The original Blaster Master is widely considered one of the earliest Metroidvanias, besides of course Metroid itself. It’s the type of game where most of the world is locked off by impassable obstacles you need some sort of powerup to overcome. Little by little you find these powerups, changing how you play the game and opening more of the game world to you.
In the Japanese original on Famicom, the story was some convoluted anime space opera bullshit. Not wanting to confuse western children unaccustomed to such intricate plots, they simplified it greatly for the US version on NES. You are Jason Frudnick. Your pet frog escaped, was mutated by toxic waste and jumped down a hole into the Earth.
What do you find at the bottom of this hole upon jumping down it yourself? Why, a fully operational high tech battlesuit and robotic tank of course. Just because. It’s named Sophia-III, after the name of the planet the game takes place on in the Japanese version (in the American release, it’s set on Earth).
The remake blends elements from both. It’s just the right amount of dopey and charming from the American plot, and complexity from the Japanese plot. So, what makes the game special? For one thing it’s vehicular. You’re in a tank most of the time, collecting powerups to improve its weapons and mobility as you explore the overworld.
However you can also jump out of the tank at any time, and wander around as a tiny little dude. This is how you enter dungeons, which switches you to an isometric, Zelda-style view. This is the sense in which it blends elements from both Metroid and Zelda, and was hugely innovative for the time.
Bosses are almost always found in dungeons, and fought on foot. You’ll typically get an item for defeating them which helps you progress. Sound familiar? But other times it will just improve your weapons or something. It bears mentioning that you only get the good ending if you collect every single powerup.
Certain bosses are found hanging out in the overworld however, and must be fought in your tank. This variety keeps things interesting. You’re never sure what you’ll find, because the game initially sets you up to believe bosses are only found in dungeons before surprising you with the first overworld boss.
I had tremendous fun with Blaster Master Zero. I was originally going to give it a pass because, having been developed for 3DS originally, the aspect ratio is a little off. There are black vertical bars to either side of the screen at all times. That would have been a foolish mistake on my part, however.
It’s a fantastic remake of an already wonderful game which combines the best from both the American and Japanese versions, while sprucing up the graphics and streamlining gameplay (like adding a strafe button and the ability to switch weapons without going into a different screen).
I give Blaster Master Zero a 9/10. I am a sucker for a good Metroidvania, and this is one of the best.
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