Review by Hermit_Crab
Plutonium Powered Action!
I remember seeing pics of this game back in one of the first few issues of Game Player's, not sure why, but at the time I wasn't impressed with this game, I thought it looked kind of stupid (don't ask why, my reason is embarrassingly dumb). Okay, maybe I'll tell you a little about why. I saw these screen shots for it, one was of Jason and the crab boss fighting, the crab looked kind of cool, but I couldn't quite figure out the character (Jason), I thought he was the car that they (the reviewers) were talking about, I think there was something in the caption that mentioned a car.
You are probably wondering, "How the hell does Jason look like a car?!" Well, in the screen shot he was facing up towards the crab, I thought his big ass head was the front of the car, the backpack thingy was the roof, his arms looked like doors, and with his feet together, it looked like the rear of the car. I thought it was a cartoony-looking car, it just didn't occur to me at the time that it was a guy from back view, just didn't look like a guy (the term "Super Deformed" wasn't even in my vocabulary yet). With that screenshot, it looked like a vertical scrolling shooter, like Spy Hunter or something, but with a plump cartoony car, yet highly detailed bosses, certainly it puzzled me that there were two different art styles going on here.
Still don't know why I thought the game wasn't going to be any good, just because of what I thought to be a silly looking car that didn't fit in with the awesome looking crab boss. If there were any logic in it, I certainly can't remember. Anyway, one day I rented it, and to my delight it was much different than my vivid imagination led me to expect, it turned out to be one of the most awesome games ever created, and the next must have game to buy. Blaster Master is still one of my favorite games of all time.
First thing to do after you turn it on, wait a moment for the intro story to play, that is if you care to see it. The story is shown to us in pictures, no dialog, showing one frame, then fading, with another taking its place. First we see an image of a boy (Jason) and his pet frog in an aquarium, the next would be of the frog escaping, hopping out of the kid's window, and then across the backyard with the boy in pursuit, the frog hops upon a crate of radioactive materials. Next thing you know it grows to gigantic proportions, the boy arrives only to find a large hole in his backyard, and being the brave, err, stupid adolescent he is, decides to explore this hole without a moment's thought. Instead of finding Fred (that's his frog's name), before his eyes he spies a sweet ride. So he thinks to himself (so I assume give him this caption), "Wow! My folks are the best parents a kid can have! I asked for a Porsche, they got me this! I'm goin' to have to take this bad boy for a test drive!" And so he does (also, it so happened to come with a cool outfit which is just his size). Jason zooms off to look for Fred.
So its a story a 7 year old would come up with, doesn't matter, ever how ridiculously stupid it is, can't help but like it, kind of an innocent childlike charm. Reminds me of a story I wrote back in junior high, where I travelled back in time and met a whole bunch of dinosaurs, they needed my help because they were about to become extinct real fast (meteor collision), so I take that group of dinos back with me to the present, only the military was going to use them as target practice, so I brought them to some deserted island where they'd be safe. Yep, a story an elementary school child would write, though I was in my early teens, hey don't laugh, Blaster Master's story ain't any better, and adults wrote that. But if I wanted a top-notch story (as far as game stories go), I'd play an RPG. But its funny how they picked the names Jason and Fred, someone must've been a Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street fan, or its mere coincidence.
Gameplay Summed Up:
The game has great level design, kind of like Metroid. Stages are vast, expansive, non-linear areas to explore with a hopping tank-like vehicle, as well as many rooms to enter in search of weapons, health, the stage boss, ect. The parts of the stages involving the vehicle are from side view, you can go anywhere you want, that is once you have the necessary parts to explore further. New parts for your vehicle you'll earn after defeating each boss. Bosses are located in overhead areas, which, using your little man (Jason), you must find and destroy in order to get the part needed to upgrade your vehicle to get to the next subterranean area. More details on the gameplay will be revealed throughout the rest of this review. For now, at the beginning, you can be content with the vehicle's ability to jump, and blast stuff, which you'll be doing lots of, after all, this game is a platformer.
