Blaster Master has to be one of the most underrated games to have ever come out on the NES. Call it poor marketing, bad cover art, or what have you, but in retrospect, Blaster Master managed to garner a cult following and still lovingly remembered to this day.
The story follows a boy named Jason who loses his pet frog down a mysterious hole caused by a radioactive crate which causes the frog to mutate and grow a number of times bigger. This doesnít deter Jason as he gives chase down the hole. Once he reaches the bottom, he comes across a tank and a suit and does what any other kid in his position would do Ė he dons the suit, hops into the tank and sets out to find his frog.
The gameplay of Blaster Master is really what sets it apart from other games of its time, whereas anything that wasnít a side scrolling platformer or a ? overhead action RPG was unheard of then. You can shoot through levels in your tank, jump out of the tank to perform tasks it canít do such as climb ladders, or in one of the earlier levels, swim, and you can go through doors and battle through overhead shooting levels. The gameplay is seamlessly integrated and feels like two different, yet similar looking games. For instance, youíre surrounded by water which your tank canít really swim through. Youíll have to jump out of the tank and swim down to a door which takes you to the level boss that you win the hover tank system from. Youíll have to depend on your tank however, since Jason is too small and underpowered to navigate, let alone fight the powerful monsters of the over world. Controls are tight whether youíre playing as Jason or the tank, as the tank controls just like any other platform character...it only looks cooler.
Level bosses can be found in what are referred to as ďunderground cavernsĒ which only Jason can enter. Itís here where the action takes a top-down perspective and Jason actually has a fighting chance against the baddies that are encountered. Jason equipped with his gun and some grenades, battles through the almost labyrinthine stages to the boss. Blaster Masterís bosses are some of the largest seen in a game at that time as they take up a good quarter of the screen and offer a pretty big challenge in later levels, that is, if you donít know the exploit on how to beat certain bosses easily. You can toss a grenade at a boss and pause the game as soon as it explodes. Damage will continue to be inflicted on the boss as long as the game is paused. This cheap exploit was required for some players desperate to finish the game because it could only be beaten in one sitting. Thatís right, no password or battery back up. It had to be played from beginning to end, which frustrated a lot of players to no end but kept at least some of them coming back again and again to attempt to reach the end. This only works on certain bosses, mainly the number of mutated frog bosses. Boss designs, aside from the different frogs, are all well done as youíll encounter giant brains and other creatures way too weird to warrant any description.
After each level is beaten, youíll collect an upgrade for either Jason or the tank, such as more powerful cannon shots, the ability to drive up walls and ceilings, and the aforementioned hover upgrade which allows the tank to make higher jumps and float across large gaps. In somewhat of a nod to Metroid, levels are all wide open and youíll see unreachable platforms that will only be reachable with the right upgrade. This means that thereís a lot of backtracking through previous stages to get into later levels.
The visuals on the game are some of the best seen on the NES. While character sprites are small while in the out world, levels are large and full of detail, meaning that the plain black backgrounds of most NES games were non existent here. There is also a lot of variety in the environments, as youíll battle through forests, caverns, and futuristic, almost sci-fi looking levels just to name a few. Explosions when enemies were destroyed or dropped bombs were also really impressive. The animation on the tank, as well as the enemies it was gunning down was smooth and steps beyond what other NES games were doing at the time.
Visuals in the underground caverns were also impressive due in part to the large characters on screen. Though the detail in these stages is lacking and consists of miscellaneous gray blocks, spikes, and power ups.
The in game music is catchy; especially the first levelís music, which is as catchy as the Super Mario Bros. theme Ė at least to this reviewer. They myriad of sounds youíll come across are all great like the bombs that drop from the sky, the thud of your tank when it lands on the ground, among other things. Jasonís gun and grenades donít pack any punch as far as sound goes, though that can be interpreted as a way to show how small and miniscule he is compared to the bigger, badder tank. Though when youíre fighting in the caverns, it doesnít make Jason any more impressive as his gun sounds like a pea shooter and explosions for grenades are virtually non existent.
laster Masterís cult following managed to spawn two sequels, Blaster Master 2 on the Genesis and BM: Blasting Again on the original Playstation, as well as two handheld spin-offs being Blaster Master Boy and Blaster Master: Enemy Below. Despite all of this, nothing can really beat the charm of the first game. Though it may not have sold well and was hell to beat, itís still fondly remembered by those who have played it. If youíre a fan of the NES, do yourself a favor and give Blaster Master a try. You wonít be disappointed.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media