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Blaster Master Zero (Switch) artwork

Blaster Master Zero (Switch) review

"Blaster Master Zero falls just short of greatness, but it's still worth a look if you loved the NES classic."

I've spent the last few decades maintaining a soft spot for Blaster Master, the NES classic that combined platforming, blasting, and exploration to glorious effect. The unique gameplay hybrid was part of the appeal, but some of my affection also came from the fact that the protagonist and I share the same name. As you can imagine, then, I was excited when Inti Creates recently announced it was working on a new entry in the oft-overlooked series. Previous attempts to revive the franchise hadn't gone so well, or so I've heard, but I knew this time would be different.

Blaster Master Zero had the misfortune of launching right in the middle of one of the busiest release periods I can recall ever seeing. It seemed like each week, another two or three must-play titles arrived across the various platforms. That flurry of activity prevented a lot of people from noticing when Inti Creates finally was ready to share the fruits of its labor with the world at large, and that's a shame. Much as I expected, the game is pretty good.

Blaster Master Zero (Switch) image

Notice that I said "pretty good." This is not a glowing praise review, because while I think the game is definitely worth a look for fans of the series and for old school action games in general, it has enough issues to prevent a more general recommendation.

As you might anticipate, Blaster Master Zero combines platforming, blasting, and exploration, just like the first installment in the series did. This feels like an expanded retelling of that game, actually, with the key central players intact, along with some additions that feel consistent while adding new wrinkles. Your name is still Jason, you still chase after a frog named Fred and you still face off against the nasty old Mutant Lord. There's just a lot more to the journey you encounter along the way.

The bulk of the game is divided into eight stages, which you initially explore in your all-terrain vehicle, the SOPHIA. The armored wonder is capable of driving quickly around a given area, lifting off in swift hops that carry it a fair distance, and of course firing blaster shots in several direction (to say nothing of secondary weapons). As your adventure proceeds, you also gain additional abilities that let it glide, wall climb, and dive through water like a submarine... but that all takes time.

Blaster Master Zero (Switch) image

Stages are quite large. As you explore them, you eventually come across barriers SOPHIA can't cross. That's when you need to get out of the vehicle and run around on foot. In this form, you're very weak and can't fall even a short distance without dying. Sometimes, you have to find and trigger switches, which can get downright dangerous. In more common instances, you must enter special caves.

The caves in Blaster Master Zero are about like you remember them, if you played the original. The perspective shifts, so that you're viewing everything from overhead, like the dungeons in the original The Legend of Zelda game. The difference is that you have guns and grenades, so you get to blast any foes you encounter (one might even say you're a master at doing just that, hur hur). These sequences are generally the most difficult part of the game, because your foes are typically able to absorb several shots before they bite the big one, and you can't sustain a lot of damage without taking a dirt nap yourself. Worse, damage you take decreases your weapon's efficiency. When you're fully powered up, you can fire a wave shot that makes short work of your foes. But when you take a hit or two, you're reduced to pathetic shots that move too slowly and inflict too little damage to be of much use.

This becomes a big issue when you're facing some of the later bosses. The early foes are simple enough, with easily exploited patterns. I actually got fairly far in the campaign before I even caught on that I had much more powerful shots at my disposal. Then I walked all over my enemies, until the last couple of stages or so. At that point, the foes move too fast or fire so many bullets that I finally had to start developing strategies. It's a terrible strain, I know. And then I reached the final boss, and he smacked me every which way, no matter how much I wanted to win. The game ceased to be much fun at that point, but the way I see it, at least I had a generally good time up until then.

Blaster Master Zero (Switch) image

Most of the game isn't spent fighting bosses (even though there are quite a lot of them). The bulk of the time I spent with Blaster Master Zero saw me tooling around in the SOPHIA, shooting mechanical bees and worms and various other mutants. The interconnected worlds are quite interesting, in their labyrinthine way, and I definitely appreciated the sense of progression. What I liked considerably less was the backtracking. It's easy to miss out-of-the-way caves and loot in each stage, if you don't find that region's map quickly. And even once you do claim that precious scrap of paper, the map is buried on a sub-screen menu. Also, the world is designed so that you have to do a fair bit of backtracking, and this eventually gets tedious. Tedium breeds impatience, which means I made a number of silly mistakes as I rushed toward new challenges. That was frustrating, and it could have been avoided altogether if the developers had thought to include stations that let players teleport.

