Hello all! Last week I mostly complained about a tough NES game.
Today, I revisit an oldie, also on NES. A classic, one of my favorites, and seriously, one of the silliest (and awesome) stories ever.
Blaster Master, developed by Sunsoft and released in 1988, cast players as Jason, a boy who's pet frog jumps into a hole in the ground. Jumping in after him, Jason finds a tank named Sophia the 3rd, and a suit and helmet. He thus uses the tank to chase down Fred, his pet frog who has eaten radioactive waste and is now gigantic. Jason discovers a massive underground world filled with hostile monsters led by the Plutonium Boss.
Hell yes. Check it out below:
It's such a great, unapologetic setup, that dares you to run with it. And then that awesome music starts up, and you're ready to take out every last mutant.
(Side note: I know the Japanese version has an entirely different storyline. This article will focus on the North American NES game.)
The game is slightly reminiscent of Metroid at first, with you driving Sophia through side scrolling worlds seeking out items which allow you to reach later worlds. You can hop out of the tank to play as the extremely vulnerable Jason, mostly to enter caves and dungeons. From here, you play in an overhead perspective, blasting enemies with your blaster and grenades.
One thing that made the tank so interesting to play was, of course, its ability to jump. Obviously, you need to jump to make it through the side scrolling levels, but still. It was cool. The abilities you unlock as you get through the game added depth, like the ability to hover or shoot missiles, lightning and such.
The overhead Jason levels play quite differently. You walk through a dungeon as Jason (with an alarmingly huge head) and shot enemies with a weak blaster-though you could make it stronger with power-ups. Of course, as you get hit, your gun power goes down. (!) You also had unlimited grenades you could lob into your enemies; though these also had a short range, they were quite powerful, so they become the default weapon of choice for some players.
One really bizarre thing-Jason is right handed, and the game takes this into effect. You'd have to stand to the left or right of enemies depending if you were below or above them, respectively. It's totally not as big a deal as some people make it out to be, but it does make the odd enemy tough to hit. But it was cool how the shots came out of his gun and not out of the middle of him or something.
Blaster Master is one seriously tough game. Consider the fact that you had to beat it in one sitting-no saves or passwords here. And the game only gave you so many lives and continues. It's brutal. This is combined with the game's huge, expansive maps that encourage exploration-very often, the game won't tell you where to go.
But that frustration goes hand in hand with the joy. Blaster Master was years ahead of it's time; those same nebulous, giant maps were a rare thing back then. There weren't a lot of games at the time that challenged you to explore. Few games had such a cool vehicle to drive, and blended it with on-foot combat.
And it wasn't really a bad looking game, either. The backgrounds get a little repetitive in spots, but there's a good variety of them. Enemy design is...well, most of them are gray. Boss design was very imaginative, however, with Jason fighting a giant brain, a big, bug-like...thing with tentacles, and even malicious cyber cubes.
One of my favorite things about Blaster Master was the music. Check out the theme for the first level, it's the most recognizable song in the game:
It's the kind of music you don't really see in games anymore; the kind of song that pulls you in and gets you pumped for the action ahead. I mean, that buildup in the beginning! It's great!
If you have a copy, dust it off and give it a whirl. There's a few other, lesser known games in the series, including a Sega Genesis sequel, a Game Boy Color game, and even a 3-D PlayStation sequel, but the original is always the best. (Though I've been playing the Wii "reimagining" and it's pretty ok.) Or download it on Wii Virtual Console, it comes complete with original slowdown :)
Thanks for reading, and I apologize if my recent articles seem brief, or rushed. I have been busy with NaNoWriMo this month. Next week should be a return to form.
Hit the comments section for comments, questions, musings, and as always, suggestions for future Games of The Week!
Next week, we'll take a trip through a brutal black-and-white wasteland. A game which sold in criminally low numbers.