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Retro Reviews: Blaster Master

June 22, 2009

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Blaster Master: Blasting its Way to My Heart

This being my first article, it seemed only appropriate that I review one of my favorite games of all time. Blaster Master was released in November of ‘88 by Sunsoft (now defunct in the US), and was met with positive reviews and respectable sales. Oddly enough, it never garnered the kind of notoriety that similar games like Metroid and Zelda enjoyed immediately after their release. Since 1988, Blaster Master has had four sequels, been listed 63rd on Nintendo Power’s Top 100 Games of all Time, 184th on EGM’s Top 200 Greatest Video Games of All Time, and is widely considered one of the most underrated games ever made.

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Blaster Master is a localization of a Japanese Famicom game entitled Super Planetary War Records: Metafight. The game’s storyline was heavily altered upon entering the US market. While this usually spells doom for a video game’s legacy, the simple story of a boy fighting evil to rescue his pet frog seems to fit the NES. Why not? Mario fought flying turtles to save some dame! The instinctive human nature to defend the helpless and stand by our friends somehow propels this story forward and provides motivation for the following levels.

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As far as game play, Blaster Master seamlessly incorporates several different experiences, which was unusual at the time. When the game begins, Jason is side-scrolling in his tank and can drive, jump, and shoot enemies with his cannon. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that Jason can hop out of his tank at anytime and go it on foot. This adds an interesting dynamic as there are certain places the tank cannot go. Jason is far smaller than the surrounding enemies and much more susceptible to harm without his four-wheeled protection. Then, after the tank has been abandoned, you will see little doors through which Jason can enter. These doors introduce top-down shooter levels similar to Zelda. And while the common player may think that these three distinct options seem too much, Sunsoft has sewn them together so well that the transitions are not apparent.

Blaster Master shares another similarity with some of the more popular ‘80s games: the story is not linear. You can roam the game freely and may discover that you must go back to go forward, or that you need a tank upgrade before you can get past a certain barrier or enemy. There is one point after the third(?) boss that you realize you must go all the way back to the first area to get to the fourth.

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These elements are commonplace by today’s standards. We see freeform hybrid games all the time. Blaster Master was one of the founding fathers of the modern video game, and yet, is sadly underappreciated. It is unlikely that it will never be as famous as its first-party counterparts, or that we will ever see another sequel. Yet, it’s only faults lie in a significant amount of speed reduction when more than two or three enemies are onscreen (common among NES games, including Zelda), and that it is notoriously difficult. There are no saves, no passwords, no continues. You must beat the entire game with the lives that you are given. If you are interested in beating this one, I would suggest an emulator. But please, treat yourself to this game and appreciate one of the unsung heroes of the 8-bit generation.

-Jared

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2009 8:00 pm

    Jared! I’m the first to comment on your new column. First off, thank you for being the one to tackle these historic games; I for one don’t have the ability you and The Big Man have to objectively review games what with the constant quips, psychological references, and sarcasm. Hopefully, this will get some people exploring the oldies but goodies. At the same time, I hope our readers notice what an excellent writer you are grammatically and objectively. Keep up the fine work, man.

    Also, Garrett, you continue to do an excellent job with the graphics; I guess that schooling did work after all. Thank you so much for supporting us lowly writers with images to entice the most noncommittal of readers. You and The Big Man are running this show wonderfully.

    • statealchemistgarrett permalink*
      June 22, 2009 8:50 pm

      Awww. I’m blushing. :*)

  2. Celes Leonhart permalink
    June 23, 2009 2:32 am

    First of all, “it’s” should be “its” in the last paragraph.

    Now with that out of the way, the real comment: that was a damn good review! Brandon’s got it pretty spot on with how you and The Big Man can (seemingly) review so objectively; that’s a talent in itself. On my first read I was constantly thinking “Well, he’s not really selling it to me, is he?” and on finish, I felt a little uninspired. But then I took a little look through Brandon’s comment, and remembered the title of the column: “Retro Reviews” — this is exactly what a review should be. For the most part factual, with opinion-inspired introductions and verdicts; this piece really hits the nail dead on, covering everything in excellent, unbiased detail. I’d simply approached the piece from skewered expectations considering the other writer’s styles.

    With absolutely nothing I can criticise in terms of writing ability, and though I’m a man who likes an Audio section to his reviews, that’s ultimately a great review of the game’s gameplay and these regular retro columns really do mean I should dig my way about and find an emulator for each of the older consoles. Definitely looking forward to your next piece if this is to be a regular thing, Jared!

    Slightly off-topic (though not much), I’ve also give props to Garrett; these graphics are something special.

    • Celes Leonhart permalink
      June 23, 2009 2:34 am

      Damn these 3-4am visits; “I’ve also got to give props to Garrett” and “writers'” should be what I put. Ignore my failings.

      • Garrett permalink*
        June 23, 2009 11:24 am

        Thanks Celes! I do try. It’s funny, I sit in an office all day creating graphics and working with computers, then I come home…and do the same thing.

        P.S. Have you seen Transformers 2? It did already open in the UK right?

      • Celes Leonhart permalink
        June 23, 2009 1:20 pm

        It is out, but I booked Imax tickets two weeks ago so I’m making sure to avoid spoilers and that the first time I see it, I get to see Optimus Prime in all of his “to scale” glory, haha. I didn’t know what to do man, risk seeing it on release or just wait it out. I’m waiting it out.

      • June 23, 2009 1:43 pm

        SPOILERS. There’s too much Shia and not enough transformers.

      • Celes Leonhart permalink
        June 23, 2009 2:33 pm

        I was guessing that was going to be the case…Disappointing!

      • June 23, 2009 3:45 pm

        I haven’t actually seen it, but I just can’t stand Shia, he’s an ok actor, just waaaaay too overrated so yeah.

  3. Jared permalink
    June 24, 2009 4:06 am

    I appreciate everyone’s feedback.

    Celes, I especially apreciate your input. I went back a couple days ago and read some of the articles I wrote for Nin-Gaming back in the day and I realized that I had allowed my feelings for each game to cloud the objectivity of the article. That isn’t to say that I don’t want to put in my opinion, but I think that if I can just give enough info to get someone to play Blaster Master, the quality of the game will speak for itself.

    Just for your info, my next piece is a bit more editorial. So you’ll get a little better taste of my personality.

    Thanks again,

    J

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