Today I'm reviewing Blaster Master, released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. Terrific controls, detailed graphics, complex level designs and some of the best background tunes the NES has ever spat out combine to make it a must-own.
Blaster Master begins its tale in suitably bizarre Suncom fashion. A series of stills tell the story of a young boy's pet frog who becomes sick of his owner's constant tapping on his aquarium and cheeses it straight to the family's stash of radioactive material. Upon contact, the frog grows to an enormous size and escapes down a hole into a subterranean labyrinth. The boy follows his wayward mutant frog into the hole, where he encounters a sporty tank-thing named Sophia The 3rd. He hops in, cranks up the Molly Hatchet and tears ass towards the biggest adventure of his life.
You spend most of the game driving your sports tank in a side-scrolling landscape reminiscent of Metroid, though much more colorful. Your tank can jump, (of course) and aim its turret straight up to shoot enemies above you. It also packs a limited supply of ordnance such as homing missiles and lightning bolts that shoot straight down from your tank. Your character can hop out of Sophia and go it on foot, though he has much less firepower and is vulnerable to falls from too great a height. Scattered throughout the levels are small doorways that your character must pass through on foot. When he does, the game shifts to a top-down perpective as you maneuver through the rooms, collecting power-ups and occasionally fighting the level's boss. Yep that's right, you have to fight them without your tank's firepower, which adds a pretty unique twist to the game. Once you defeat the boss, you earn an upgrade for Sophia that typically gives you access to the next level--another huge nod to Metroid here. These upgrades include added firepower, the ability to drive up walls, and hover for briefs periods. They add a lot of replay value to the game too, since they give you the opportunity to explore previously unreachable sections of completed levels.
For all its brilliance, Blaster Master does have a few drawbacks. It's not an easy game to complete. You get a health meter, three lives and a handful of continues to support you though all 8 levels. There's no battery backup or password save either, so you're playing through the whole game in one shot, or you're leaving your NES on overnight. There's no recovery time when you get hit, so you may find yourself stuck in a lava pit with your life bar quickly draining away before you can escape. Fortunately, enemies often drop health when killed, so recovery usually means finding a shady spot to pick off a few baddies. The top-down portions of the game have a pseudo-3D dynamic dynamic that adds a bit of realism, but a lot of frustration. You have to imagine the enemies are standing up out of the screen and aim for their feet, or your bullets just pass behind them. You carry a gun in your left hand and a grenade launcher in your right, and you'll frequently run across problems lining up enemies with either one. Even worse: some bosses are immune to your grenades, leaving only your chumpy little pea-shooter to fight it with. The overhead game and boss battles do tend to drag the game down, but the reward for your efforts is palpable when you hop back into your newly-upgraded tank and explore more of Blaster Master's world.
Blaster Master sold very well when it was released, and today it's super-easy to find online and around town. It spawned a number of sequels and re-imaginings on the Sega Genesis, Game Boy Color, Playstation and the Wii's Virtual Console. In fact, I'd say the Wii is the way to go, since it will allow you to save the game's state, negating the game's biggest problem.
Thanks for reading my review! I'd like to wish a happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there in Gameological, and an extra special one to Mama Glitch, who bought me this spectacular game for my birthday all those years ago.