The Blaster Master series may not be a series that is as well known as other platformers and shooters from the NES era, and that is understandable. After the series debut on the NES,it has bounced around from console to console and has received entries on the Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Playstation, and even a re-imaging of the original on the Wii’s WiiWare service. None of which have met the acclaim of the original. With Blaster Master Zero developer Inti Creates has taken another stab at remaking the title, and by doing so have released one of the first must-have eShop titles for the Nintendo Switch.
Before seeing an announcement for Blaster Master Zero, I had zero knowledge of the series. The trailer that was released during the Nintendo Direct showing off the indie titles that were coming to the Nintendo Switch caught my eye immediately. The gameplay was a mix of Metroid style side scrolling, with over the top run and gun sections included. When I found out that it was going to only be $9.99 it became clear that this was a title I was going to have to get.
The premise follows the story of Jason who discovers a frog that he names Fred. One day Fred escapes and falls down a hole in the Earth. Jason follows after Fred and discovers a world overrun by mutants. In his search for Fred he ends up encountering a tank named Sophia III and the adventure begins.
For the eight-ten hours that you spend with the title, the game is always throwing new experiences at you. There are plenty of health and weapon power-ups for both Jason and Sophia III. When you’re traversing the world the game plays as a 2D side-scrolling shooter similar to Metroid. Throughout the world you will come across caves in which Jason can get out of the tank and proceed on foot. These segments are presented with an over the top perspective similar to the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. They are generally short segments that either end with you defeating a boss, finding a weapon power-up, or a map of the area.
In all there are a total of eight areas in the game, and they are quite varied. There is a forest, an underwater zone, an ice zone, all of the gaming world tropes are here, but there presented in a way that isn’t tired. There wasn’t the usual sense of dread when entering the underwater area, or the ice area. The game gives you the tools that you need to succeed and a large majority of the time they work seamlessly.
If there is one area that the game struggles it’s the pacing of when you get these power-ups. By the time that I reached the fourth area, I had fully upgraded all of Jason’s weapons, and the final power-up is overpowered to say the least. It fires in multiple directions at the same time and can go through walls, making any foe less than a challenge. This leads to some of the later level power-ups like the ability for Sophia to drive on walls feeling thrown together. The controls for the wall climbing mechanic were unresponsive at best, and I found myself dreading the moments that I had to use it. Luckily those are few and far between.
The power-ups are tied in with your health bar, so when you’re health gets low you lose access to your strongest weapons. When this happens towards the end of the game is the only time that the game gets difficult. Fighting up against higher level enemies with your beginning of the game weapons hoping that they will drop an item that will give you access to your higher powered weapons is intense and requires some quick movement and precise shooting.
The graphics in Blaster Master Zero are a nice throwback to the 8-bit glory days. The side-scrolling environments are colorful and varied, and the character models look great as well. The moments where Jason is on foot are not as varied as they are when you’re riding around in Sophia. The environments all start too look the same, and in these segments I often found myself having to check the map to see if I had circled around to a room I had already been in, or if it was just an identically designed room.
Blaster Master Zero originally launched without support for the Pro Controller, and was patched within a week. While it was an odd choice to not have the Pro Controller included right away, the update was necessary. While playing with the JoyCon Grip wasn’t a terrible experience, there were many times when I noticed some serious lag between me pressing a button and the action happening. This issue only occurred for me when playing with the JoyCon Grip, and once the Pro Controller support was added I had no control issues whatsoever.
Despite Shovel Knight being released a week earlier and arguably being a better known title, Blaster Master Zero is a must pick up for anyone with a Nintendo Switch looking for a retro throwback title. With there being no Virtual Console on the Switch at this time, it’s a great way to relive a title from the NES days that hasn’t had the staying power of other series from that era. For only $9.99 this is a must own for Switch owners. It might not be revolutionary, but it is a whole lot of fun.
Final Score: 8.5/10