Ah, Blaster Master. Just when I had grown impatient for another game like Metroid, you came along with your unique spin on the formula and helped me make it through. In some ways, you even raised the bar for 2D platformers that Metroid had set so high.
Blaster Master was released in 1988, two years after Metroid. It has that same great “you shall not pass this obstacle until you find a certain item” recipe that Metroid established. Fans of exploration know that this recipe incites a driving need to search for every secret a game is hiding.
In Blaster Master, the items needed for advancement are primarily upgrades for the fast-moving “tank”, SOPHIA* the 3rd, that you ride around in: stronger cannon shots, a “hover” conversion that lets you slowly rocket-boost your way into the air, a “dive” enhancement that lets you move around mad-fast underwater, and “wall” abilities that let you drive your tank on the walls and eventually the ceiling. The other progress-related item is a key for Jason, the protagonist, though it only opens 1 door.
* (I’m pretty sure this acronym has nothing to do with the Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities. Really it’s “Subatomic Omni-directional Probative Hyper-responsive Indomitable Abdicator”, which is beyond stupid, so let’s just go with SOPHIA).
About 70% of your playtime is spent driving around in SOPHIA. In these side-view platforming levels, you move fast and kick a lot of ass as long as you stay in the tank. Generally speaking, the only time you leave the tank is to enter doorways that lead to top-down areas.
In at least one instance, though, you are forced to leave SOPHIA behind for an extended period as you traverse an undersea level, with only Jason’s pea-shooter to fend off baddies. By the time you finally get back to your tank, you’ll love it more than a Companion Cube.
The top-down areas are where Jason really gets to shine. His gun can be upgraded from a short-range shit-shot at level 1 to a full-on donkey-slaying weapon of Armageddon at level 8 that spreads out in a wide, wavy beam and passes through walls. The downside is that whenever you take a hit, the gun’s badassness goes down by a level, requiring you to find more power-up items. Or to avoid taking damage like most politicians avoid the truth.
Jason also gets to use unlimited grenades in the top-down levels, which do heavy damage but can’t be thrown very far.
While most top-down areas only provide gun upgrades or special weapons for SOPHIA, one top-down level in each of the 8 Areas contains a boss that will drop a progress-related item you need to reach the next Area.
The downsides of Blaster Master include limited lives and continues, plus no save or password feature. If you run out of your 3 lives, you start back at the entrance to the Area you were in. That’s not usually a big deal once you know which top-down level contains the Area’s boss, but you only get 3 continues, then it’s sayonara and you have to restart the entire game after you’re done beating your controller against the floor.
(Delta Attack in no way endorses violence against video game systems, games, or peripherals.)
Even when you’ve played through the game enough times to get to the 4th or 5th area, a save or password would be great, because it will take an hour or so to get to that point. So Blaster Master is definitely a marathon-session type game, unless you’re playing on an emulator or you’ve downloaded the game on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
So how exactly did Blaster Master improve on Metroid? I’m glad you asked. (Translation: I’m glad you’re still reading.) First is pacing. In the original Metroid game, Samus moved at a jogging pace and never got any faster. She also had gravity-defying, slow-ass moon-jumps that caused her to have about 8 seconds of hang-time. Perhaps planet Zebes was supposed to have lower gravity, but it still became annoying at times. In Blaster Master, SOPHIA moves at a generous clip and has jumps that don’t include a weird floaty-mechanic at the apex.
The second area in which Blaster Master improved on Metroid is level design. Metroid was a technological feat when it came out, no doubt. It was much larger than prior games on the NES, though to achieve this the developers had to reuse the same rooms over and over, usually in the form of repetitive corridors. In Blaster Master, NES programming and data storage techniques had advanced enough that the game was able to have huge levels without repeating any screens or rooms.
The third area is graphics. While both games look like dookie-casserole compared to today’s offerings, Blaster Master’s visuals sank Metroid’s battleship at the time. Larger enemies, environments with more details, and actual backgrounds gave Blaster Master the edge in this category.
One area that both games got right was music. Metroid had tunes that were appropriately creepy and alien, though still catchy. Blaster Master had tunes that were mostly upbeat and very impressive technically.
For Metroid fans who were waiting on the next great entry in the series, which most agree wasn’t fulfilled by the Game Boy offering of Metroid 2 in 1991, Blaster Master provided a great hold-over until the glorious Super Metroid arrived in 1994. But even though Super Metroid wiped the smirk right off of Blaster Master’s face, Blaster Master remains a cult-classic to this day. Hell, I play through it every few years myself.
If you like the Metroid series and have never gotten the chance to play Blaster Master, I urge you to check it out. It’s one of the best games from the era of the NES.
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About the Author
|Markham Asylum is a founding member of Delta Attack. His tier-1 favorite genres are role-playing, puzzle, and strategy. His tier-2 are adventure, shooter, and platformer. He strives to provide spoiler-free postings whenever possible.
Markham Asylum has written 418 posts on Delta Attack.