Blaster Master is a game published by Sunsoft for the NES. As the player, you control SOPHIA, a tank vehicle, or its driver Jason, through an apocalyptic world to rid of all mutants and save Jason’s frog, Fred. Jason can be controlled two ways, as a 2D sidescroller much like controlling SOPHIA, or from a top-down perspective within dungeons.
Blaster Master slipped by me during its original release, likely due to its generic title and my association with it as an educational title for some reason. It surprised me when, in twelfth grade, our guitar teacher pitched its theme as part of the Nintendo medley we were creating for a guitar ensemble performance.
“Blaster Master?” We all asked upon reading the breakdown on our sheet music.
Excitedly, Mr. Haza belted out, “You guys don’t remember Blaster Master?!” He leaned forward and began chugging out the notes from its melody, now etched into my brain. These were the early days of my emulation discovery, so we were quick to find a ROM and see how “cool” this game was, as per our guru.
It did little to impress us. It had a different feeling to it than the NES games we had grown to love. The movement was a little floaty and nontraditional. We played it for less than an hour and moved away from it. It wasn’t until late last year that I found myself caring again.
During its 20th anniversary event, developer Inti Creates announced the acquisition of the Blaster Master license from Sunsoft. It seemed like a weird thing to announce, because to me, Blaster Master was that random NES game that my guitar teacher liked, and no one else talked about. Then, on March 9, Blaster Master Zero was released on Nintendo Switch.
The game maintains the gameplay and aesthetic of the original. You pilot Jason in his body, either 2D or top-down, and navigate the larger world with SOPHIA. SOPHIA will slowly receive upgrades throughout the game, allowing you to reach new heights and new areas. The same goes for Jason, who will mostly receive upgrades to health and armor.
In many ways, Blaster Master Zero is a metroidvania, gating progression until you acquire new upgrades. There’s a massive world to explore that requires a specific amount of backtracking in order to advance. What sets it apart from a traditional metroidvania is that the game is pretty linear. It’s kind of always guiding you in the right direction, even when you do have to backtrack.
Where the game really comes to life is the top-down sections of the game. Controlling Jason in a top-down manner means that you’ve entered one of the game’s many dungeons. These are sometimes required but many remain optional places to explore and find the reward of an upgrade. These dungeons are the more challenging areas of the game, where the player must solve different puzzles to advance and often face a boss. The amount of health that Jason has remaining dictates which weapons are available for use. The higher the amount of health, the better the weapon typically is. It makes it an extra necessity to avoid taking damage, not just for survival but for ease of advancement.
Overall, the game is eight worlds with relatively varied themes to each. I finished the core game, missing a few of the optional dungeons along the way in less than six hours. Generally, the game is not too difficult to get through at a fast enough pace. It felt natural to progress through it on a day off.
I love that Inti Creates was able to create something new in something old. While the game hasn’t changed much from its NES predecessor, it’s a welcomed addition to the Switch and 3DS library. It’s also been updated several times since its original release in March. First, a more difficult Destroyer Mode is unlocked for players who complete the game. Then, new playable characters join the game that change how the game is played. The first two to join were Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt and Ekoro from Gal*Gun, both Inti Creates titles. The next two are Shantae, from the WayForward Shantae series and Shovel Knight from Yacht Club Games’ eponymous series. With Shovel Knight’s release this week and the recent release of the New 2DS XL, it’s a perfect time to jump in and try this game if you’ve passed it by.