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Blaster Master (NES) artwork

Blaster Master (NES) review

"When a man loves a woman, he'll do anything he can for her. Without a doubt, should she be kidnapped or just go missing, the least a man would do is go searching for her with the intention of finding her and having her back in his life. Even back in 1988, gamers were so used to seeing worn out damsel in distress storylines that they almost expected to see that particular theme used in 99% of all video games. Any change of scenery when it came to the story was a more than welcome sight. "

When a man loves a woman, he'll do anything he can for her. Without a doubt, should she be kidnapped or just go missing, the least a man would do is go searching for her with the intention of finding her and having her back in his life. Even back in 1988, gamers were so used to seeing worn out damsel in distress storylines that they almost expected to see that particular theme used in 99% of all video games. Any change of scenery when it came to the story was a more than welcome sight.

Being a typical teenager, Jason hasn't yet settled down with that special lady, but he has the next best thing: a frog! While tending to his treasured pet one day, his frog, Fred, just happens to decide he wants freedom over being a pet that's trapped inside a container. Fred escapes and hops his way outside. He finds some radioactive material and touches it. What was once a regular-sized frog has now tremendously increased in size. The fat ass amphibian is large enough to burrow his way underground as if he thinks he's a gopher. Never one to give up, Jason jumps down this hole and lands flat on his ass, just for a frog. What the......? There's a huge tank-like vehicle sitting comfortably just a few feet from Jason. It doesn't look to belong to anybody, so he walks up to it and straps on a suit and climbs inside. Then he speeds off into the great wide open in search of his pet.

Thus the game begins. Jason will soon find out that this is no ordinary tank. This bad boy can jump higher and farther than a jackrabbit, and it's limber enough to squeeze its body together in order to aim straight up and shoot at any time. Jason better be glad he found this tank, because he wouldn't stand a chance if he were alone against these radioactive mutants that are living under the Earth's crust. These monsters were created by the Plutonium Boss, the ultimate ruler of underground life, and Jason's most feared nemesis.

Blaster Master is a side-scrolling action game that will take you through eight huge, engaging levels. While you're driving through the woody terrains of a forest, exploring the insides of haunted castles, or taking a plunge into the oceanic environments, you'll notice that each level has its own texture and new enemies to behold. This ingenious characteristic makes playing each area a new experience, making you eager to see what kinds of terrains and challenges will come later on down the road.

But that's not the icing on the cake. You'll be spending about half of your time driving the tank around while blasting away any and all enemies that decide to get in your way. This is fun, to say the least. I could just drive around in the forest stage forever killing enemies and jumping over pits, but that's not all there is to the game. Most teenagers would probably suffer from a bit of separation anxiety when having to leave their new best friend (a loyal tank in Jason's case) behind, but not Jason! He's a tough guy. He knows that when the tank can't fit through a certain space or when a towering ladder is there to be climbed, he has no choice but to brave it out alone.

This is the other thing you'll be spending half your time doing. Of course, there are times when you'll have to venture away from the protection of the tank to explore vast areas alone (the ocean stage immediately comes to mind), but most of the time, you'll be doing it to enter buildings. Anytime Jason explores buildings by himself, the game changes to an overhead view. You'll simply walk around destroying enemies and shooting small squares with the intention of finding items such as gun updates (for making your gun go from shooting straight ahead a few feet to shooting all the way across the screen, to shooting in several directions at once, etc.) or energy. But you'll want to keep an eye out for something other than items. Each level has a particular building that houses that area's boss. While searching every inch of the maze-like insides of these landmarks, you'll enter a perfectly square room that seems empty.

It's anything but empty. The floors and walls immediately begin flashing like a hyper alarm system would. Then everything turns black as night before the ruthless bastard shows his face. If there was ever a time that Jason longs to be in the tank, it's now, because some of these bosses are very tough. But alas, Jason is only allowed to fight these demons while on foot as he uses his gun and the endless supply of grenades against these fierce foes. One thing that's both memorable and relevant is the ability to strafe (face one direction while you move in another)! I'm sure that this was one of the first games that ever allowed players to strafe, and it definitely helps out with certain bosses. Whether it's a jellyfish-looking creature that has a group of rocks spinning around him as a shield, a colossal fireball-spitting frog that hops a few times before unleashing its attacks (hey, what's Jason doing killing a frog??), or crab-like critters that spit projectiles at you while trying to shake your hand with their claws, these bosses are always a great challenge, and they manage to add even more intensity to the horror-like atmosphere of the game.

