How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Blaster Master Zero has two modes – 2D platforming and Top Down Shooter – that you switch between as you explore. This is a fantastic and unique feature, but some might argue that it sets it apart from the core genre.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~8 hours
Review Info: Blaster Master Zero was played on Steam
Buy Blaster Master Zero if you like…
- Both Metroidvania Games and Top-Down Shooter games
- Unique exploration
- Local Co-op options
- Fun but not-too-difficult games
▼ Review continues below ▼
Back in the stone age of 1988, a cult classic was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it had been talked about by gamers that played it ever since. It had this crazy concept of mixing Zelda and Metroid, and for a long time its unique experience was doomed to only be the subject of internet discussion. Thankfully INTI CREATES remembered this little gem, and I can think of no better company to give the reigns of remaking Blaster Master for modern platforms. The entire game has been reimagined; most of its oldschool warts have been removed and there are new bosses, power-ups, and challenges to be had. There are still a few aspects of the original design that hold back the project as a whole, but overall the effort to revive the aged legend was a resounding success.
Of course the most important thing when reimagining a beloved game is keeping that nostalgia intact – and Blaster Master Zero opens up with maybe the most nostalgic thing about the original; its catchy first zone’s music. The forest area is mostly untouched, so if you’ve played the NES game recently you will already pretty much know where to go. Hints of changes are present right away. You can find max health increases and a full map of the area as a promise that there will be a lot fewer dead ends this time around and exploration will be rewarded often. As you go deeper into the game’s world, more creative liberties are taken. Each zone is given a gimmick if it didn’t already have one in the original. For instance, Zone 3 has some puzzle-y conveyer belts that open and shut massive doors, and Zone 6 – which was already an ice stage – has you turning on and off the freezer and changing the environment for your progress. In my opinion all of these changes are positive, and completely remove feelings of redundancy that sometimes plagued the original. Everything in the game is slick, with some wondrous use of modern technology to enhance the 8-bit style graphics in ways that would have been impossible on the older hardware.
The main gimmick in Blaster Master Zero is switching between riding in the infamous tank “the Sophia III”, and wandering about outside as Jason Frudnick wearing only an environmental suit. The Sophia III can’t fit into small spaces, so sometimes you need to dismount to flip a switch or swim upwards where your tank only sinks.
The primary function of leaving the tank is entering the game’s dungeon areas. Inside, the perspective changes, and you now control Jason from above, equipped with an evolving gun and an expanding arsenal of sub-weapons. The dungeon layouts are similar to the oldschool Zelda or Star Tropics dungeons – or The Binding of Isaac if those references are too old. Your goal in each area is to find whatever treasure is hidden within. It’s almost always some kind of upgrade, but specific dungeons give you power-ups to the Sophia that let you access new zones and areas. In the Metroidvania style, you can break through walls or generally solve your ability to travel vertically to reach unseen areas.
Combat challenges are split between the 2D platforming mode and the top down mode. The Sophia can shoot in six directions, so general platforming is about positioning yourself to hit the enemy where they can’t hit you. This of course gets more challenging as bosses become involved. Most of the major bosses are fought in the dungeon areas, so getting used to how Jason controls there is crucial. You have a limited supply of ammo for a subweapon, but your main gun is usually pretty adequate by itself. You find upgrades for your main gun that opens up more options as it levels up. However, the upgrades aren’t necessarily a simple power increase, but if a fully upgraded option is less appealing to you than a previous one, you have the ability to switch back to whichever gun mode you please at will. For instance you gun gains a rapid fire option, and then eventually the ability to create a reflection shield – obviously a reflection shield isn’t always useful, so you can switch back as necessary. When fully upgraded however, you are granted a powerful armor and wall piercing wave gun – which is what you’ll want to use 99% of the time. As a carryover from the NES game though, getting hit loses your latest gun upgrade, suddenly making the other upgrades relevant again. This can become really frustrating especially in a boss fight you’re already having trouble with, since that wave beam is so much superior to all the other options. This time around though you have infinite lives, and dying gives you back all the upgrades you had when you hit the checkpoint, so it’s not a permanent loss if you fail a little.
