Wow, another year’s PAX has come and gone. It was a great time, though of the three of us rooming together I was the only one not to get sick. There wasn’t really as much upcoming stuff as prior years, some of the major releases like Nier: Automata and the Switch had already debuted, but with the Zephyr Studio guys at their table. One of my favorite parts of the whole experience though was Blaster Master Zero being released shortly before my trip out began, so I spent the weekend picking at it off and on before finishing it for the first time on the plane trip home. Kinda fitting. It’s a very solid game, keeping in spirit of the original. Also I had the unique pleasure of ‘breaking’ a couple demos, one by being too good and the other just because the game was in a very early state. Best of luck to the devs of the latter, they were very good sports about when I was driving a motorcycle underwater with a lit torch in hand. Once the surprise wore off he just said, “I think we should start the Olympics this way from now on.”
I have a bunch of photos, too, but I’ll add them on later when I get around to hooking my phone up to the computer.
So, in the original Japanese version of Blaster Master, Meta Fight, the action takes place on the planet Sophia III. Your tank, the Metal Attacker is from the NORA arms satellite, the only thing to survive the aliens’ raid on the planet. So that SOPHIA III- NORA crest on the end screen is referencing that.
I can’t seem to escape Blaster Master the past couple of weeks. Until We Win did an episode on how to beat it. It came out on Wii VC. And the thing about me and Blaster Master isn’t so much that it’s my favorite NES game, though it’s up there for sure- it has a tank that can JUMP for fuck’s sake. I think it’s the music that sticks with me worse than anything else. But even past that- Blaster Master was the first game article I did for this site, even though it’s been more or less lost to the ether since it was written in a time where I still hosted fan-fiction and thought it would be nifty to write articles “in-character,” which incidentally was the first glimpses the ‘net had at the cast of Revolver Knight, even if a lot changed since then.
But Blaster Master… Blaster Master never changes.
A lot of people chide the game’s intro and plot for being… silly. Childish, even. A boy risking his life for his pet frog? Well, good sir, you clearly have no idea what a frog can mean to a boy. Sure, puppies and kittens are soft, fuzzy, warm and affectionate, but the smooth, porous, slightly sticky hide of a tiny frog does things to a little boy. It makes him realize, that yes, girls are icky and teachers are boring and everyone basically hates your scabby kneed ass, but here, in the palm of your hand, wide eyed, tiny and delicate is a creature that will accept you. Love you, admire you, depend on you. And that creature creeps the hell out of all those girls and teachers. By god, you would go to hell and back for this frog- and that’s exactly what you’re going to do, in this case.
It’s totally not because this is a hastily adapted version of some generic Japanese sci fi story.
So, you’re Jason. Your loins burn for Fred the Frog. So you hop into the conveniently waiting, fueled, and apparently child sized all-terrain assault vehicle Sophia III, and proceed to roll out and master your blasters on whatever passing creatures you see. The stages are massive, and can be freely explored as long as you have the ability to reach x ledge or blow up y wall. But there’s a catch to all the nifty gadgets you can attach to your tank, and that catch is well… the other half of the game.
Every so often you’re made to hop out of the tank and explore overhead maze stages in order to locate the bosses therein, kill them, and collect whatever part of your tank they happen to have in their pocket. You know, there are some things that I just kind of look past in video games, like wolves carrying wallets full of cash in RPG’s, or people being able to consume food with their feet or top of their head or whatever part of them comes into contact with the dish, but these are non-humanoid monsters who are hoarding pieces of a one-of-a-kind vehicle. Maybe they just like shiny things? At any rate, while Sophia is a force of awesome, Jason kind of sucks on foot, something I guess the bosses planned for by hiding in those little holes. You can gather power ups for your gun, but every time you’re brushed against, your gun levels down, and in a wonderful monkey’s paw twist, fully leveling up your gun renders it pretty useless as your bullets begin curving in weird arcs instead of shooting straight ahead. So from time to time, you may find yourself taking damage on purpose to keep your gun in the level 2-3 range before a boss or something. You can also lob grenades, though the range seems to vary depending on if you’re trying to hit something or not. If you are, it seems like the grenades can suddenly triple their range and overshoot the enemy. They’re more powerful than your gun, though.
I mean, they better be. They’re fucking grenades.
They’re also your key to one of the great cheats of the NES age. Lob one at a boss, pause while the boss flashes, wait a while, then unpause and bam, boss chili. It’s kind of like the Elec Beam cheat in Mega Man 1, except it works for me.
Another thing about this game is its difficulty level. It’s fairly hard, but it’s kind of hard to explain why. Sure there’s cheap enemy placement, and enemies also have an annoying tendency to just kind of pop into being when you’re so close to it instead of flowing in neatly from offscreen, but basically it’s that the enemies tend to not act like Nintendo enemies. You know how most things that want to kill you lazily wait for you to come to the platform they’re pacing back and forth on? Like they’re expecting to murder you by appointment? In Blaster Master, you might think enemies have a pattern, but it’s all a ruse. The rock men/mech people (what ARE those grey things?) will look like they’re just patrolling a lonely hovering platform or space in front of a door, but whenever your guard is down, they LEAP directly at you. And that’s not counting the ones with guns. Pretty much anything capable of firing a bullet is going to actually aim at you instead of merrily shooting into the air and hoping you take a big flamboyant FAME! leap into the line of fire. These two things combine to make the game classically hard, in addition to feeling your way around the map like a blind man in ‘Nam. In particular, the worm enemies are HORRIBLE- they’re too short for the tank to shoot, and they charge at you, mercilessly, making ominous little grunting noises. And they can jump. And they’re actually pretty strong too, something they like to emphasize by hanging out in and leaping out of lava pits unscathed. Damn worms…
The game ends (which is probably a surprise to some due to the red frog boss) with Jason and… I don’t know, the Princess? There’s usually a Princess to save in NES games, so we’ll roll with that- looking on as a pointed thing collapses and turns all the trees back to green. Hey, maybe Jason kissed his frog and it turned into that girl. Radiation does some pretty impressive things these days. I wonder why they stopped storing it in boxes in the backyard, though. You couldn’t take three steps without encountering radioactive things or mutagen canisters in the 80’s. Now it’s all under lock and key and the only radiation we can get ahold of is the cancer-causing variety. It was a simpler time. It was a better time.