Nintendo turned quite a few heads with last week’s Nindies Showcase when they announced Blaster Master Zero would not only come exclusively to both the Nintendo Switch and 3DS, but also be out less than a week after the system hits retailers.
Well, it’s here and it’s great.
What Is It?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Blaster Master series, that’s completely fine because the series did itself in multiple times with the original really being the only good game in the series.
The original Blaster Master is an underrated darling when it comes to talking about the greatest games ever to grace the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Originally released in 1988 by Sunsoft, not only was the game notorious for its difficulty, but the fact that there were so many nuances with its gameplay made it both fresh and familiar.
Blaster Master Zero uses the original as a base to recreate itself. The story is still ridiculous, as it’s still about a guy named Jason out looking for a frog named Fred and instead found a tank named SOPHIA III. Back then, players assumed Fred was Jason’s pet, and all hell broke loose when Fred leaped out of the house, into some radioactive waste in the backyard and into a hole in the ground leading to another world. Now Jason is a researcher who found a frog-like animal that he’s never seen before, and the frog simply escaped and jumped into a hole where Jason followed, where he again found SOPHIA III.
As for why or how Jason found a tank underground and decided to shoot everything in sight with it, we can’t really explain everything that went on in people’s minds in the 80’s, and we can’t assume the developers can either.
Why Should I Care?
Retro gamers have a lot to be excited about because Blaster Master Zero utilizes the same visual style as the original, which should be a breath of fresh air to fans who had no love for Gaijinworks’ Blaster Master Overdrive on WiiWare.
If you’re new to Blaster Master, it’s sort of like having Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, and Zelda all meshed into one game. That’s some real intimidating company, but it definitely shared gameplay qualities that made Blaster Master feel like each and every one of those games.
When exploring the game’s huge levels in your tank, players will be jumping and shooting all over the place as they did in both Metroid and Mega Man. The Castlevania comparison comes from the fact that the maps are quite large and the different areas for players to explore will actually be traversed through a lot due to the amount of backtracking you’ll be doing, which surprisingly doesn’t feel like a chore unless you’re truly lost. Unlike your typical Metroidvania though, there aren’t any maps to guide you when it comes to looking for new rooms or places you may or may not have already come across.
You can use the X button to have Jason exit SOPHIA III to explore areas on foot with the purpose of finding entrances to different dungeons. When in a dungeon, the game adopts a top-down visual style reminiscent of the old Zelda games with the main difference being that everything is action-based and all the action is with your guns.
If you’re a Blaster Master fan, this is all good; you know all this already. It’s great that Blaster Master Zero retained the feel of the original game, but how exactly has it improved? This is a question best answered by your own playing style.
Back then, the most hardcore players would say the game’s difficulty was highly attributed to the fact that it didn’t feature a save option. You were forced to beat the game in one sitting. This is no longer the case. Now we have save stations similar to Metroid to save your game in, making the game that much more accessible.
That said, is it still difficult? To be honest, I felt that the game was slightly easier than I remember, but then again, it also might be because saving in the game is actually possible, encouraging me to take more chances than I probably would in any other old-school style game. Are there still cheap enemies? Sure there are. You have enemies that are too short to kill with SOPHIA III, forcing you to switch and shoot while lying down as Jason to take an enemy out if you really wanted to. The game isn’t afraid of throwing the kitchen sink at you to get rid of you either, so in that sense, it’s still a challenging game.
A real improvement to the gameplay that’ll probably go understated is the fact that when using Jason in a dungeon, his projectiles will travel from the middle of his body. In the original game, he held the guns in his right hand, so all the shots would be off center, making the act of dodging while shooting more troublesome that it should’ve been. This change easily corrected that little issue.
One thing I personally wasn’t crazy about was the game’s lack of support for the Switch’s Pro Controller. Nintendo is charging $70 for the unit, and I want to use it for a game like this. Yes, you can use the Joy-Cons in the shell, but I don’t find that control option comfortable. Of course, there’s the option of using the left and right Joy-Cons in the appropriate hands, but let’s be honest here, the only time you’ll be playing a single player game like that is if you want to be hiding the fact that you’re playing a video game under the dinner table, or something else like dumb like that. All this said, the Joy-Cons connected to the Switch itself through handheld play is probably the most comfortable way to play this game until Inti Creates gives players the ability to use a Pro Controller, and it’s a real shame because this game would totally be awesome on the TV.
The multiplayer aspect feels like it’s just sort of there to say the game has multiplayer, as Player 2 controls a reticle to help you out with the shooting. It’s kind of like using the star cursor in the Mario Galaxy games; it’s helpful, but nobody really cares.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The game isn’t without its shortcomings primarily because of the controller limitations, but the good news is the developers are going to fix that problem, and a patch should be released on March 16.
That said, $10 for what’s essentially the best attempt at reviving what could’ve been a heavily revered franchise is an easy price to pay, especially if you’re a Switch owner looking for something else other than Zelda to play as there’s definitely some enjoyment to be had with Blaster Master Zero.