Opinion: Blaster Master Zero is the best game in the series

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Sunsoft’s Blaster Master is one of the NES’ B-tier classics; not as iconic as Super Mario, Mega Man, Legend of Zelda or Castlevania, but still fondly remembered and a good game in its own right. However, it is a flawed one, primarily for its decision to handicap the player with a gun meter that drains as you take damage in the overhead sections. Some other quibbles of mine include the limited ammo and hover meter made traversing as Sophia the 3rd more frustrating than it needed to, and while the wall cling was a nifty idea, its execution was lacking and finicky. Despite its excellent visuals, music and concepts, the game was held back by some unfortunate gameplay decisions that hampered the overall experience far more than necessary.

The good news is that Inti Creates’ reboot of the franchise manages to overcome most of the original’s problems with aplomb, and while it has a couple of its own problems, it is by far the greatest title I’ve come across in the franchise. First off, the game adopts all of the myriad canon Sunsoft has left behind, with Eve from the Worlds of Power novel making a notable appearance alongside alums Jason and Fred, and even the Japanese Meta Fight protagonists Kane Gardner and Jennifer Cornet sneaking in as a cameo in the endgame. Jason can now toss grenades to blow open walls, a clever nod to Blaster Master Boy and its roots as a Bomberman game. It’s great to see the game take on all of the many scattered threads this series generated over time and bring them all together. Alongside the many nods to the past, the game modernizes the visuals with a nice anime-infused look that works really well for the game, and the graphic upgrade looks really good. Area 5’s dungeons in particular are spectacular. The music, alas, adds in a lot of new music versus remixing Naoki Kodaka’s fantastic soundtrack from the NES (the legendary Area 1 theme is here and accounted for, though), and most of the new themes aren’t as catchy to me. The new dungeon themes are a high point, though.

But beyond the overhauling to the aesthetics, the gameplay improvements are by far the most substantial. While Jason still will lose gun power if he takes a hit in the overhead dungeons, the game distributes the powerups for it much more frequently AND there’s an item early on that adds a barrier to your meter, which recharges at a good enough clip that losing your gun strength is a much reduced possibility. And the layers of gun options are more diverse and interesting, so there is merit to not having the meter maxed out. Grenades are no longer unlimited, but ammo is plentiful for them as well. Sophia handles better and can now angle its turret, making combat much better. Secondary weapons and the hover option now burn the same meter, which slowly recharges over time as well as having collectables to refill it. The wall cling is now a button, making its use much more flexible and less touchy. And the game revamps the overall progression far more into “Metroidvania” territory, with tons of new dungeons to collect more items to make both Jason and Sophia the 3rd stronger for the challenges ahead. For those who thrilled in the difficulty of the original, you may be bummed to learn that Inti Creates dialed it back considerably, with only a couple bosses causing me to die multiple times as I learned their patterns. I’m okay with that, but your mileage may vary. Speaking of those encounters, the bosses are on the whole excellent, with a lot of throwbacks and a few new surprises, including tank battles the original game lacked.

To get the best ending, you’ll need to find everything in the game before taking on the “final” boss. Alas, backtracking is not super smooth as there isn’t any teleport system to quickly speed this aspect up, which is okay when you are just plowing through the storyline but I can see it being slightly bothersome for me retracing my steps to find the rest of the gear. However, there is some DLC options (free and paid), including upcoming releases of Shantae and Shovel Knight that radically change the core gameplay, which is really cool. In short, Blaster Master Zero rectifies far more of the original’s concerns than it adds to the formula, and is well worth your time. I played the 3DS rev, but I imagine the Switch version is also great.

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