Blaster Master - revered by some and denounced by others. I don't want to call it a 'love it or hate it game', my personal philosophy is that it depends how you feel when you come across it. If you have the time and are looking for a game to consume you for a little while, you will love it. If you feel overwhelmed by the size of it and the rumors of difficulty, you will probably never get far and let it sit, untouched, in your collection. Well if this review has any purpose, it is to convince those you who may be reading this who fall in the second category to play the game some more. I really feel this is one of the NES's 5 star games.
As the story of the game goes, an every day 80's teenager, Jason, is tending to his pet frog Fred one day when he escapes from his jar. Jason gives chase as Fred heads for the back yard. He ends up coming in contact with a radioactive box that instantly mutates him into a creature many times his normal size, and so heavy that he sinks far into the ground. Jason jumps down after him, and at the end of his fall, finds himself in the midst of an underground fantasy land. In front of him is an advanced tank vehicle named S.O.P.H.I.A. III (or, Sophia the third), and seeing that its his only means of finding Fred, Jason hops in.
Many people (read: every single person) who reviews this game loves to harp on that story, in fact, judging from the ones I've read I'd say around half the time that's the reviewers complete motivation. Well what do you want? Another save-the-princess/chick or find-main-characters-dad/brother game? At least this story is interesting, damn. I'll bet you can readily remember few of the plots to any NES games, but Blaster Master is one of them.
But digressing to the actual game; There are 2 very different modes of play, and perhaps a more neglected third. Its hard to tell which is the 'main' mode of play, your time will be pretty much split 50/50 between a Metroid style side-scroll overworld where you pilot your tank, and an overhead adventure mode that is best described as 2D Goldeneye.
First, the overworld: The first thing you'll notice here is the looser-than-normal play control. Sophia has to slide into a stop, and she jumps like Mario. This takes some getting used to, but it will all come to you shortly. You can press SELECT to hop out as Jason to enter a building, shoot a very short enemy, or tread where the tank may not (this is not very often). He doesn't do heights very well at all so be careful.
The way the overworld is set up is ingenious. It has a way of seeming so vast, yet you don't often find yourself getting lost. The game is split into 8 seperate themed areas. You basically search your way through one area until you find the bosses catacomb, where you head in with Jason, then you get an item when you beat the boss. That item will modify Sophia, and will get you to the next level. For example, in area 1, you get an item that upgrades her main gun, which gives you enough power to destroy the big ugly face guarding the entrance to area 2. By the end of the game Sophia is truly a remarkable machine, with the ability to hover, travel up walls and along ceilings, and go underwater among other things.
The underground catacombs are equally impressive. Here you control a short fat-headed Jason, armed with a gun and an endless supply of grenades. Alongside the power-meter there is a gun-meter. You can upgrade Jasons gun up to level 8, while taking a hit will lower it a point. At level 0 the gun is not very useful at all, it gets more powerful as you gain gun power-ups, until at level 8 it is a tornado of power that can blast through walls. It can be challenging to keep your gun level up in the later levels, though. Grenades are infinately more powerful with little range.
The level design of these areas is interesting, it is action/adventure with more emphasis on the action. For example, theres nothing as complicated as a given level in, say, Zelda. There is a small amount of stealth involved, as you often need to use a corner or end of a wall to your advantage. It may also be the very first game to include strafing, though I don't really have any use for this ability.
All in all, despite what you may have heard, this game is not hard. Its just long. There are only a few clinch moments where you will come across a challenging boss. Half of these can be handled with the universally known grenade/pause trick, and the others will only take a little practice. Its almost beyond the realm of possibility that you will die without falling into spikes or lava or trapped in a swarm of enemies, simply because of the fact that health power ups are extremely numerous. Think Mega Man 2 on easy and then think even more numerous than that.
However overly praising this review may seem thus far, I'm sure theres one question looming over your head; what about the absence of a password system? I may be the only one, but I'm glad there's no passwords. Blaster Master forces you to experience every bit of its beauty, every time you play, assuming you get to the end. An unheard of stance for any kind of adventure game, and it takes a while to warm up to the idea, I'm sure. But how many games do you have that are saved right toward the end, and if you play them at all it is only to beat the final boss, maybe a little bit more before that? In these games almost the entire experience becomes a distant memory after time, everything but a little fragment.
Because of this, and its length (a bit over 2 and a half hours for experienced players), Blaster Master takes a unique position in the play rotation of my NES library. Most games, even ones I really love like Contra, I will play non-stop until it begins to wear on me, and then perhaps at a later date if I begin thinking of it, I'll start playing again, but no guarantees. Blaster Master is a game I play almost ritualistically, once through every 3-4 weeks, and it is always a completely fulfilling experience.
But of course, how could I review the game without pointing out the sound. Without mincing words, Blaster Master features one of the best videogame soundtracks of all time, from the same composer as Batman and Journey to Silius. The quality of each track is stunning, and there is only one incident of song re-using. The very first thing you sense when you begin your game is the blistering drum line and sound effects. You will be captivated by the music up until the end and then you will download all the midis.
So let us review here: Blaster Master is a great action adventure game with one of the best soundtracks ever, it may take up your time but it is well worth it. I hope, if you've indeed made it to the end of this review, that you are motivated to go play this game!