Review by Overdrive

Reviewed: 07/08/05

A laughable premise leads to an excellent game

Sometimes I think I’m too hard on storytelling in today’s video games. Yeah, sometimes plots get overly convoluted and sometimes you’re stuck in control of a “hero” who looks, sounds and acts like a reject from some ultra-lame boy band, but do I really have the right to complain? I’m from the old school, where stories were non-existent much of the time. And you know what? We often were grateful when those “plots” didn’t actually weave their way into the fabric of the actual game!

Take a look at SunSoft’s Blaster Master, for example. You play the role of Jason, a weird kid whose has an unnatural obsession with his pet frog, Fred. One fine day, Fred decides being a pet’s not how he rolls, so the critter makes a daring escape and hops down a hole. Not being one to think things through, Jason immediately plunges after it...and falls a long, long way into the subterranean realm of a villain known as the Plutonium Boss. Fortunately, not only did Jason emerge unscathed after dropping from a height that probably should have pulverized his bones, but he landed next to a super-duper tank-like gizmo that now will serve as his primary mode of transportation throughout the vast realm of the Plutonium Boss.

It’s a laughable premise that pushes my ability to suspend reality to its limits — but the game absolutely ROCKS!!! In his search for Fred, the Plutonium Boss and glory, Jason traverses eight vast and diverse stages, shoots the crap out of everything he sees and occasionally leaves his vehicle to explore buildings. Blaster Master is one of the more beautiful NES games, has a number of great tunes and is one of the most addictive cartridges I’ve ever popped into a system.

For the most part, you’ll be riding your tank through a variety of side-scrolling regions. Most of these eight areas are composed of a series of mammoth rooms with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Scattered throughout each region are a number of structures with doors too small for your vehicle to fit into. Eject Jason from the machine and he’ll be able to enter these places and explore on foot. While most of these buildings are short dead-ends with no purpose other than to hand out a few power-ups, one in each region serves as the home of that area’s boss. Your mission is to kill each boss and take the item it holds. That device will (likely) give your vehicle a new power necessary to reach the next zone.

The beauty of the game is that there are a goodly number of those buildings in each level. If you don’t know which one holds the boss fight, you’ll spend a lot of time running around and exploring each region. While Blaster Master is essentially an arcade-like action game, it does lift some of the better elements of games like Metroid and Cosmo Police Galivan to create an adventure with a surprising amount of depth.

It’s a joy to traverse the many zones of Blaster Master, as SunSoft created a world ruled by diversity. The second level, for example, seems to take place amongst the ruins of ancient castles. Beat the boss and gain access to the third level, where you’ll then find yourself in what appears to be a futuristic world. Get through that place and you’ll still have five zones to go, all of which are completely different in appearance.

The fifth zone, a memorable underwater jaunt, also plays differently from the other seven, making it the highlight of this game. To progress past the first screen of this region, you’ll have to immediately send your vehicle into the water. Unfortunately, it is pretty impotent when exposed to mass amounts of liquid, so you’ll sink like a stone to the bottom of this vast reservoir. With the tank rendered worthless, all you can do is take control of Jason and explore this place yourself. After swimming through multiple caves, avoiding (or blasting) enemies along the way, you’ll eventually reach the boss dwelling. Find and defeat it and you’ll win a device to give your vehicle underwater motion. Now (and only now), you can make it through the bulk of the level and access the portal to the next region.

But, to be honest, I found there to be a lot of beauty while exploring each and every one of this game’s regions — as long as I avoided every structure that wasn’t necessary to advance the game. While you might have to explore a handful of these places, you probably won’t enjoy doing so. In fact, virtually every flaw I’ve ever found in Blaster Master rears its ugly head during these overhead areas.

The combination of intense slowdown (especially during a couple of the more intense boss fights) and some shoddy hit detection proved to be enough to make me want to get back in my tank and leave these places behind once and for all. It doesn’t help that there really isn’t much boss variety, with the big baddies of the second and fourth zones recycled (at a higher difficulty level) later in the game. On the other hand, at least the bosses looked good — something you can’t say about the rest of these areas. The backgrounds are dominated by blocky graphics, while Jason is revealed as a monstrosity with a head larger than some countries. Guess that fancy suit he has didn’t protect him from the underworld radiation as much as you’d like to think it would....

To be honest, it almost feels like a completely different group designed and programmed the overhead areas. They simply don’t have the addictive qualities or the same aura of coolness those free-roaming, side-scrolling areas possess. Fortunately, the majority of the game is spent in the tank going from one region to the next and an experienced player can keep the amount of time they spend as Jason to a minimum.

Because of that, most of my memories of Blaster Master are fond. It’s a fun game that offers its fair share of challenge. The overhead areas are too flawed for this game to be a true classic, but the majority of Blaster Master is an engaging trek through an immense world. Overall, this game has become so memorable to me that I look at those overhead sections as little more than annoyances that easily can be endured.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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