Blaster Master was an ambitious title for the NES. Released in 1988 by Sunsoft (known for creating some of the console’s most technically outstanding titles, including Batman and Gimmick!), it was an early example of the Metroidvania genre. While franchises like Shantae and later entries into the Castlevania series have kept this genre going strong over twenty years later, Blaster Master is a noteworthy pioneer. The game saw a few sequels including one on the now defunct WiiWare service for the Nintendo Wii. With the Metroidvania genre getting a lot of love in recent years (especially from indie developers), it’s only proper that we’re getting another entry in the Blaster Master line in the form of Blaster Master Zero.
Released for the Nintendo Switch as a launch title, Zero sticks closely to the gameplay formula presented in the NES original. The plot is fairly similar to its grand-daddy. Set in the far future following an ice-age on Earth, a young genius practicing robotics named Jason Frudnick finds an unusual frog-like-creature that he names Fred. Fred escapes into a giant wormhole after escaping from Jason’s research lab, with Jason (of course) following suit. He finds himself in an underground environment from the past, encountering an armored tank known as SOPHIA III. With this new toy at his disposal, Jason takes off to find his test subject and meets a fallen soldier along the way. She turns out to be an android named Eve, who has a connection to SOPHIA III and informs Jason that this world has been overrun by mutants. The pair eventually find Fred and proceed to take on the Mutant King.
The overhead sequences are where the bulk of the game’s shooting action and boss fights occur.
Zero doesn’t take any liberties in the gameplay department. If you played the predecessors, you will feel right at home here. The gameplay consists of side-scrolling overworlds in which you control SOPHIA. You can hop out of the tank to travel on foot at any time, which is necessary in finding new areas and small caves to enter. Here, the action shifts to an overhead view and plays similarly to a dungeon crawler. You’ll gun down a number of different monsters and acquire power-ups to Jason’s gun, eventually being able to wield an incredibly overpowered plasma gun that can even fire through walls. Many of the game’s boss encounters take place in these segments, and many of them will leave upgrades to the tank that will let you traverse areas you couldn’t before.
There’s a huge steel wall at the very beginning of the game that you won’t be able to scale until much later on when you acquire the ability to hover.
I found the shooting, action and exploration fairly enjoyable for the 6 or so hours I put into completing the game. If there was one thing that will bring the experience down a notch for some, it’s the difficulty. It’s almost a shock that Blaster Master Zero is a relatively easy game, especially when you consider the unforgiving nature of its source material. Although this is a retro-styled game, it has all of the luxuries of modern titles that gamers have been spoiled with for quite some time. There are many save points and check points, the possibility of doubling both Jason and SOPHIA’s life bars through the Life-Up tokens hidden in each area, and a power-up system that can easily be exploited to down most bosses in a matter of seconds. If you expected to have to memorize every nook and cranny, get lost frequently, and die repeatedly…you will probably be disappointed. It does ramp up a bit during the last two areas, but the game is still unlikely to challenge any audience beyond the casual gamer.
The game’s difficulty does ramp up a bit towards the end with a forced stealth section and a boss encounter that involves a bit of careful platforming, but beyond that, Blaster Master Zero won’t give you too much trouble.
Relative ease aside, Blaster Master Zero is still a treat for fans of the genre and retro games in general. It’s a great reminder that not every video game (even taking on the aesthetics of an 8 or 16 bit title) has to be brutally difficult to be enjoyable- especially when the market is full of indie games that seek to be as challenging (and/or frustrating) as possible. At only $9.99 on the E-Shop, it’s a pretty easy recommendation for anyone looking for a retro-themed title on the Switch that won’t push them to their limits.