One Very Versatile Vehicle:
Its a tank! No, its a car. Even better, its a blend of both. The vehicle is labeled "SOFIA THE 3rd, NORA MA-01" in the game (long name, huh), I used to shorten it to just "Sofia", but ever since finding out about the Japanese version ("Chou-wakusei Senki MetaFight") with my introduction to the thing called internet, I've called it the "Metal Attacker" or "MA-01" for short since, which is the name of the rover in the Japanese version of the game. But I won't go there, the storyline is completely different from the US version, but aside from that, the games seemed the same with the gameplay, from what little I tried of MetaFight. But since this isn't MetaFight, I'll refer to the tank-car as Sofia as its called in the US game, Blaster Master.
Sofia's primary colors are red and white in the game. The upper half is where the driver's seat is, to the right side of that is the massive cannon used to blast things to bits. To the rear it sports a stylish rear spoiler. The cockpit can swivel in all direction, though with this being a 2D platformer, you won't get the full effect of this, just be satisfied that it can easily fire in three directions: to the left, right, and straight up. The lower half consists of the wheels and rear mounted engine, and the powerful jump mechanisms, which is the vehicle's main means of getting around in the underground, aside from driving. 4 sturdy truck-sized tires cover the large versatile wheels, allowing it to take the impact of landing from a jump. The wheels can also rotate so as to face its hubs downwards to utilize its hover function, or just the rear set facing backwards to kick in the dive mechanism (once you get those of coarse). Though I'm still curious as to how its able to cling so well to vertical surfaces, or upside-down.
Sofia is one of the coolest and most versatile vehicles ever. Once fully upgraded, this thing can go anywhere! It, once those parts are obtained, will be able to hover (limited flight, provided you have fuel), swim like a submarine underwater, climb walls as well as across ceilings (any surface is climbable once you have both wall power-ups, granted its safe to drive across), ect. And aside from its main cannon, you can also pick up sub-weapons for it: homing missiles, 3-way multi-warhead missiles, and the Thunderbreak (erratic lightning blast downwards), which naturally must be found and are limited in usage.
She, referring to Sofia, is easy to control, for the most part, though later, once you've acquired the Wall 1 and Wall 2 abilities, it can sometimes be difficult to jump over small gaps as it tends to want to cling if you move too quickly to the edge of a ledge before pressing jump, a minor nuisance, but is a hazard in the last stage if you're not accustomed to its quirkiness. You can control the direction of your jump in mid-air, though while moving forward, it does carry a little bit of momentum, not any different than Mario or Samus from Super Mario Brother, and Metroid respectively. Overall, controlling the tank-like car is easy - moving around, jumping, blasting foes to bits, its all good.
Radioactive One-Man Clean-Up Crew:
Jason is wearing some sort of protective red and white suit, complete with a full head-covering helmet with faceplate, and a cute little backpack, no skin or hair is visible. In the game he basically looks like a marshmallowy man in a spacesuit, his head taking up half of his body. He looks cute, but his gun can pack a hell of a punch (when fully powered up).
Areas with Jason are from an overhead perspective, though you can also use him in the side view parts of the game as well, as you have to exit the tank anyway to even be able to enter one of many rooms that Jason'll have to explore, as only he can fit through those tiny doors. I wouldn't suggest going too far with the little man in the side view parts of the game as he is weak against foes here (though sometimes it is required), and if you fall from a high enough platform you may get hurt and not be able to get back to your rover, or killed. If you've ever wondered if you'd bounce upon hitting the ground after falling from extreme heights, use Jason as an example, its actually quite amusing, that is if you aren't playing a serious game.
