Long before Metroidvania was a common term, Blaster Master helped define the genre. It remains one of gaming's dearest memories with its multiple gameplay perspectives, awesome soundtrack, and wicked boss fights, but does it still hold up more than 25 years later?
Blaster Master begins with an impressive intro where a boy named Jason chases after his pet frog before falling into a hole. In this hole, he finds an underground world filled with radioactive mutants and a handy tank to help him deal with them. The visuals are rather detailed for its time and they still look great to this day. What adds even more immersion to the graphics is the seamless animation. Jason's tank bounces up and down while its wheels spin as it rolls along. When it jumps and changes directions, you can see the components of it rotate and extend which adds realism to its movement. As you push onwards in your tank, you're treated to one of the best 8-bit soundtracks ever composed. Not only that, the sound effects are quite satisfying as well. Overall, the combination of intricately rendered environments, smooth animation, and outstanding audio end up making this game seem like a modern day indie that's trying to be retro.
One of the most exceptional aspects of Blaster Master is the transition between different gameplay perspectives. You not only explore the massive world in your tank, you can also travel by foot (although it isn't recommended to do so in the overworld) and traverse caverns. As you enter a cavern, it changes from a side-scrolling platformer to an overhead shooter where Jason has to survive without his trusty tank. The controls are spot-on no matter what situation you're faced with because the developers have clearly thought of everything. For example, Jason can even strafe after you hold a button down. It's a good thing the controls are intuitive since this is one challenging game! You didn't think exploring underground caves filled with radioactive mutants would be easy, did you?
Blaster Master's world is enormous. In fact, I was planning on writing this review yesterday but I couldn't finish the game in time. Thankfully, progression in this immense world is superbly paced. There are eight total areas to explore and at the end of each one is a challenging boss that awards you with a new ability for your tank upon defeat (such as being able to hover, navigate through water, and scale walls and ceilings). Obtaining these abilities is incredibly gratifying as they make fitting trophies for overcoming some formidable foes. As with most Metroidvania titles, the abilities allow you to access previously unreachable areas. This might sound cool, but having no map for the maze-riddled world while being forced to backtrack constantly can quickly get overwhelming. As a result, this is definitely one of those games where you need to follow a guide if you want to complete it and retain some of your sanity in the process.
The biggest problem that you'll face time and time again while playing through Blaster Master is the delicate nature of being able to survive. It appears as if everything in this underground world is designed to end your life. The most common rookie mistake is to get separated from your tank. If this ever happens (by perhaps falling off a ledge that you can't jump back on or simply forgetting where you parked) then you may as well surrender since you stand very little chance of surviving without it. Besides that, there are many locations where you can accidentally fall into hazards. This is especially irritating in the ice area where you slip and slide everywhere. Many of these falls result in your inevitable demise so being able to stay on the paths is crucial to success. The last frustrating event that I can think of doesn't necessarily lead to losing a life, but it is annoying. This is when you run out of fuel for your hover engine just when you need some to advance. Trying to wipe out enough enemies to gather a significant amount of fuel can take forever; particularly when you're limited to a small area. I can't believe that the cartridge version of this game has absolutely no way to save your progress. There's not even a password system! How could anyone possibly finish this in one sitting? I had to download it on my Wii U in order to beat it.
Blaster Master is considered a classic game for a reason. Besides a few frustrating flaws; the challenging and engaging gameplay, enormous world to explore, and spectacular presentation are perfect reasons why gamers still keep going back to the old-school.
- + Excellently paced and massive world with satisfying upgrades and boss fights
- + Challenging gameplay in different perspectives
- + Seamless animation and unforgettable music
- - Very delicate mechanics; minor mistakes can have devastating consequences
- - Forced backtracking in a labyrinthine world
- - The cartridge version has no way to save