The controls also felt a bit loose throughout the eight or ten hours I spent with the game, and that gets frustrating in cases when you have to manage precise jumps to avoid spikes or whatever. This isn't always an issue, but it slows the pacing down to a crawl when you're backtracking through a familiar area and have to take each hop carefully because your life meter is nearly toast and you have a long way to go to reach the next checkpoint.

Blaster Master Zero is a pretty good game that came super close to being a genuinely great game. It just narrowly missed the mark, which unfortunately means it's probably only a good investment if you loved the original and wanted to take an updated walk down memory lane. I'm glad Inti Creates put forth the effort to revive a franchise that deserved it, and I'm glad the result is passable, but I'm also pleased to have the whole affair in my rear view mirror. That's not the summary I envisioned myself offering when I first started playing, but it is what it is.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 05, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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EmP posted April 10, 2017:

Cunning Jason Venter is very much aware that I have a soft spot for this series and deem it the one NES games Iím not ashamed of enjoying. The Master System had the epic tale of Phantasy Star, the NES had a tale about a boy chasing his magical frog with a sentient tank he found. Thatís alluded to in this review, with magical frog Fred making a new appearance, which is great. Then it feels like the game is lambasted for doing the things itís supposed to do.

I donít think thatís what you meant, but complaints that end-of-game bosses are hard and a Metroid-like game involves backtracking are not complaints that stand easily on their own. These are things that are supposed to happen, so if they exist outside these standards, then this needs to be especially noted. The difficulty of the boss is diluted between stuff being too easy, so much so that you were killing them without the use of a special attack you had available all along Then you make fun of yourself for complaining that you had to start thinking about how you tackled these bosses as you had to come up with a strategy, which says more about you than the game. There are certainly games that have end of game fights that are far too hard and have your urge to complete the game battle with your rising frustration, but you don't make that sound the case.

Likewise, the backtracking complaint. Are you backtracking just for the hell of it or because you found new items that unlock previously impassable barriers. Because the second thing is a huge part of the genre as a whole and something people actively look for. I donít feel enough is said to make this sound like the resounding negative youíve framed it as. Then you jam the rest in at the end; we all do this, but that controls paragraph was particularly jarring.

You still almost made RotW, though. Which is why I typed all this out in the first place, so you might as well have it anyway, I guess!
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honestgamer posted April 10, 2017:

My approach to reviews, which hasn't changed a lot over the years and likely won't, is to let the reader make up his own mind. I try to lay out the game in a way that establishes a decent understanding of its core design, and I try to provide my impressions and give a sense of why I settled on the score I did without turning in a piece that is too long to stand much chance of ever being read, but what I try most is to do all of that in a way that lets the reader say "Well, I think I would like the game more/less than he did!"

Which it sounds like I did here, but I also ran into some trouble because a few of the things I cited as flaws require more words than I wanted to spend on them in order to give someone like you a proper impression of why they are actually flaws (that's not a dig at you, either; it's a sign of your genre experience).

I don't mind backtracking itself, for instance, or even backtracking for the purpose of gathering useful gear. I've appreciated that in numerous games! I just think it's stupid when I complete levels 1-3, progressing steadily to the right, and then the game throws a level 4 at me without telling me that it's actually located just to the upper left of level 1. And then level 5 continues in that direction, and I believe level 6, before I then have to backtrack all the way back to the right for levels 7 and 8. It went something like that, as memory serves, and you have to waste all of that time going back over familiar ground even if you don't give a crap about collecting items you might have missed along the way (though I did).

Then there is the boss, who I could barely scratch after having only moderate difficulty with anything that came before him. I didn't want to go into a lot of detail about the specific nature of the trouble he gave me, because I want to avoid spoilers. But he's outlandishly difficult, and that's not a satisfying way to wrap up a game. The final confrontation should definitely have punch to it, but you should also feel that everything that came before has prepared you to face it and eventually to persevere. Otherwise, there is a lack of appropriate balance that is NOT to the game's credit.

But ultimately, I think it's a good game and I had a lot of fun throughout most of my adventure. I believe that you will too, if you play it (besides being on Switch, the game is available on 3DS). It sounds like you finished reading with those impressions in place, so I consider the review a success. As for RotW placement, I would have liked that, but I write every review for other purposes first and if those stand in the way of getting the nod in that topic, I just have to live with it. ;-)
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CasydieAnne posted April 15, 2017:

I think Blaster Master Zero it's a good game and I had a lot of fun throughout most of that. Adventurious game!! :)

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