Within the overhead areas you'll notice perfect control while weaving about dodging enemies or blasting them to bits. Speaking of blasting, Jason is armed with a peashooter of a gun, and a grenade launcher, both can be fired unlimitedly. His regular gun is upgradable (up to 8 times), eventually being able to fire through walls as your shots leave a zig-zag of destruction, but each time you are hit you will lose a little bit of your gun's firepower as well. The grenade launcher on the other hand, though very short-ranged, is not upgradable, yet is extremely powerful all the time. Also, if you hold down the grenade firing button, you can lock the direction in which Jason is facing, allowing you to strafe back and forth and still be able to fire with your regular gun, this being good for when fighting bosses, this way you don't have to keep turning to face them since you'll already be the whole time, keeping your gun aimed their direction all the while. Unfortunately the power you attain in the overhead areas (increased gun power, and the grenade launcher) cannot be used in the sideview parts of the game...but that's where Sofia comes in.
There's one thing that has always bugged me about this game though, the lack of being able to jump in the overhead areas. It'd seem by the stage design for these parts, that there must've originally been a jump feature for Jason, as you'll notice at many points in the game, unreachable platforms, sometimes with power-ups on them. Perhaps they are just tempting you to go for it (certainly I lost a few times trying to find a way across expanses of spikes, pits of muck and lava, trying to reach power-ups unreachable), even so, it doesn't detract from the game.
Graphics and Animation:
Blaster Master has some of the best graphics on the NES, not any fancy effects like some later NES games from Sunsoft, such as Batman: Return of the Joker, or Super Spy Hunter, but it has nice details, beautiful colors, cool looking sprites, and large bosses.
Graphics are wonderful, giving you rich, beautifully detailed environments, appropriate colors paint each background and sprite, there's lots of things to look at, especially with every stage being so refreshingly different, you shouldn't get bored marveling at it. The Sofia tank is cool looking (in a funky sorta way), and has some nice animations, but Jason looks like a marshmallow man, not bad, just doesn't seem to fit in with the more serious looking sprites in the game. Enemy sprites are mostly grey toned (though there are also some red variants of some of them later in the game), makes sense as they are almost all robotic types, minus a few. Bosses are just as vibrant as the stage backgrounds, seemingly moreso, moving along a black background, and they're rather large.
Animation is very good, maybe not the absolute best for this system, but close enough, smooth and fluid enough to see that everything moves the way it should. Bosses consist of many moving parts with menacingly aggressive animations. The hover animation for Sofia is cool, and I also like how the dive adaptor spins while you're moving forward underwater. One of my favorite minor little details in this game are the blinking lights on some of the enemies, not sure why, I've just always liked it. But my favorite animation is of the Sofia exploding, its very quick, but has a nicely drawn comicbook-like explosion, kinda like the explosion at the end of Bionic Commando, though smaller scaled, dome-like and simpler style. Sometimes I just can't help myself but to allow my rover to blow up, just to see this animation, 'coarse not if I'm trying to win.
As with many NES games, you'll encounter slowdown and flickering graphics when too much is moving about on-screen. Bosses such as the long-armed urchin-like boss usually cause a lot of slowdown, sometimes accompanied by flickering. Major slowdown is also apparent especially with a lot of firepower spraying across the screen, like when fighting the bubble-blowing crab boss. I think they were thinking too far ahead of their time when making this game, as if trying to make a 16-bit game. Sometimes the game gets all weird, tons of slowdown, flickering, boss still moving around even after it was supposed to be dead, continuing to attack despite all of the explosions going on within it. I've encountered this kinda glitchiness quite often, especially with the stage 6 boss, and almost always while its still attacking me in its explosive death throws, some strange metallic, galloping-like sound effect accompanies this glitchiness. The game can be buggy sometimes, but what else is new, welcome to the NES, embrace the good stuff, learn to deal with the less than perfect stuff.
