blaster-master-zero-logo-better-625x352.pngIn 1988, Sunsoft put out Blaster Master for the NES. Blaster Master being part 2D run and gunner, part top-down dungeon crawling adventure, part Metroidvania (before the genre had even been created), Blaster Master became a classic that spawned a number of remakes and sequels.

The remake we’re talking about here though, is Blaster Master Zero. Recently released on the Nintendo E-Shop for 3DS and Switch, Blaster Master Zero attempts to recreate the original Blaster Master feel while making a number of hugely welcome additions and changes. I’m not super familiar with the original Blaster Master, so bear with me here, but I’m going to do my best to tell you why you should buy Blaster Master Zero.

In Blaster Master Zero, you play as a young man, Jason, who’s mutant frog, Fred, escapes. While attempting to search for him, Jason falls down a large hole into a huge cavern filled with mutants, robots, and robot-mutants. He also finds some gear and SOPHIA-III, a huge multi-terrain tank. Naturally, Jason hops in SOPHIA-III and takes off on a journey to find Fred.

blaster-master-zero-screenshots_xsh4.640.pngBlaster Master Zero is split into two parts: the overworld and the dungeon portions. The overworld plays much like a 2D run-and-gun Metroidvania. You’ll control SOPHIA-III through each of the 9 areas, shooting down enemies and looking for dungeons. When you find dungeons, Jason can hop out of the tank and tackle them in the hopes of finding more maximum health or various items and abilities for both Jason and SOPHIA-III. Many of the items you obtain will allow you to reach previously unreachable areas, many of which you’ll need to backtrack to get to, a-la Metroidvania.

When exploring, you may need to hop out of SOPHIA-III as Jason to explore areas SOPHIA-III just can’t reach. One frustrating thing they didn’t bother changing is fall damage as Jason. Jason can’t fall anymore than twice his own height without taking damage, and any more than that is an instant death, regardless of height. I get that it’s a mechanic in place to avoid leaving SOPHIA-III in an inaccessible spot, but it’s still very annoying.

blaster-master-zero-screenshots_bef9.640.jpgBlaster Master Zero is laid out a lot like the original. Many of the enemies and locations look very similar, even to the point of being mechanically identical, though Zero gives everything a fresh coat of paint with bright colors that the NES could never hope to achieve. One of the most welcome additions to Zero however is the map feature. On NES, you just had to hope you had an amazing memory and sense of direction (which is tough enough on NES, seeing as many locations look very similar) or just right out draw your own map. In Zero, any grid of the map you visit will highlight it blue, as well as marking important landmarks, like dungeons. Even better, some dungeons have maps within them, automatically filling out your map of the area for you to explore as you wish.

Another welcome change is SOPHIA-III’s special bar, which completely replaces the hover bar in the NES game. The special bar will slowly fill on its own, or can be powered up with pickups from fallen enemies. The special bar not only governs the two hover abilities, but also new special weapons and charge shots for SOPHIA-III, adding another layer of welcome complexity and ease to combat.

The top-down dungeon portions have become less frustrating as well, not only with it’s own map, and the fixing of respawning blacks, but also an upgraded gun system. In the original, collecting powerups for your gun made it more powerful, sure, but in Zero, each level of gun upgrade has it’s own unique shot type that you can switch to at will, provided you have enough gun-level for it. This enables you to switch your gun to the “right tool for the job”, though once you max out your gun-level, there’s little reason to use anything but the most powerful blaster that pretty much destroys anything in your path. If you take damage, you’ll also lose gun-level, and you’ll have to collect more powerups to use the best shot-type. Jason also gets various sub items like grenades to blast holes in cracked walls, or flash bombs to light up dark areas.

bmzero2.jpgIn the dungeon portions, your objective is to get to the end and beat the boss, which is sometimes a really cool enemy, and sometimes just a horde of lesser enemies. A lot of the boss designs (many of which were redesigned with new mechanics for Zero) are really cool, but one of the main gripes I have with Zero in general is extremely evident here: the game is just far too easy. I barely took any damage unless I was being careless, and every single boss was an absolute pushover: pretty much just point and shoot it enough times until it dies, usually with no mechanic or strategy. In fact, the most powerful gun tends to even stun bosses and penetrates armor, so you really don’t have to do anything but mash the shoot button. For example, one boss has a hard shell helmet with a squishy backside with a large arena, where the idea is to run around behind him and blast the squishy side. Due to my overpowered gun, I could jut shoot him right in the face and through the helmet, where he was powerless to do anything to me. Rarely in my boss encounters did I even have to dodge an attack or move my character around too much. Each boss battle left me wanting more, especially after seeing the really cool designs.

Though the easiness is really my only gripe with Blaster Master Zero. You find many cool powerups, there are a bunch of large areas with really cool mechanics, like an incoming wave which knocks Jason back if he’s not elevated on a platform, or treadmill-like switches SOPHIA-III must drive on to open up new area. There are two endings, and an entirely new area to explore if you manage to collect all of the powerups before the end. And if you do manage to make it to the final zone, they give you even MORE powerups to the point of being untouchable. I never really felt in danger at all throughout Blaster Master Zero, and the lack of any sort of challenge is kind of a damper for me.

The Bottom Line

Pros

  • A unique and fun take on the Metroidvania genre.
  • Two vastly different styles of gameplay really help to break up the monotony of just one type or the other.
  • Beautiful presentation and awesome boss designs.
  • Plenty of unique mechanics to keep things fresh.

Cons

  • WAY too easy.
  • Fall damage is an annoyance.

Final Score: 9/10

I liked Blaster Master Zero a lot, and if it were jut a little bit more challenging, I think it may have scored even higher than its already great score.

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