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Blaster Master Review Rewind

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On 06/15/2020 at 10:05 AM by Jamie Alston

A boy and his frog

A pivotal entry in both the NES and Sunsoft lineage. Highly recommended if you don't mind the sometimes frustrating difficulty.

My earliest years in gaming was a magical time. Every new game I discovered pioneered a fresh mechanic I hadn’t seen before. I'll never forget the moment when my brother's best friend came over with his NES games to show off Blaster Master. I marveled as the story elements unfolded while melancholic music played in the attract mode. Pressing the start button then transitioned me to the opening shot of an armored vehicle speeding off while the triumphant music swelled to a crescendo as I journeyed into the unknown. Never had I witnessed anything like that at the time. While everything I just described is nothing spectacular these days, Blaster Master still has a few gameplay elements that still hold up quite nicely.

This is a story about Jason and his pet frog Fred. One day, Fred escapes into the forest and hops onto a radioactive chest. Jason watched as the frog grew to an enormous size and became so heavy that it fell deep into the underground. After falling into a hole while attempting to catch the frog, Jason discovers a vehicle called “Sophia the 3rd”- a multi-purpose battle tank capable of navigating a variety of environments. He jumps into the tank on a mission to find his amphibian friend.

When one generally thinks of a tank in video games, perhaps the mind conjures an image of a plodding lummox ill-equipped for a 2D platforming adventure. But the Sophia vehicle was a nice break from the normal. It has the ability to jump and navigate the terrain with relative ease. You’ll be blazing around underground caverns in a nimble, quick-firing armored vehicle worthy of the “authentic arcade edition” statement on the game packaging.

Blaster Master borrows a few pages from the Metroid playbook. You explore a sprawling subterranean world, systematically gaining upgrades that allow you to access previously unreachable areas. This also means that you can easily get lost trying to find your way to the next boss or new area until you get your bearings. When you first start exploring the first few sections of any area, you’ll do so in the tank.

Eventually, Jason will have to step out of the tank to access the sub-levels and other areas too small for the tank to fit through. While he can explore the regular overworld, he can't survive high falls and is especially vulnerable to enemy fire. However, he can replenish his energy by jumping into his tank again- a feature I wish was present in more games like this.

When you enter the sub-levels, the perspective changes to an overhead viewpoint. There is no platforming involved in these sections, but there are plenty of enemies to destroy in the general vicinity. The sub-levels are necessary to explore in order to find the boss for each area and gain the upgrade needed for the tank. Upgrades include a more powerful cannon, the ability to hover, and eventually climb walls and ceilings.

Jason can also find upgrades for his pea shooter gun that will make it much more proficient at quickly disposing of the enemies that stand in your way. In addition to Jason's gun, he also has an infinite supply of grenades that are best useful against stronger enemies and area bosses. When you're done fighting a boss, you are taken back to the entrance of the sub-level so you easily make your way out. Sunsoft did a good job of making the two main aspects of the game seem equally as important as its counterpart, instead of just a tacked-on gimmick.

The game is relatively easy-going when exploring in the tank in the early areas. But any perceived ease is quickly shaken the minute you leave the protection of the armored vehicle and send Jason into deeper sections that only he can explore. With the quick appearance of enemies (especially when moving to the next room), you can quickly get clipped by untended contact or a stray bullet.

In addition to taking health damage, Jason’s gun loses power with each hit. This makes for a very frustrating experience when trying to survive the lengthy sections in later parts of the game. And the end-level bosses? Forget about it. In its purest form (no save states or rewind feature), these parts of Blaster Master in particular are more like battles of attrition with the scales tipped in the enemy’s favor.

Unfortunately, the tank- as well as Jason- has zero recovery time when taking damage from enemies. This makes accidental contact a nightmare in most sections since your health bar quickly drains when taking repeated hits. Especially annoying are the smaller ground enemies that can quickly catch up to you and keep pace with your tank in the side-scrolling sections. Another problem is that most enemies pop up suddenly in view from the edge of the screen. It can be particularly problematic when jumping up vertical spaces since it gives enemies on ceilings a cheap advantage over you since you often get surprised by their attacks.

The game also has the annoying habit of turning your powers into a liability once you acquire the final upgrades that allow your vehicle to climb walls and stick to platforms. It’s especially troublesome during the final area where everything is surrounded by spikes. Worse yet, enemies are positioned in such a way that you are all but guaranteed to take a cheap hit thanks to the clumsiness of the tank sticking to surfaces instead of gently rolling off the platform like you could do previous to your final upgrade.

Besides its easy to learn but hard to master gameplay elements, Blaster Master is well-regarded for its musical score. Every area's background music is fitting for that location. Whether it’s the exploratory and courageous tune of the initial caverns or the breezy sounds of the aquatic area, the music never gets generic. My personal favorites are the music for areas 1, 2, 3, and 5. You will find yourself less concerned with the length of the game, and more in tune with the audio presentation- a hallmark of any good platformer.

Overall, Blaster Master has the earmarks of a true NES classic. The platforming gameplay elements are spot on, the controls are tight, and the music seals the deal. It shouldn't be too hard to find nowadays and it's really worth spending some time with. It’s also available as part of the NES lineup on the Nintendo Switch Online service. However you choose to play it, Blaster Master is a game you’ll enjoy if you’re a fan of old school action platformers.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Cary Woodham

06/16/2020 at 08:45 AM

I never got into this game much as a kid for some reason.  It was just too hard for Little Cary.  I do love the fact that the ridiculous story was perfectly acceptable back then, but probably not now.  I'd like to play the Blaster Master Zero games that Inti Creates put on Switch, but like I said, I never got into the franchise much and you can't play all the games out there!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/16/2020 at 09:12 AM

When I first saw Blaster Master, we only got up the first level boss (the big brain thing) and we didn't realize you were supposed to use grenades to defeat it quickly. But yeah, the game gets pretty difficult fairly quickly in some sections.

I have Blaster Master Zero on the Switch. I haven't played it for long, but I did like what I played so far. From what I have heard, Zero is much more approachable in terms of difficulty.


06/17/2020 at 12:31 AM

Apparently the story in the US version was created specifically for the US version. The Japanese version had a typical sci-fi anime plot.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/21/2020 at 11:48 PM

Yeah, the Japanese version had a more interesting story, but that was typical of games that had a US counterpart...especially if it was a Konami game. The American arm of that company didn't give much importance to the story of their early NES games.


06/16/2020 at 07:15 PM

What is it with kids' pets in games like turtles and frogs. I guess it's something relatable. I'd like a pet blob though. 

This looks like a really I had assumed by it's name that it was a bullet-hell shooter like Gradius. Platforming with a tank. I never would have guessed. I need to add this to my library. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/21/2020 at 11:50 PM

I'm sure you'll enjoy what the game has to offer. Much of the game's difficulty is with the boss battles later, but you stand a good chance of making it pretty far in the game as long as you are very careful.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/20/2020 at 06:00 AM

I always thought this game was cool when I was a kid, but I never owned it, only rented it. Of course, I didn't get very far. It's pretty high concept for a NES game, and I'm not surprised by its more frustrating elements... that was kind of par for the course in the NES days. I wouldn't mind playing the modern sequel though. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/21/2020 at 11:51 PM

I definitely recommend playing Blaster Master Zero on the Switch. I hear Blaster Master Zero 2 is good as well.

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