Music and Sound Effects:
The music is frickin' kickin', there isn't a moment a tune fails to draw you into the action, appropriately blending into each and every environment. You'll be humming along with it, you'll remember it, maybe hum the tunes when away from the game, hear it in your sleep, wish that the game had a sound test so that you can just turn it on just to listen to each and every soundtrack without having to play all the way through the game just to hear it all. But trust me, its worth playing the game for more than just the music. Music ranges from rockin' catchy beats, to strange and funky (frog croaks), to sweet, melodious, relaxing tunes, to hypnotic loneliness, to frantic, fast-paced, hard-thumping beats that pump your adrenaline to the max, to eerie, really creepy stuff. The music is as varied as the stages you'll go through, and there isn't a moment that it'll disappoint or irritate you...you'll want to hear it, and maybe even want to turn it up a bit more.
Sound effects consist of metallic pings and clangs, explosions, bleeps, beep, chirps, frog croaking...the usual NES stuff...well, not quite. Nothing annoying sounding here, sound effects are quite awesome, and certainly stand out from stuff heard in other games, and they're memorable. There's a lot of activity in both the sound and music department here. The frog croaking trips me out, and explosions are, well...explosive...the game can get kind of thunderous. Speaking of thunderous, I really like the sound of the Thunderbreak sub-weapon, and the missiles that your tank can fire. Flying enemies that wave across the screen let out warning chirps as they waver by, mines and larger flying machines not only have blinking spots of light on them, but also are accompanied by beeping sounds. And there's these security laser boxes (first encountered in stage 5 if I remember correctly) in the overhead parts, they move back and forth between walls, firing a laser at you if you step out in front of them, the laser sounds kinda cool. The warning alarm as you're about the fight a boss makes you aware that a grand battle is about to begin, that you're about to fight something deadly and powerful. There's just too much to go over describing it all, but the sounds help in bringing an already lively game to life.
Stages and the Bosses:
Those vast stages I was mentioning earlier, well there are 8 of 'em in this game, I'll give you a very brief summary of each and the boss that occupies that region.
The first stage is an underground cavern with a world all its own, complete with mountains, bodies of water, grass and trees, and even blue sky with clouds...odd huh? Its supposed to be underground, yet if you climb to the top of the starting point (once you get the Wall adaptors), you'll see that it indeed has a ceiling, boxing this seemingly surface-looking area up. The boss here is a cell-type brain-thingy, and after you splatter this thing, Sofia will get the extra firepower it needs to blast into area 2.
Next you'll journey into the ruins of an ancient civilization, perhaps Atlantis...no? Small pools of lava randomly dot the mythical terrain of this grand temple of terror from some long lost culture. After you've blasted the spiny, long-armed urchin boss to kingdom come, you'll get even more firepower for your tank, now you can blast through walls...at least the weak spots.
Then you must infiltrate a futuristic underground base, or perhaps its a crashed alien spaceship from long ago, maybe that's how these mutants really got here...but we'll never know, they just like to through variety at you, that's what NES games are about. Anyway, you'll get that extra boost that you needed once you violently deactivate the security system.
After that, you'll head into the sewers...a very big sewage system! I kinda expect to see some ninja turtles here. Here you'll find something that resembles your frog buddy (within the soundtrack you heard a periodic croaking, much like that of a frog, that gives you a clue as to what your next boss encounter'll be), but don't be fooled, it ain't Fred. The blind frog mutant gives you your ticket out of this stinkin' place, but you'll only need to use this key once (too bad really, only lame vehicle part you get in the whole game).
Stage 5 will drop you into a subterranean lake, a very deep lake that will stretch down to abyssmal depths, and once you jump into the water with your rover, there's no turning back until you get the Dive adaptor. But until then, there's only so far that Sofia can go before you'll have to exit and get a little wet. Oh, and beware of other divers, and a particularly nasty-tempered crab (one of my favorite non-final bosses of all time).
Once you swim ashore you'll find the entrance to the ice caverns, its very slippery, and you'll have to deal with spikes-a-plenty, and large chasms to cross (which if you fall, you'll have a lot of backtracking to do), so move with caution. Beware the long-armed urchin from stage 2, its back, with longer arms (it can reach you no matter where you run on screen), and can blast out a large cluster of ice crystal that does more damage than its single crystal pellets. You'll be climbing the walls after you beat this boss...literally.
