The original Blaster Master came out for the first generation Nintendo a year after I was born, making it almost thirty years old today. Since then, other entries in the series have been released across Sega Genesis, GameBoy, PlayStation, and others, leading up to the recent Blaster Master Zero on Nintendo Switch and 3DS. Old school gaming styles that feature so well in this way like this new title and Shovel Knight work extraordinarily well and feel right at home on both of these platforms.
The game follows a boy named Jason Frudnick who’s known for being a genius in the robotics engineering field. Jason finds a frog and immediately decides to follow it straight into an interdimensional portal—because hey—why not? What follows is a journey across multiple worlds filled with different types of mutants in a classic Metroidvania style game. Now, you may have played classic platformers like this before, but the ability to switch between Jason on foot and your tank, SOPHIA III, changes up the formula in a fresh fun way. The two play styles are different enough to keep it interesting, and adds a level of complexity that I like. Traversing the world in SOPHIA III and blasting baddies is fun and you’re much stronger while in the tank.
However, there are nooks and crannies throughout the world your tank simply won’t fit that require you to proceed on foot. As you can imagine, being outside the protection of your tank makes you far more vulnerable to enemy damage and your blaster weapon is inferior to that of Sophia III. You’ll need to tough it out in order to access switches, power ups, health, etc so you can proceed throughout the game. Not only that, but the best parts of the game really shine when you are outside of your tank.
When you enter an area as Jason you become considerably more powerful. This is also where the gameplay shifts from a 2D action platformer to more of a dungeon crawler experience. You’ll find gun upgrades either scattered throughout these areas or dropped by downed enemies. You’ll be able to switch between these gun types at any time but there’s a catch—taking damage will lower both your health and your gun level, making you lose certain upgrades in the process. This mechanic rewards precise and cautious gameplay for those who take their time. As with most games from back in the day, there are also mid-level bosses, though beating them isn’t required to push through the game. While these bosses can be avoided, I urge against that since beating them unlocks new guns for Sophia III that can make exploring the world and battling enemies more manageable. I died a few times during most boss fights because I had to study their attack patterns and use trial and error to find their weak point and what gun type was most powerful against them.
Let’s talk presentation. I never played the original, but as I looked through a lot of screenshots and videos it’s obvious the team at Inti Creates cares about the source material. Boss battle stages now have backdrops relating to the level’s theme rather than a static color or black background, something most games of the past resorted to due to technical constraints. Everything from character sprites to environments to SFX and the soundtrack have received a fresh coat of paint. Perhaps my personal favorite feature added to old game re-releases and remakes is save points. Most old games either didn’t have them or required an annoying password system, but thankfully Blaster Master Zero has neither and instead places portals all around the map. These portals allow you to save as well as respawn Sophia III in the event you lose it.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with Blaster Master Zero and really enjoyed the melding of 2D action-platforming and dungeon crawling. This is definitely something I can see Tristan and the gang getting into as well. Blaster Master Zero retains enough of what makes games of its era so enjoyable while updating the presentation and game adding modern game mechanics like save points. In the end, it all comes together in a package that’s well worth your $10 and makes both an excellent home and portable game.