The spirit of the original Blaster Master is certainly alive and well in Blaster Master Zero. The story is basically identical to the original game. We’re still following Jason Frudnick as he goes searching for his pet “frog,” Fred. He discovers Sophia III after falling into a hole during his search. Finding Fred is the impetus for all things, and eventually leads to him meeting Eve and doing amazing things as a result of his explorations.
As difficult as it may be to believe, many of the systems and concepts present in Blaster Master Zero were there back in the good old days. The nature of the game is a good example. This isn’t a straightforward 2D platformer or run-and-gun with top-down perspective. The overworld has Jason driving around in Sophia III, fighting off mutants. When you come across a cave, hopping out and heading in has you directly controlling Jason to acquire maps, find power ups, and defeat bosses. You eventually get upgrades that allow access to new areas, all of which allows you to proceed further through the game. It’s a conglomeration of genres, allowing you to say that it reminds you of Bionic Commando, Contra, and Metroid all at the same time.
Another returning notion is the ability to gradually power up Jason’s gun. He starts out with a simple Blaster, but can acquire Longrange, Penetrator, Diffusion, Auto, Reflect, Striker, Flame, and Wave abilities as you gather power ups and play. These, and the Sub Weapons you’ve acquired from chips after defeating bosses, can be swapped in the main menu. Each gun has its own specialty. I like the Wave, since it has great range, goes through things, and temporarily stuns whatever it hits. Striker is good too, since it hits one enemy, then bounces to others nearby. Reflect is handy, for sending energy bullets back at opponents. Though, there’s nothing wrong with a simple Penetrator or Diffusion when you’re in a bind and need to do damage to enemies near or far.
But, Blaster Master Zero isn’t a game with minor tweaks to make things prettier. Serious concerns from the previous game are addressed here. Blaster Master never had a save system. There was no way to retain your progress, not even through those complicated passwords like the ones in River City Ransom, that were 63 characters long. This release rectifies that with rather frequent save points scattered throughout the overworld and placed before boss fights. Walk over a spot and you’re done. No muss or fuss.
I also felt like there was some pretty good rebalancing going on here. There are still cheap enemies present in Blaster Master Zero, like the residential area’s too small to hit with Sophia III caterpillars. By and large, most things are manageable when you know what you’re doing. I didn’t even start having problems with bosses until I was quite a ways into the game. That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges. It just feels like they’re now presented in a way where it’s easier to rise to the occasion and overcome them.
Many of the most noticeable upgrades come in terms of appearance. Blaster Master Zero basically has the same sorts of enemies, layouts, and designs as Blaster Master present absolutely everywhere. The difference here is that things are always slightly brighter and more intricate. Things look crisper and sharper. The music sounds nearly identical, but comes across as being somehow more than it was originally. They’re little niceties, as is the HD Rumble that controls the level of vibration when something important comes up on the radar.
And then, there’s the cooperative multiplayer. It’s really just an aim assist element. The second player controls a reticle and gains the ability to shoot different kinds of bullets at enemies on screen. It allows a little bit of aid, which can come in handy with opponents that are out of reach or have small hitboxes, but doesn’t really offer as much assistance as you’d like or expect. When I attempted to use the feature, it really felt more like something that was there for the sake of saying, “Look! Two people can play!”
With Blaster Master Zero, people are getting a solid, nostalgia-heavy experience. It’s a great reboot of the series that very lovingly takes what people appreciated about the original, preserves that, but then also takes the time to fix everything that wasn’t so great the first time around. It’s definitely an enjoyable exclusive for Nintendo Switch owners.
Blaster Master Zero will come to the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS on March 9, 2017.