‘Blaster Master Zero’ Review: Blast From The Past

out of 5

I was almost 11-years-old on Christmas day, 1988, and I still remember getting one of my favorite NES games, Blaster Master by Sunsoft. From the amazing intro, to the original gameplay, Blaster Master was so different than any previous titles I had played. It was like two games in one, a side scrolling vehicle mode, with its oddly responsive controls, and when outside of your vehicle to a top down dungeon crawler. Now almost 30 years later, developer Inti Creates has brought Blaster Master Zero to the newest Nintendo console, the Switch, and I couldn’t be happier.

A remake and re-imagining, Blaster Master Zero brings this classic and underappreciated game to a new generation. Players control a young boy named Jason as he follows his runaway pet frog down a mysterious hole that leads to a whole new dimension. There he finds an odd looking tank with wheels, called SOPHIA III, and must blast, jump, explore dungeons full of mutant baddies, and defeat screen filling bosses. Blaster Master Zero does a fantastic job of bringing an old game and new system together for an amazing retro experience.

Blaster Master had a story that was considered silly in 1988 (The horrible Japanese translation didn’t help), but once players look past the story’s shortcomings, they will find a surprising amount of depth and original gameplay for the time. The tank, SOPHIA III, controls well and is used for the majority of the game to explore in 2D, side-scrolling “metroidvania” style. Players will find small doors in areas, that will allow Jason to hop out of his vehicle and enter on foot. These “dungeons” will change the gameplay to a closer overhead view of our hero in his helmet and spacesuit, as players must navigate spikes and enemies and sometimes the path leads to a boss fight. These dungeon levels are usually where players will find power ups and upgrades to Jason’s blaster and also for the SOPHIA III.

Your tank in Blaster Master Zero will need these new abilities, such as sticking to walls and better weapons, because the 2D world is nonlinear and players will have to backtrack often to unlock previously unreachable areas. The added, easy to use map does help a lot and most times it’s fairly obvious where you need to go next. The original game was considered to be very challenging, but thankfully Inti Creates added checkpoints and streamlined the controls to be more responsive. Players can also switch weapons easily on the fly now, these are all huge improvements over the NES game.

While some original players will not like the change in difficulty, I welcomed it. Many of my friends back then hated the original Blaster Master due to the inability to save your game or use a code to continue, thus having to start over if you died. Only the diligent were able to defeat it. With these changes, yes, Blaster Master Zero is not really a challenge anymore and at about eight hours to complete, it’s not particularly long. Unfortunately there also isn’t much for replay value. Plans for DLC are said to be in the works though. The ability to play mobile on your Switch, the small inclusion of co-op play, and the other improvements mentioned before, more than make up for the few shortcomings.  

Blaster Master Zero is by far the best remake/reimagining of an NES game to date. It takes all the good and gets rid of all the bad. It embraces the original and then just cleans up the flaws and dated graphics, sound, and gameplay, but not enough to lose that retro feeling, thankfully. It adds to a great existing game instead of trying to be something else. When that original soundtrack kicked in, I was 11-years-old again; nostalgia is a wonderful thing. With the limited amount of games available on the Nintendo Switch at this time and a low $9.99 price tag in the Nintendo eShop, Blaster Master Zero is a welcome addition and a must-buy for both young and old gamers alike.

Blaster Master Zero is now available on the Nintendo eShop. This review is based on a digital copy provided for that purpose.

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