Blaster Master is one of those games, that whenever I hear someone speak about it, it is always positive. It’s something that a lot of games really don’t have going for them. So when the opportunity came up to do a review on a retro game that I had yet to play, I knew exactly what I wanted to play.
The first time I heard of Blaster Master was through the Happy Console Gamer Show on YouTube. It was mentioned a few times in passing on the show, and then RobMan did a full review of it, and I must say, I was impressed.
Blaster Master is a platformer/run and gun game for the NES, released by SunSoft in 1988, or 1991 if you happen to be European or Australian :(. You play as the lovable Jason (Hi!) who is silly enough to follow his pet down a hole in the Earth where he finds a tank named Sophia the 3rd and thinks it’s a good idea to go around shooting radioactive mutants with it. In all honestly, it’s a very silly plot, but it really doesn’t matter, especially when it is told through a really cool looking intro cut scene.
Before I get started with the rest of this review, even though Blaster Master has been out for close to 30 years, if you are like I was, and have not played it yet and don’t want any of the gory details ruined, I recommend you go play it right now. It is really awesome, and even though there isn’t a whole lot to spoil, this review will ruin the fun moments of discovery you have in the game.
After you get into the game, the music gets the blood pumping. It is EXTREMELY catchy, I can not warn you enough that this opening theme will be stuck in your head for weeks, especially when you take into account how devastatingly hard this game is, so you will be hearing it a lot. On the plus side, each of the eight levels has a different music track, and they are all just as good as the last. The sound effects are also well-done and fit the theme and tone of the game very well.
The visuals are very nice. The sprites are colorful, well-detailed; the enemies are well-varied and fit the theme of the game very well. The levels have differing themes and won’t get boring to look at, as every level looks completely different. For a NES game, I really can’t praise the visuals enough, as they are good enough to play with the big boys of the system.
Once you start moving around, you get a feel of how well the controls are programmed. They are very smooth and very responsive. Your DPad is for movement, as is to be expected, the A button is your jump button, and the B button is your shoot button—all pretty standard. On top of that, the start button pauses the game and brings you to your status screen where you can change what your currently equipped secondary weapon is, which you can fire off using down+fire, something that admittedly took me a little while to figure out. Finally, there is the select button which allows you to hop out of your tank and walk around using just Jason, which really changes the games flow and dynamic.
The main objective of Blaster Master is to go through the to defeat the Underworld Lord. To do this, you need to navigate through the first 7 levels, collecting upgrade parts for your tank, and then off to level 8 to defeat the final two bosses. The upgrades are definitely where this game stands out from the crowd. The first and second upgrades, the Hyper Beam and Crusher Beam, are your standard weapon upgrades, which also provide a nice visual change as well. The game really starts to get interesting with the third upgrade, the Hover Engine, which I don’t think I need to explain. The fourth upgrade, the Dive Motor, makes swimming around in your tank a lot easier, which was such a welcome upgrade at this point in the game. The fifth and final sixth upgrade are called Wall (1) and Wall (2) respectively. Once again, you can probably guess what they do to some extent, but I will explain a little bit more. The first Wall upgrade allows you to climb up vertical walls, while the second gives you the ability to hang upside down off the roof and traverse that way.
All in all, the upgrade system really does add a nice touch to the already fun game play, and it does change the dynamic of the game quite nicely. Enemies that thought they were the bee’s knees when they were stuck to the roof dropping bombs on you get a rude awakening when you climb up there yourself and blast them into the next dimension. The enemies are nicely varied and well-designed in the way you need to fight them. Some enemies require you to jump or be quick to kill them before they hit the ground or get a shot off, while others may require you to exit your tank, leaving you exposed to a swift death in order to attack them and continue.
One of the big aspects of Blaster Master is exploration. There are a lot of doors in each level that you need to get out of your tank to explore. Some of them are dead ends that contain no more then a bunch of enemies and some health packs, which no doubt you will need after walking around aimlessly for a bit.
The ones with the bosses in them are usually a lot bigger and have a lot more to explore. The game play changes significantly when you go into these levels, as it turns into a top down shooter. The jump button is also remapped into a grenade button, which has a shorter range, but does as much damage as 8 bullets fired. This combined with a turbo controller can make short work of most enemies.
The bosses at the end of the levels, are … well … weird, but this does fit with the aesthetic of the game. They are radioactive mutants, so nothing is really off limits, but I really wish that massive frog and massive crab, both of which are used twice, were a little more inspired. The bosses are where the meat of the difficulty are in this game. While the over world can provide a decent challenge, it doesn’t hold a candle to the strife the bosses can put you in. Thankfully, you do have two lives and unlimited continues, but you do have to start at the beginning of the level again.
At the end of the day, Blaster Master is really fantastic, and I can’t believe I let it sit in a drawer for so long before finally getting around to playing it. If you are a retro gamer, you really do need to go play this game. If you have a NES, you can pick up the game for less then a tenner, if not, I promise not to judge you as you fire up an emulator. It really is that good. Next I think I will have to pick up the sequel and see if it holds up the standard set by the original.
What do you guys think? Have you played Blaster Master before? Are you going to now? If not, why are you an awful person? Let me know in the comments below.
This game was purchased by the reviewer five years ago and he was too stupid to play it until now.
The faults in this game are few and far between. Clocking in at about 3 hours for a first run through, I can not recommend this game enough for a great bit of retro fun.