While the game is wonderfully accessible and polished, there are still a few detractors that bring down the experience a little. Exploration is generally fun and very rewarding, but backtracking can be a bit of a slog as some of the new puzzles create some repetition as you move about. You still die instantly when you fall from a small distance when playing outside of your tank in the 2D platforming areas, which can lead to some goofy-looking retries in an otherwise perfect playthrough.
The biggest issue for me, however, is that the game has a lot of parts that just bog down the action. You never get any way to speed up your walking speed while traversing the dungeons, and maps specifically don’t teleport you to the entrance of the level when found, so you have to slowly waddle your way to the entrance through halls where you’ve already killed the enemies. A lot of the “platforming” in said dungeons are just a matter of waiting for moving platforms to bus you around – no challenge associated with it. Sometimes you have to crawl through small spaces, and it just takes forever to do.
In general the game is pretty easy too – at least if you’re diligent in keeping your gun upgrades at full. Since there’s no real consequence for dying, a perfect boss run is obtainable just by committing suicide and trying again a few times. Every dungeon apparently has to have a boss this time around, and it’s really obvious they went for quantity over quality. Some “bosses” are just rushes of enemies that come in waves at you – and it’s at a pace that may be a little tedious. There’s nothing wrong with an easier game, but there are times that Blaster Master Zero isn’t even engaging, which becomes a problem. It’s still totally worth seeing everything the game has to offer, there’s just some room for improvement.
The Local Co-op sort of exacerbates the difficulty and engagement problem. The second player is merely a disembodied crosshair, able to shoot any enemy on the screen. The crosshair has three different options to contribute to the fight. There’s the normal machine gun fire that does only paltry amounts of damage, but it’s often the only thing that you can do. By pushing the sub-weapon button you can drop a black hole which is excellent for killing smaller, more annoying enemies. The most useful ability however is that you can drop health, energy, ammo, and gun upgrade pickups for the first player, mitigating even further the consequences of making mistakes. Adding in a second player is basically a cheat mode – which in my opinion is fantastic for younger or otherwise less experienced audiences. I think it’s a great addition to the game, but veteran gamers might not appreciate it.
As with the NES game, the story is pretty silly, but this time around they use it well to give context to your actions and guide the player. Eva, a character who was always part of the Blaster Master Canon, is now part of the game and is used for Jason to discuss objectives with. The narrative plays out like a decent Anime, but some presentation decisions are a little confusing given the title’s otherwise high production values. Some dramatic moments are told only in dialog boxes with your normal play screen as the background, even though a perfectly good CG of Eva and Jason sitting side by side is available within the Sophia 3 Sub Menu. It makes an otherwise okay cutscene feel sort of pace-breaking, when it should be motivating. As always, story is a secondary factor for Metroidvania games, but much like some of the less engaging parts of the action, there’s definitely room for improvement on the narrative presentation.
Blaster Master on the NES was imaginative but somewhat inaccessible, and Blaster Master Zero rectifies just about all of its problems. It’s true to the source material where it matters, and it takes liberties where it needs it the most. Some of the design might leave veteran players a bit bored, but as an experience it’s still a top notch recommendation. The most important thing to me about Blaster Master Zero’s existence is that now a great series has a foothold in the modern generation. If we can see some sequels that utilize its strongest features, we may yet see a new standard setter for the Metroidvania Genre.
Strafing, more weapons, and extra defenses makes combat much more interestiing than the original, but perhaps a bit too simplistic still by modern standards
Excellent level design is off-set by some slow and simplistic sections. May occasionally have to wait a while for hover jets
Almost every dungeon has a reward, and you get a special reward for getting 100%. Some backtracking is a little tedious
There are occasionally some interesting decisions to make that change up gameplay, but no major puzzles to speak of
Same plot as the first game, but way more coherent and with a few more addiitions to make it more personal
The 8-Bit Aesthetic is gorgeous with a added modern flair taking advantage of the better technology
Remixed tracks are even catchier than the original game
Diifferent routes, mulitple weapons to take down bosses, and extra playable characters provide a lot of options to change up your play
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