dorchadas: (Gendowned)
[personal profile] dorchadas
One of my favorite games for the original Nintendo was Blaster Master. I played it for hours doing the same levels over and over again, because it was extremely hard. About half of my games never got past the boss of level 3, and those that did never got past the crab boss in level 5. Only once did I ever manage to beat the crab boss, and that was the last time I played Blaster Master.

So when I heard that there was a remake coming out for the Nintendo Switch, I was almost more excited for that than I was for Breath of the Wild. One of the main games of my childhood brought into the modern era? The same gameplay and areas, still with pixel art, but with modern conveniences like the ability to save and Switch's suspending the game at any time? That sounds amazing.

And it is. We ordered the Master Edition of Breath of the Wild, but I'm not playing that. I'm playing Blaster Master Zero.

Blasting again!

After the opening crawl about an ice age and underground vaults and mutants and Fred the frog and Jason Frudnick, our scientist protagonist, there's the classic cutscene of SOPHIA III powering up and blasting off and then the game begins in Stage One of Blaster Master, with a revamped soundtrack and a new coat of pixels but almost all the same enemies. The only thing missing--and this is a tendency throughout the game--is that the endlessly-spawning flying enemies are gone. Jason travels to the right, enters a tree and goes down through a platforming section, exits SOPHIA III and descends a ladder and enters a dungeon.

That was what really drew me to Blaster Master in the first place and it's just as good here as it was in the original. Jason is both the pilot of SOPHIA III, a highly-mobile tank that later on gains the ability to crawl along walls and ceilings, swim, or fly, and himself. In the outdoor areas being outside the tank is very dangerous because mutant damage and size is scared to SOPHIA III rather than Jason, but there are circumstances where it's useful like climbing ladders or fighting enemies that are too small to easily target--and let me tell you, I felt really dumb when I realized that I could have easily killed a lot of the annoying small enemies in the original Blaster Master by hopping out of SOPHIA III and shooting them.

The dungeons are what really drew me into the original game, though. Blaster Master was a metroidvania before we all knew what the term was, but it was one with two gameplay modes. The side-scrolling SOPHIA III and Jason-outside-the-tank sections, and the top-down dungeons where Jason runs around and shoots people. In the original game this is where all the bosses were fought and that's still mostly true in Blaster Master Zero, but there are a few bosses that require SOPHIA III to fight. And those were usually the bosses I died on because I couldn't rely on the wave gun.

A nightmare in the original unless you have the wave gun. Here, I have the wave gun.

One of the memorable aspects of Blaster Master was the Gun meter. Jason had a peashooter that shot maybe three Jason-lengths in front of him and unlimited grenades, but by picking up gun powerups the gun became more powerful. First shooting across the screen, then shooting multiple shots that curved off to the sides, then becoming a wave movement in front of him, and finally shooting through walls. But taking damage reduced the Gun level, and many bosses were extremely difficult without a fully-powered gun.

Blaster Master Zero keeps the gun mechanic but adds several features to make it less punishing. First, there's a powerup early on that allows Jason to take one hit every few seconds without losing Gun levels. Second, levels are manually selectable and have different effects. There's a flamethrower, and a shield that reflects enemy bullets, and a lightning blast that chains between enemies, and, of course, the wave gun that I spent most of the game with and trivialized the bosses.

That crab boss I spent so many frustrated hours on as a child? I killed it in fifteen seconds without it being able to hurt me.

But not too badly, thanks to that save point.

That is somewhat of a theme in Blaster Master Zero--it's much easier than the original. I do not think this is a bad thing. The original was punishingly hard at times, and a lot of what makes Blaster Master Zero easier also makes it more fun to play.

The major example is save points instead of lives and continues, which means that dying once on a boss doesn't remove all of Jason's Gun levels and reduce him to futilely hurling snowballs at bosses. But there's also an expansion of powerups. Grenades, once unlimited and the key to beating the bosses of levels 2, 4, 6, and 7 due to the pause bug, are now limited, but there are other weapons as well. A turret that draws enemy fire while spewing out bullets, a targeting designator for SOPHIA III's main gun, a flash grenade used to light up dark areas, and a remote-detonated bomb. I thought that I would stick with the grenades due to familiarty, but I pretty quickly settled on the turret. Nothing beats distracting enemies and then shooting them through the walls with the wave gun.

That doesn't get to the best possible improvement, even better than save points. I could have lived with lives and continues as long as progress was still saved at major moments. But what the game really needed was a map, and Blaster Master Zero's map is amazing. Picking up the map powerup in each stage shows all the dungeons and bosses and the entire layout of the level. Unlike Super Metroid, there are no secrets to find, though finding how to get to some parts of the map can require a little work. But only a little. This is not a deep game, but it's a lot of fun to play.

It's even possible to turn off the signal receiver and work out where to go yourself, if you want. More games need that.

You know...unlike the rest of the game.

If I had to describe the storyline of Blaster Master Zero in three words or less, it would be "anime as hell."

In Japan, Blaster Master was 超惑星戦記メタファイト (chō-wakusei senki metafaito, "Super Planet War Record: Metafight"), about the planet Sophia III fighting the evil dark star emperor and his robot army. In America, this was changed to Jason's pet frog fleeing into a cave system and Jason going after him and finding a mutant army beneath the Earth. It sold well enough in America to get a Worlds of Power book, where he meets Eve, an alien also sent to fight the Plutonium Boss, and later marries her. This later gets incorporated into Blaster Master Blasting Again as canon, a first for the Worlds of Power books.

Out of this stew is Blaster Master Zero made. Jason Frudnick pretty quickly finds Eve in a dungeon, who becomes his co-pilot and helps him in his search for Fred . Later, she reveals that she's actually an alien android, model number NORA-2057 (a reference to the builder of the tank in Metafight), sent to defeat the mutant army after it destroyed her home planet, and later she gets a letter from her creators, Kane and Jennifer Gardner, scientists who created SOPHIA III (there the Metal Attacker) in Metafight. This is the kind of subtle shoutout that I appreciate, since it's not necessary to understand the story. What story there is. I applaude them for actually making some sense out of every game that came before.

The dialogue as Jason talks to himself, and later to Eve, is passable. At first I wondered if the hyper-casual tone was a weird translation, but I played through a bit in Japanese and it's pretty close. There's just a lot of shock kind of statements about the mutants that I can easily picture being said by anime dub voice actors.

With orbital strikes.

I need to give a quick shoutout to multiplayer. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd likes playing games together with me, but she's not a big fan of some of my favorite genres--like, for example, platformers--because she gets nervous about her skill. However, she loved playing Super Mario Galaxy and Kirby Super Star because they allowed player two to participate without worrying about impeding progress. Blaster Master Zero has a similar mode to Super Mario Galaxy, with a targeting reticle appearing on the screen that player two can move around and blast enemies with. It's not really necessary, since the game isn't particularly hard, but it can make some of the more harrowing sections in the later part of the game much easier.

Man vs. machinemutant.

Blaster Master Zero reminds me a lot of Metroid: Zero Mission, in that now I don't think there's any reason to go back and play the original. I suppose if you want a "pure" gaming experience unencumbered by any story whatsoever, but the enhancements in this version more than make up for occasionally have to read--or quickly click past --the story. This is exactly what I want when I hear that a game I have fond memories of is getting a remaster, and if I don't think that it justifies a Switch--I mean, beyond the price, Blaster Master Zero is out for 3DS--I'm very glad I got the chance to play it. This is the first console game I've played on original hardware since...Wind Waker in 2003, I think. What a lovely game to return to.
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