Review by SethBlizzard
"Probably one of the finest platformers you've never heard about"
Like good literature, Blaster Master is one of those things that just get better when you grow older. It is an immensely engaging playing experience, and one that keeps you coming back for more, especially since this sidescrolling platformer is quite tough and you want to return to brave those challenges that defeated you the first time. It was YEARS before I even beat the boss of Area 6. Thinking of the magnificent ocean stage and the monster on the cover are incentive enough to play.
Jason, a teenager, is admiring his pet frog Fred when the amphibian suddenly decides to make a break for freedom. Jumping into radioactive waste that just happens to be outside Jason's house, Fred mutates to bull-scale proportions, and then proceeds to burrow his way into the ground with all the speed of a magnetic drill. Jason, in a display of devotion that puts Lassie to shame, jumps in after his amphibian amigo. Landing in an underground tunnel, Jason finds a massive armoured vehicle that's half-car, half-tank, standing there for unknown reasons. Turns out that its name is SOFIA the 3rd. Our protagonist outfits himself and then kicks off in his beloved SOFIA to search for Fred. Wouldn't you know, there is an entire world thriving underneath the Earth's crust, and that Jason must not only find and deal with Fred, but also the evil Plutonium Boss, who's planning an invasion to the surface. That's got to be plenty for Jason to deal with. Where is Fred? Who is the Plutonium boss? And what happened to SOFIAs the 1st and 2nd?
Blaster Master has a spirit that is inimitable. There are 8 enormous worlds for you to play through. Each of them is completely unique in style, spirit and often gameplay. After the first grassland area you can find medieval castles, frozen caves that oddly bring Christmas tree sales to mind, and a passage down into the ocean. Riding on his trusted armoured vehicle, the player is limited to few areas, and always for a reason. The rule of this game is; if you can't get somewhere, you'll get the means when you defeat a boss. Roughly, the gameplay is split 50/50; in the car, out of the car.
IN THE CAR: This is the main element of the game. Driving, jumping and shooting, Jason has to find the entrance to the boss's lair hidden deep within the sanctum of each area. There are enemies standing in your way. And lots of them. All of them have one thing and one thing only in common; they're grey. They can be men-like robots that jump at you. They can be little satellites flying and dropping bombs on you. They can scurry about like crabs or swim with the speed and damage percentage of sharks (the ocean stage comes to mind). Most enemies are distinct for each world, so explore and be surprised. The most annoying of these are little worm-bots that crawl on the ground and are almost impossible to kill at close range.
Not to worry, SOFIA the 3rd is well-equipped with cannon-fire. But even she can't take never-ending damage. Again, not to worry, for there are plenty of health picks-up in the form of grey balls boldly stamped with a 'P'. Still, it's best to be careful, because SOFIA nimble as she is is a pretty big target. Of course there are more pick-ups, also in the form of grey balls but instead of health pick-ups they are weapons! Missiles, homing missiles and downward lightning strikes sounds good, doesn't it? Well, make sure to pick them up where you can, because they're not as frequent.
Your immediate goal with each of the 8 Areas is to find the small tunnel door which leads to the boss. It isn't always obvious which is the correct one, though. Yes, each area has a number of these, and the correct one is usually not in the most obvious place. The game will try (and usually succeed a couple of times) to trick you by having the incorrect door placed at the end of a straightforward path. Make a mental note of this; if the door was straightforward to get to, it's not the correct one.
OUT OF THE CAR: Once the correct door is found, it's out of the tank for Jason and into the "Tunnels" (insert scary music). It's only in there that Jason can really be useful at all, because in the main worlds he has a hard time killing enemies and they have a very easy time killing him. So try to only keep him in there well, mostly, but I'll get to that in a moment.
In the tunnels, Jason faces a different game altogether. In a semi-3D environment, Jason must walk around with his blaster and take out enemies standing in the way of each Area's boss. If you have been duped (or just curious) and taken the wrong door, you may not find the boss but you'll find lots of power-ups, giving you reasons to go even there. Spikes will harm Jason (duh) so stay clear of those (again, duh). Jason's blaster may need some upgrading, so be sure to collect the Gun power-ups. Then again, personally I try not to because once you fill your Gun bar, your shots start flying in all directions. This is more of a hindrance than help and makes hitting enemies harder than it already is.
At the sanctum of the tunnels awaits... the boss. The room flashes, utter darkness envelops and the boss appears. The first is a giant pulsating brain, and the third is a multi-shoot battle involving lots of individually moving and appearing blocks. The rest, however, are less straightforward. The second boss is a long-armed, mean-looking beast that fires energy balls. He occurs again in Area 6, only then he shoots ice that delivers incredible damage and is incredibly hard to avoid. There is Fred, however. Yes, at the heart of the subterranean sewer tunnels that form Area 4, Jason has to fight his beloved frog, who has turned on him. This is where the bosses begin to shine. You can only damage Fred by hitting his mouth, and it isn't always open. Moreover, he only opens it to attack. It'll take two battles with him (the other in Area 7) to rid him of the harmful radiation effects.
IN THE CAR/OUT OF THE CAR: As I said before (more of less), each level is unique in layout and style. However, the levels also have something unique to them; adjacent levels. Blaster Master is the very definition of a non-linear platformer. Area 1 holds both the entrance to Area 2 and Area 4. The booklet thankfully helps you out in case you're confused about where to go, but even so the choices of action usually surprise you. Take my favourite area; Area 5. Diving into the beautiful depths of the ocean, you soon become aware that you can't do a thing in your car. When you finally descend to a thin passage, you try to jump but SOFIA can't. You've already put two and two together and realised what you must do, but you hope that you're wrong. Well, you aren't; Jason has to brave most of this not only huge and beautiful but also dangerous area by himself. Remember what I said about Jason having a hard time killing enemies and about them having an easy time killing him? It's still true, but you have no choice. Swimming deeper into the oceanic caves, Jason finally finds the boss tunnels in the form of a deep-sea container/research base. Perfecting the masterful atmosphere of this level, the boss is a giant crab which is very hard but also very rewarding to defeat. Blaster Master is full of moments like these. It delights in surprising and delighting the player. It feels like a gorgeous, animated movie.
Overseeing all of this like a fatherly figure is the astonishing soundtrack by Naoki Kodaka, drawing out the adventurous quality of each area. It helps Area 1 feel like the start of an adventure, Area 4 feel very dark and foreboding, Area 6 feel unique and exciting, and Area 5 feel tranquil and beautiful. Blaster Master is quite simply one of my favourite soundtracks ever.
What of the Plutonium boss? Yes, he's the one on the cartridge, and you'll be happy when you finally reach him. It'll be worth all the effort. Well, Blaster Master is very challenging indeed but it still doesn't feel like an effort to play. It's too enjoyable, too engrossing and too inspiring for that. Like a jigsaw puzzle you slowly piece together, you slowly add more and more parts to your SOFIA one from each boss and thus you can access an area you previously couldn't. You'll undoubtedly notice the spikes on the walls of a room early into Area 3. If you suspect that this presently-impassable terrain is significant, you are quite correct. Blaster Master engages the player both mentally, atmospherically and in terms of challenge. You only have a handful of continues, too, so treat the challenge with respect.
Whether I'm shooting down a sentinel monster with a dental problem or getting the feel of jumping with the Wall.2 adaptor, I only know one thing...
BLASTER MASTER is a MASTERpiece.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/09/09, Updated 07/06/10
Game Release: Blaster Master (EU, 04/25/91)
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