Retro Reviews: Blaster Master
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.
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.
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.
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.