like seven other Blaster Master games that I haven’t played.

But none of them matter in the slightest, because today I’m talking about Blaster Master Zero, the new reboot/remake/whatever for Switch (and 3DS, I suppose). I both started and finished Zero last weekend, so obviously it’s got a somewhat gentler difficulty curve than the game that it’s inspired by. Which is to say, it’s actually really easy up until the last boss. Well, the fake last boss. But I should probably circle back around and get to explaining that a little later.

If you don’t know Blaster Master, it’s a sort of Metroidvania, where you boot around an “open” side-scrolling world in a tank. Well, SOPHIA III is tank-esqe, anyway. It’s got wheels instead of treads and also it jumps like a danged kangaroo, so I feel weird calling her a tank. Oh, and also the world is “open” because you’re free to explore at you own leisure, but progress is actually very linear and I’m not nearly smart enough to have discovered any sequence breaks. So yeah, it really is just like a Metroidvania! Also the pause screen looks suspiciously like that of Super Metroid.

What sets it apart is that the pilot, Jason, can hop out of SOPHIA at any time and run around on his own. Sometimes you have to do this to solve puzzles, but mostly you want to disembark to enter caves. The caves are very different from the rest of the world, as the view switches to top-down and the game starts to play more like an arcade shooter. Your job here is to weave Jason around, shooting enemies and avoiding harmful obstacles, ultimately tracking down and defeating a boss monster to earn a power-up for SOPHIA. Said power-up is often the key to progressing through the larger world, and so the cycle continues.

Jason’s other big schtick is his really weird gun. You can collect power-ups to buff it up and completely change how it fires. The catch there is that getting hit will knock you back down a power level, which is annoying as all heck. Luckily, the second level gun can pierce walls, and very few enemies can respond in kind. This makes picking off enemies like shooting fish in a barrel, allowing you to easily power up your gun to the max, and the strongest version is a wave beam that has massive range and still pierces through walls. Also you pick up a shield early on that preserves your power level for one hit and regenerates after a couple seconds. So once you get in the groove, it’s really easy to not lose your gun levels.

Blaster Master Zero takes place over eight areas of the usual video game cliché environments; the forest, sewers, ice world, lava world, etc, etc. It all culminates in the only hard boss fight in the game, which is mostly only hard because the guy has a second phase that can fill the screen with projectiles and moves faster than Jason. I beat him after a couple tries, and sadly learned that I had gotten the bad ending. Ostensibly, there is at least a True Final Boss and maybe another actually-final final area. I have no idea how to earn said good ending (or any endings that may lie between), but I have a feeling it involves 100% item collection, as there isn’t a whole lot else to the game. The only optional collectibles are the life bar extensions and area maps. And maybe the gigantic frig-off laser cannon that I can’t imagine has any practical uses. It takes like fifteen seconds to charge and will get interrupted by a light breeze. It’s almost certainly there just because the animators wanted to do a gigantic frig-off laser blast.

To make this a bog-standard game review, I suppose I ought to touch on the production values as well. BMZ is developed by Inti Creates, so it’s got a delightful pixelly aesthetic, which people tend to call 8-bit, but it’s really closer to 16-bit, especially where some of the special effects are involved. You know, explosions, giant laser beams, all that good stuff. It’s not outstanding in any way, but everything looks nice. Of note is that the caves zoom in the camera, and as such, the “indoor” graphics are much bigger and considerably more cartoony. Jason’s noggin ends up being like half his total body mass, whereas it’s perfectly normally-proportioned in the realm of cutscenes. There’s a bit of dissonance there, but it stops being jarring very quickly. The music is great for bopping along to as you’re driving around blasting bugs and robots and floating zombie heads. However, it’s not at all memorable and I can’t recall even the title track, which I sat on the title screen to listen to on more than one occasion.

In conclusion, it is my semi-professional opinion that Blaster Master Zero is a very sweet game. It skews a little bit too easy, but that can be forgiven, because it’s fun to win. I very much look forward to diving back in to finish up the good ending, and to maybe unlock whatever that ????? is under the Extras section of the main menu. Should you buy it? Heck yeah! At roughly 12 Canada Dollars, BMZ is an absolute steal! It’s a great game to have on your Switch, and if you aren’t rocking one of those beauties quite yet, it’s on the dependable ol’ 3DS as well. So you’ve got options. But not many, because it’s currently exclusive to said Nintendo machines. Will it end up on other gaming things? Who knows!? On one hand, I think that would be nice because it’ll make this great game accessible to even more people, but on the other hand, I kind of hope it stays Nintendo exclusive because schadenfreude.

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