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Blaster Master (NES) artwork

Blaster Master (NES) review

"Iíve come back to Blaster Master time and time again, and Iíve never gotten tired of it. To me, thatís the true definition of a video game classic."

I hesitate to use the word ďclassicĒ when talking about retro games because one gamerís must-play title is anotherís shovelware. However, Blaster Master is one of those games I would still award such a label. Mostly thatís because when I was younger, it was one of those rare cartridges that all of my acquaintances owned. I played it more than I did most games of the era and it still holds a lot of significance for me for that reason. Even when I returned to it just recently, I found that it remains a unique game, one that I believe every NES gamer should play.

If you get a chance to read the Blaster Master instruction manual, by all means take a look at the story. It reads like those old ďDick & JaneĒ childrenís books. In a nutshell, young Jasonís frog (named Fred) escapes from his bowl one day. By way of an unfortunate series of events, Fred comes across a crate of experimental radioactive material, which mutates him into a giant frog beast. Fred and the crate fall deep into the earth, and Jason hops in after them. In the most fortunate twist ever, Jason happens upon a fancy battle tank, known as the Sofia. It also happens to have a pilot suit and helmet that perfectly fit the boy, who sets out to find Fred and put an end to all of the other mutated creatures living beneath the surface.

While Blaster Master isnít going to win any awards for its storytelling, it does facilitate a pleasingly quirky adventure. The majority of the action takes place while Jason is sheltered within his tank. ďSofiaĒ is like no tank Iíve ever controlled, as itís just as maneuverable and speedy as any great NES action character. A lot of the game involves nailing tricky jumps while blasting pesky enemies with the vehicleís cannon. Unfortunately, the tank has a very floaty jump that gives the game a drastically different feel from the sort that youíll find in a lot of other competent platformers. That quirk is something Iíve always been used to, but revisiting the game after all this time left me wishing that the jumping were more precise, without the need for quite so much correcting mid-air.

Platforming is only one aspect of Blaster Master, though. Jason can also hop out of his armored vehicle and explore on his own, which is an option this is only recommended when he needs to squeeze into tight spots that Sofia canít reach. When heís not surrounded by an armored vehicle, Jason is quite squishy. Itís rare that thereís any need to be outside of the tank for long, fortunately; itís really only a way to guide Jason to the overhead gameís exploration levels.

A good portion of the action takes place in these overhead stages. The perspective zooms in close to give a proper sense of scale. Although Jason is positively tiny in the side-scrolling portions of the game, here heís a huge, detailed character. There are multiple places for him to explore, and some of these are small areas where heíll fight a few enemies and grab weapon power-ups. While that activity is technically optional, itís a good idea to grab as many helpful items as possible because each stage has a tough mutant boss to locate and defeat. Taking these baddies down will reward Jason with upgrades for the Sofia, which not only adds to her firepower, but her ability to explore the levels, as well.

Blaster Master is an enormous game. The stages are interconnected, with large doorways that allow Jason and Sofia to enter and exit the different areas at will. While itís not quite as vast as a game like Metroid, the world you contend with is still huge once you factor in both the places that Jason can explore on foot and the side-scrolling places that need to be traversed in Sofia. Exploration is a big draw, with danger and vital upgrades hiding around every corner. Itís supremely frustrating, then, that Blaster Master affords players no way to save their progress. Thereís no password system, no battery back-up. Unless you want to leave your NES on between game sessions, this is an adventure that needs to be tackled in one sitting. Iíve never been one for sitting in front of my NES for more than a couple hours at a time, and as such I have yet to see the ending of this game. Itís just too big to tackle without a map.

Even though Iíve never seen it through to its conclusion, though, Iíve never tired of starting the game over from the beginning. Blaster Master is a finely crafted experience, and really shows off the familiar Sunsoft pedigree. The developers at that company really were able to extract some magic from the NES during their heyday, and this game is no exception. I love the gritty, hyper-detailed sprites of the side-scrolling areas, especially in contrast to the very cartoony aesthetic of the overhead sections.

The music and sound effects are of similarly high quality. Again, thereís something innately Sunsoft about this game. Once youíve played a few titles from the company youíll see what I mean. The audio compositions arenít as memorable as the ones found in some other big NES games, but they always keep me invested in the adventure and the noise of Sofiaís cannon firing shots always sounds powerful and deadly.

Iíve come back to Blaster Master time and time again, and Iíve never gotten tired of it. To me, thatís the true definition of a video game classic. At one time I had much of the game memorized, which made replaying it considerably easier. Today, we can turn to the Internet for helpÖ which is no real cheat, not if it helps us to enjoy this wonderful action/platform game all over again.


AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (June 09, 2013)

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