Release Date: November 1988
Genre: Platformer/Shoot ‘em Up
Here’s another one of my childhood favorites, Blaster Master. I think I can come into this one saying that I never beat it as a kid. I for sure remember up to Area 4, but nothing afterward. You are Jason and your pet frog Fred gets out of his home and makes a dash for the exit. Outside, Fred makes it to a giant radioactive chest and mutates into a monster. Jason makes chase, but isn’t able to save his friend, and instead finds a sweet tank that beckons him to enter. Inside the tank he learns about the Plutonium Boss who is controlling all the mutants. It must be destroyed!
Gameplay takes place in two sections, the overworld platforming sections and indoor shooting sections. In the overworld, Jason can either be piloting his tank or on foot. You’ll spend most of your time in the tank. You move with the d-pad, jump with the A Button, and shoot with the B Button. You can aim your cannon straight up by pressing up on the d-pad. There are also three special weapons that can be collected and shot while inside the tank. A triple missile, which shoots in three directions. A homing missile, which targets enemies on screen, and a lighting bolt, which shoots from underneath the tank dealing heavy damage.
Sometimes, you’ll come to a building and must press select to disembark from the tank. Jason can then enter the building by pressing down on the d-pad. This moves into the indoor shooting section. Jason can shoot his gun with the B Button and throw a grenade with the A Button. This time around, I learned that you can strafe if you hold the A Button. This made much of the game much easier. In the indoor sections, Jason can come across a number of powerups. These include gun powerups, which are pretty much necessary to run through the sections easily. The gun starts as a pea shooter with a limited distance, to a long distance shot, to a shot that curves out in both directions as you hammer the button, to a shot that waves back and forth, to the ultimate Rainbow Gun, which shoots through walls and makes you feel invincible. Once you get the rainbow gun, it’s pretty easy to keep it until the later Areas, which introduce some cheap enemies. When you get hit, you lose a level of gun.
There are 8 Areas in all and they are all impossible to progress in until you defeat the mutant boss. Then you will earn an upgrade that opens up the path to the next area. This includes backtracking through Areas to reach new, previously inaccessible pathways. Wait, is this a Metroidvania before they existed? The tank earns stronger guns, a hover ability, swimming power, and the ability to drive on walls and ceilings. You might think the last two sound really cool, but they make jumping off platforms nearly impossible and incredibly frustrating.
At the end of each Area is a mutated boss. When I was a kid, playing them straight was difficult, but became much easier now that I could hold the A Button and strafe. There is also a cheat that was very popular in Nintendo Power. If you throw a grenade at the boss and pause the game at the right moment, you can deal constant damage. Then you unpause the game and the boss dies. It doesn’t work for every enemy, but it came in handy when I needed it the most! It’s unfortunate that you have to destroy your pet frog a couple times through the game, but it’s to save the world!
The art of the graphics are pretty neat. There are a lot of variations in backgrounds. The flicker and slowdown are pretty egregious, however.
Blaster Master truly shines with the soundtrack. The first four areas are hot fire. The last four weren’t as good, but still plenty fine.
There are a lot of different gameplay variations to take into account, from hovering, to ice levels, to underwater, climbing walls, ceilings, and more. They don’t all work perfectly, but it’s impressive.
You get three lives and five continues. That should be plenty to beat this one. You have to learn enemy patterns and take advantage of easy powerups.
Fun Factor: 3.5
Blaster Master is a good time. I can say the first several Areas are fun to play, even if the last couple are a struggle.
Overall Grade: 3.4
Blaster Master earns a B+. I would put Blaster Master as one of the upper echelon games of the NES era. Could it have been better if it was produced later in the console’s lifespan? Yes, but it does a fine job as it is.