In a cave somewhere in the subterranean world, a lone, red-colored tank sits in a cave, waiting to be rediscovered. A lone boy, wearing a sci-fi-esqe suit and holding a laser rifle, approaches. As he slots in the key rifle into the cockpit, the vehicle vrooms to life, ready to explore what remains of the underground shelters of ages past. A name flashes onto the monitor. Sophia-III.
It’s Blaster Master.
Even a noob to the series like me knows about this particular series, which released on NES and included clever usage of the now-common parallax scrolling. A legendary series that sort of puttered out through the years, but has been gloriously remade by one of my favorite game creators, Inti Creates (who acquired the IP from the now-defunct Sunsoft). Naturally, I jumped at this chance to try the series out for the first time on 3DS.
One of the things that makes or breaks a platformer is how the controls feel, and while Sophia-III controlled very floatily, it was comfortable in the same way Samus’ physics felt in Super Metroid. Besides, Inti Creates did great in recreating the feeling of hydraulics when the tiny tank jumps, and even added a little ploomph of dust that stirs up whenever Sophia-III hits ground, making it a joy just to jump around. So satisfying.
Of course, the Blaster Master series isn’t just about platforming – several minutes after your first foray into Area 1, you come across across a ladder that Sophia-III can’t access. That’s when you pop out of the tank as tiny Jason, who’s major superpower seems to be ‘taking fall damage’. Well, thankfully you don’t generally control him in the overworld, as there are various caves that Jason can traverse from a top-down perspective. Here, the gameplay shifts into something closer to arcade games like SNK’s Shock Troopers, with the focus on accurate movements avoiding gunfire and melting the enemies with your own rifle.
The original Blaster Master is legendary for its difficulty, especially during these sections. When Jason gets hit in the original game, your powered-up gun powers down instead, making perfect runs near necessary for most players. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that while not Kirby-levels of easy (you will die several times, especially in World 7), Inti Creates toned down the difficulty enough to make this playthrough a smooth experience. There is a barrier that protects your gun level from going down in one hit (and regenerates after a few seconds), so you won’t lose badly to bosses from accidentally falling into water, for example. Furthermore, Jason can strafe using the R button and shoot diagonally as well.
Of course, with version 1.2 out, Hard mode has been added to the game, and I’ll just say that my experience playing this difficulty has… been very painful, to say the least. I don’t recommend playing through it, unless you really want a big challenge.
I greatly appreciate that story dialogue is kept mostly optional other than a few key scenes that help define Jason’s goal, an Inti Creates bad habit that got really bad towards the end of their stint with the Zero and ZX series. Jason’s by no means anything more than a shonen protagonist with a ‘genius mechanic’ background setting, and his partner Eve is only a bit stronger of a character than Ciel from the Zero series, but tropes aren’t bad, and having the option to speak to Eve at any time through the menu screen, which gives separate dialogue during certain moments as well, a very welcome Easter Egg. (Hint: try speaking to Eve right before the boss of Area 4, and while Jason is separated from Eve and Sophia-III in the aquatic Area 5).
Finally, a few gripes. I’m sad that Inti Creates had to resort to two separate menu screens for the 3DS version, one by pressing Start and one by touching the touch screen. This was an obvious concession made to accommodate the Nintendo Switch version, but I really would have liked a minimap on the bottom screen. Apart from this, Inti Creates decided to only remix the first area’s music and compose their own tracks for the rest of the game – there are some hits, but a quite a few area themes go with an ominous, ambient feel at the loss of earworm-y tracks, which is a loss.
Graphics-wise, this is a stunningly detailed faux 16-bit game, featuring detailed pixel artwork of characters and colorful backgrounds. It has the spirit of the original game within, but thankfully garnishes it with the bells and whistles of modern gaming (a save system being the biggest one). This should be THE game to pick up if you’re looking for a sweet experience with detailed sprite art, and the low price is appreciated as well. And with a limited-time-free Azure Striker Gunvolt DLC that lets you play as the titular character that will be around until the end of next week, what better time to start playing?
I have Zero regrets on buying this game. It was a total Blast.