After this chillin' stage you'll need some warming up, the Earth's core should keep you plenty warm. This stage will have you blasting through lots 'o chunks of dirt and jumpin' and climbin' over deadly pits of molten hot, radioactive terrain, this stage is quite vivid, the music intense. Another mutant frog awaits at the end, this one though has a longer, flame tongue, and is ever more hyperactive than the first one...extremely hop-happy. You gain the ability to crawl across ceilings now, and being that you now have every part for Sofia, you can go anywhere, no restrictions.
But as we are so close to finishing the game, find the entrance to stage 8, as you have with every stage before this, you'll have to do some backtracking to find it. The final area will be your toughest challenge yet, this area can also be considered hell, not the burning in flames for all eternity kind of hell, you've already gone through that, but the Hellraiser pins and needles, gore-galore kind. If you happen to make it through to the final door, you'll have to face not one, but two bosses, in a row, appearing in the same room, one after the other (the final boss being one of my favorite bosses of all time), if you can beat them, you will have finished one of the most awesome games you'll ever experience, NES only, or otherwise.
Challenge and Final Words:
Challenge I'd say is moderately hard, I've played lots of games much harder than this one, ones I have yet to beat, but as per most games, the first time is always the hardest, and being that it doesn't have any way of saving, you may have to play it many times before finally beating it for the first time.
The first time I finished this game it took me about 2 months to beat, of coarse this was when I was still new to the NES, I'd like to think my gaming skills have improved dramatically since then, even so, comparing it to other games at the time, Metroid (took me only 2 days to finish on my first time, passwords certainly making a hell of a difference), and Castlevania (a mere 3 hours or so, those unlimited continues allowed me to keep trying a stage over and over again without starting the game over from the beginning), Blaster Master has neither password nor unlimited continues, so its quite tough.
The most time consuming thing about this game is finding your way around and locating the correct door leading to the mutant boss. Navigating the terrain isn't easy at first, whether using the Sofia or Jason, and beating the boss of each area is an epic battle in itself.
At first it might take you 5+ hours in Blaster Master, each day, trying to find your way around, learning how to beat the baddies and controlling your character, there's a lot of new things to get used to every area cleared, and you'll most likely lose many times before ever beating that crab in area 5, and many more times making your way all the way to the final 2 bosses, only to lose all your lives and have to start over again. First time I played Blaster Master, I'd rented it from Erol's back in the day, had it for over a day, managed with a couple tries to make it up to the frog boss in area 4 before I had to return it, this was a really friggin' hard game. But that was then, I was still new to the NES. But this game was awesome, certainly far better than I thought it'd be, and so I bought it.
Took me a couple months to finally finish this game for the first time, I'd play it for several hours any day that I got the chance, lots of losing, lots of starting the game over from the beginning again. But it was fun, and I was improving at it, remembering where to go, how to get passed traps (in the form of spikes, lots of spikes in this game) and enemies, and got better at beating the bosses, and what can beat acquiring a new power for your vehicle. There was some cursing, certainly some frustration, but still I loved every moment of it. For many years this game took over as my number one favorite NES game of all time, those moments kinda wore off, plus having been exposed to many more NES games, sometimes the newer played stuff bumps the old stuff down a little, but still Blaster Master remains in my top 10 favorite NES games of all time.
One of the major drawbacks to this game is that it doesn't offer you any kind of a save feature, be it password or battery, and you only get a limited number of continues to beat it with. But as with any good game, even though hard as hell at first, with enough practice, you'll be a Blaster Master master. The game is enjoyable enough that you, just like myself, will put yourself through the abuse, and hopefully improve your skills at not only this game, but others as well.
Very thanks for reading this review!
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Blaster Master (US, 11/30/88)
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