Some of the hardest games to judge are retro titles. My reviews of Mega Man 11, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and ToeJam & Earl show how easily nostalgia can have limitations if there is something missing from the overall package. With the indie market ballooning into a juggernaut for companies big and small, the pressure to stand out is ever present. Many series are given new life by emulating old tricks; sticking to that ‘classic’ formula, even when it is worn out its welcome. I can’t fault developers for sticking with that playbook, but it would take a bit of risk to honor the gameplay players are familiar with while adding meaningful additions to keep your audience engaged. Inti Creates is perhaps the best example of this gamble paying off with their latest release, Blaster Master Zero 2.
Blaster Master Zero 2 is a direct sequel to Blaster Master Zero, itself a remake of the original NES classic. The player plays as a human inventor and “Metal Attacker” pilot Jason. With the help of his psychic pet frog Fred and the android Eve, he uses the G-SOPHIA. This is a Metal Attacker designed to explore the deep reaches of space in the hopes to find a cure for a deadly mutation that is slowly consuming Eve.
Blaster Master Zero 2 expands upon the Blaster Master lore quite a bit. Players are introduced to multiple characters, Metal Attackers and others that Jason can befriend or fight along his journeys. A lot of the emphasis is on retro-styled cutscenes and talking portions between a dozen or so characters. It's a remarkable change of pace for the series. The story is not overly complex or beyond anime-style caricature, but it services the main crux of the now classic Blaster Master gameplay.
Like its predecessors, Blaster Master Zero 2 has two primary gameplay modes; platforming across the overworld maps with the Metal Attacker and the dungeon-crawl segments with Jason. Both are classic parts of the franchise that need no further introduction. Inti Creates retains the smooth controls from the previous title. Blaster Master Zero 2 also offers several tweaks and changes that help the already polished gameplay stand out.
For one, the levels found in the game now separate into a world map. Each of the levels interconnects through unlockable wormholes, containing one major level and several minor planets. The minor planets are optional platforming and dungeon challenges, with the incentive to exploring them for upgrades including health boosts and extra weapons.
All of this gives a degree of nonlinearity to Blaster Master Zero 2 that goes beyond the maze-like platforming the player normally encounters. Much of Blaster Master Zero 2 follows an adventure-game pattern as well; go to a new planet, find a new weapon for the G-SOPHIA, and unblock your path to dungeons. Though the maps are smaller in scale, they provide tighter platforming challenges and a variety of colorful levels; from a jungle-based planet with floating riverways to a planet divided by a dimensional rift. The design is robust enough to provide unique challenges for Blaster Master veterans.
Some seemingly minor changes also help set the game apart. While both Jason and the G-SOPHIA function the same as previous games, new abilities include a way to recharge the G-SOPHIA subweapon from concussive impacts. So, taking a long fall onto a platform now offers a small reward in recharging your sub-weapon meter, offering a small tactical advantage for players. For the dungeon sections, Jason gets a ‘Blast Counter’ ability that allows him to shoot or dash into enemies quickly but requires precision-timing by the player. Both maneuvers compliment a slew of brand new weapons to collect throughout the game, adding a bit of variety to the overall experience.
Inti Creates threw a few curveballs into the mix as well. For example, the player can collect emblems from various Metal Pilots you meet throughout the game, but each of these emblems is a reward for an optional side-quest. The collection of these emblems is important, however. The only way to achieve the games “true ending” - along with a major twist to occur which I won’t spoil – is to collect all these emblems towards the end of the game.
These seem like minor changes overall, but much like the overhaul to the game's levels, they help in making the game keep up with its breakneck pace. Like most of the best games on the Switch, Blaster Master Zero 2 feels designed for playing in shorter sessions. The overall map design and gameplay challenges compliment this playstyle well. It offers a challenging experience that never feels suffocating or unfair. This helps the game keep up its momentum, despite some backtracking and minor quibbles such as not knowing which dungeons you previously explored.
That momentum is perhaps the biggest asset to Blaster Master Zero 2. Unlike the familiar pace of Mega Man 11 and Let’s Go Pikachu, you have a variety of content that never feels like it’s overstaying its welcome. Inti Creates focused on changing the right parts of the gameplay. It makes it feel more dynamic and engaging despite not deviating from the formula. Simply put, the game never stops being fun, a hard balance to strike for a retro-styled title.
Other factors also help achieve this fun. The unique worlds are just part of the games overall graphical fidelity; while it is in full 16-bit pixels at home with a Super Nintendo. The well-done pixel art is everywhere, with rich worlds and characters full of detail. There's a vibrant color palette and the use of foreground and background elements in some levels. It also meshes well with the anime-style characters and sci-fi aesthetics.
Blaster Master Zero 2 is nostalgia done right. It provides a familiar experience for veteran players while making it feel fresh. This is thanks to tweaks to the overall gameplay rhythms that work in its favor. Inti Creates has brought the Blaster Master franchise back from the brink of obscurity. Wherever the series goes next will be anyone’s guess. So long as it continues to expand upon its foundation, I look forward to the future of the series.
TechRaptor reviewed Blaster Master Zero 2 on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on the Nintendo 3DS.
- Gorgeous Presentation...
- Strong Level Design...
- Great Gameplay Tweaks.
- Excellent Graphics and Sound.
- ...Mediocre, Anime Cliched Narrative.
- ...Despite Smaller Levels and Challenges.