Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Sunsoft was a developer that released hit-or-miss title on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with both obscure titles that gamers would mostly prefer to ignore along with near-classics such as their iteration of Batman and After Burner. The crown jewel of their collection, however, may have been Blaster Master, a hybrid-genre cartridge produced in 1988.
Following a comic story involving a pet frog named Fred falling down a whole and becoming enlarged due to contact with odd radioactive matter and his owner Jason, the protagonist, stumbling across the futuristic SOPHIA THE 3RD tank vehicle in the process of recovering his amphibian friend before he decides to help wage war against the alien mutants living under the Earth’s crust, Blaster Master is an expansive 8-bit video game with both side-scrolling platformer elements and overhead shooter portions as well.
For much of the adventure, Blaster Master can perhaps be summarized as “Metroid with a tank.” The similarities are evident in the open-world exploration emphasis that provides no in-game map yet demands extensive exploration, along with the similar alien enemies that persist throughout. Controlling the tank throughout the side-scrolling sections is a treat, as SOPHIA rolls, bounces, jumps, fires, and even gains additional weaponry and wall-climbing abilities as the quest continues.
Occasionally, Jason must hop out of the tank vehicle in order to do some on-foot exploration, passing through doorways into what become top-down views for overhead stages which are vaguely reminiscent of another Sunsoft game, Fester’s Quest. In these parts, Jason not only has a pistol but can also lob grenades, which are useful for bosses, especially when using the trick in which the player can pause the game to watch an explosion continue damaging the boss repeatedly until the game is unpaused.
Blaster Master is an ambitious journey, arduous in its demands and unforgiving in its lack of password feature or battery save. In a loose sense, there are eight stages, each with sub-levels and various nooks to explore. Advancing to further areas requires item pick-ups that enable stronger weaponry to blast obstacles, enhanced travel abilities like jumping and wall-sticking, etc. The boss fights can be brutal, with the black-background screens dominated by the massive alien sprites, providing some of the most memorable screenshots of the NES era.
The visuals for Blaster Master are fairly good, especially considering the overall scope of the game. The boss monsters are perhaps the most impressive graphical feat, though the smooth, rollicking nature in which the tank hops all over the place is also a nice touch. There are the occasional flickering problems and the overhead portions look a little cheap, but otherwise this is a pleasant-looking jaunt.
The soundtrack is above par, with an appropriately bouncy main theme that enhances the experience along with other not-bad tracks throughout. Sunsoft did a decent job throughout, with punch effects complementing the on-screen action. This is, by no means, among the most stellar NES soundtracks of all time, but at least a professional sound was achieved.
Considering how early of a release Blaster Master was for the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem, the extent of its gameplay is somewhat impressive. The open-world exploration concepts introduced with first-party cartridges like Legend of Zelda and Metroid are faithfully rendered in an innovative setting here. Blaster Master is among the most polarizing of NES games: While many regard it as a favorite, both in sentimental and pure gameplay arguments, many others simply cannot understand the appeal. This reviewer sees it as an admirable development job and a grueling quest, with some interesting highlights here and there, but not quite a five-star title. That being said, Blaster Masters blasts four stars out of five for being something beyond the typical common NES fare, allowing players to control a tank that could jump, fleshing out the open-exploration genre, and a quirky storyline that, at its heart, was just about a boy and his frog.
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