As soon as a boss is defeated, it explodes frantically for a few seconds. Then the lights come back on. No remnants of the boss's carcass are anywhere to be seen. The only thing left behind from the dead boss is a metal object. This is an item that serves as your reward for defeating this menacing juggernaut. Whether it's the ability to shoot through barriers that were once impenetrable, hover capability that allows you to fly through the air while there's fuel in the tank, the skill of climbing walls, etc., you'll use these newly found items to your advantage, and the words, ''cool'' and ''awesome'', are likely to pass through your mind several times.

How could you not love Blaster Master? It's downright fun from start to finish, especially while you're simply riding around in the tank destroying the numerous flying creatures and clay-looking zombies that walk around slowly before jumping at you once you're spotted. To keep the impression positive, the makers threw in great graphics as well. There is some constant break up and slow down to be seen, but when you see the nice detail of the enemies and bosses, you'll forgive those downfalls. The bosses especially are big and they seem to come alive with their nice animation and rainbow of colors. I particularly like how you can see Jason's limbs move back and forth while swimming, and how the tank's wheels keep spinning while in midair. All of the levels are intricately designed as well. Just look at those mountain patterns in the background of the opening stage, the medieval look of the castles' insides, and those crests of the bodies of water. They all look great, no doubt, but as eye-catching as they are, they could've been even more appealing if they had even the slightest bit of animation to them.

As great as everything else is, it's no surprise that a jamming soundtrack is present. While making your way through the lively areas of the first stage, an upbeat tune will blare out from your television set as you tap your feet to the catchy late 80's beat. Most of the tracks are filled with that never-ending energy that you'll never tire of, but when you reach certain levels that seem more sluggish and less lively, a much slower tune will be heard, thus fitting in with the current atmosphere of the game. It doesn't matter whether it's one of several explosions, the sound of your tank destroying an enemy and sending it even further south to hell (my favorite), or the simplistic effects of using your weapons, the various sound effects seem to fit together with the music like a jigsaw puzzle. And of course they're great, which is what we've come to expect from Blaster Master.

One thing that can make or break a game is its control. For the most part, Blaster Master's controls are right on the spot, but it's the only thing that I have a qualm about. Controlling Jason while he's running and jumping about outside the vehicle is simple, but using the tank isn't always so easy. When trying to jump left and right up a series of platforms without stopping, you'll occasionally find yourself scooting just a bit more horizontally than you intended to, making you completely miss a ledge at times. This usually doesn't lead to the loss of a life, but in a game where there are only a few continues and no passwords, any controls that are a bit off can be crucial.

That's the biggest flaw I can find within the game of Blaster Master, and even that doesn't take away any of the enjoyment. Along with great graphics, music, and fun that never ends, Blaster Master also has a good bit of originality. Not only is the gameplay separated into two different styles of adventure, but there's also another unique asset that works really well. Some parts such as level three are linear, but most places seem like a fairly complicated maze. This is especially true once you get past the boss of certain levels. For instance, let's say you just defeated the boss in level three, thus completing the stage and receiving the ability to hover. The entry to level four is located in level one. To get there, you must find your way out of the current area and then backtrack through levels two and one. Since there's no map available, this can be somewhat frustrating the first few times, but repetition makes for better memory, and finding where the next stage is located is a defining attribute of the great Blaster Master.

That's a good word to sum up Blaster Master: great. It seems to be extremely popular, yet underrated at the same time. It's not a household name like ''Mario'' or ''Zelda'', but it's still an excellent game that really shows what the NES was capable of in nearly every way. It has some of the best visuals for the system, one of the most fitting soundtracks, and if a heart were to represent its replay value, it would keep beating long after the game is finished. That's because Blaster Master is just that fun, that original, and yes, that classic. Thank goodness Jason decided to chase down that dang frog. If he hadn't have, the world would have never seen the likes of Blaster Master.

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Community review by retro (October 31, 2003)

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