It might come as a surprise to some that this is actually the seventh Blaster Master title to be released. It is not the most famous or familiar series in the world, that much is fairly obvious for most of us, but for those that have played the original NES release, of which Zero is a retro remake of, will tell you that is an unappreciated gem. The original version released in Japan all the way back in 1988 but did not set sales on fire, hence why the series has never really taken off, but with a release now on the brand new Switch, it has a second chance to come back from obscurity.
Over the past few years, retro styled games have been the ‘thing’ to do, especially for smaller indie studios. Games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge immediately come into mind and have been receiving praise right across the board. Gamers clearly still want these kinds of games and Blaster Master Zero hits most of the right notes for these people. Everything from the gameplay, the art, the sounds, it all creates such nostalgic feelings, not necessarily because you remember this game from years gone by, but because this is what you remember your games being like. Having said that, even if you didn’t grow up in the 8-bit era, the game plays very well even by today’s standards.
The story of Blaster Master Zero isn’t really anything to write home about, it does what it needs to do and that is keeping the plot short and throwing you straight into the action. You do get the odd conversation here and there but it’s never anything major that you have to pay attention to. Given the kind of game it is that’s exactly what you want, it doesn’t need to be guided by an unnecessarily long-drawn-out story that you ultimately won’t care about anyway.
The main game is divided into two different styles of gameplay stages. The first style has you control a tank called SOPHIA in what would be your typical NES era, 2D sidescroller type fashion. SOPHIA controls, again, in what you would expect a standard 2D platformer would. You have the ability to shoot in a similar way to the 2D Metroid games, so you can shoot forwards, upwards and diagonally. You can also jump rather high for a tank too (because why not). During these sections, you will come across parts where you cannot get past until you get a particular upgrade such as a weapon that can destroy blocks, which again, is all very Metroid.
The twist in Blaster Master is that at any time you can get out of your tank and go on your travels on foot as a tiny little person. Jason, as he’s known, changes the way the game plays in more ways than one. For instance, because he is much smaller than the tank, he can get into smaller sections and areas which are otherwise inaccessible. These areas may either lead into completely different areas or will function as a shortcut. Jason is much weaker than the tank also, both in terms of damage he can sustain and damage he can dish out. By far the worst aspect of being Jason is that he can sustain fall damage and can quite easily perish by falling from a height which you would not consider at all high. I lost count how many times I died in this manner and each time it irked me that little bit more.
You use Jason to go into caves and areas where the gameplay turns into a top-down perspective in what I can best describe as 2D Zelda with guns. Even when you die during these parts, it plays a little tune that is very reminiscent of the tune that plays in A Link to the Past when you die. In these sections, you start off with your standard gun, one that isn’t all that powerful and has limited range, however as you collect pink power-ups from either fallen enemies or environmental destruction, Jason can go from the level one gun, all the way up to a level eight gun with all sorts of different types and styles of guns in there such as flamethrowers, deflectors and chargers. However, being hit will decrease this level, meaning you will go from a gun that can destroy everything in its path with ease, to a gun that takes multiple shots to kill even the weakest enemies.
The game features eight main hub worlds, with each one lasting me about an hour and that was me exploring everything I could. If you’re good at maths you can work out that my final play time came to around eight hours which is a decent amount of gameplay for the price you pay. However, with this game being a somewhat throwback to NES era games, one might expect the game to be much harder than it is, whether that is a good or bad thing is all down to your personal preference. The game is certainly harder during the first half of the game and gradually gets easier, mainly due to the upgrades you get as you progress. Blaster Master Zero also features a few conveniences that gamers of today would expect of modern games such as multiple checkpoints per area and unlimited lives.
Unfortunately, once you complete the game there isn’t really a reason to go back to it right away for collectables or any sort of New Game +, once it’s done, that’s pretty much it. Having said that, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game and with a low price point it is much easier to recommend so you can try it for yourself. It’s a good little game and for me, it was a nice treat to go alongside Zelda. As long as you don’t go into it expecting and imagining a full on NES game, whereby every stage feels exceedingly tough, then you will thoroughly enjoy your own time with Blaster Master Zero.
Blaster Master Zero unquestionably isn’t the finest of the modern retro games, but it is still a blast to play through. If you’re harkening for a smaller game that isn’t going to break the bank then you can certainly do a lot worse than this.