Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blaster Master Zero (NS, 3DS) Review

Tomorrow marks SuperPhillip Central's 750th review, but before we get to that, let's take a look at a recent offering from Inti Creates, developer of the Mega Man Zero and Azure Striker Gunvolt series of games. It's Blaster Master Zero for both the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS. Let's dive in with this in-depth review!

A Blast from the Past!


Blaster Master was a 1988 Sunsoft-published NES game that featured gameplay that really showed why that era of gaming was considered the golden age for many gamers. Now, it returns with the help of Mega Man Zero/Azure Striker Gunvolt developer Inti Creates, with Blaster Master Zero. Sporting a new scenario, gameplay updates, and additional content, this blast (...er master) from the past is certainly worth feeling the aftershocks of.

Sophia III prepares to begin her mission.
Blaster Master Zero has two major gameplay types featured prominently throughout its 5-8 hours run time. The first takes place in a 2D space, offering Metroid-like exploration with either the Sophia III tank itself or Jason in his suit. You're much more limited in mobility as Jason by himself, but he can also get through places that the tank cannot. These are things like places with narrow ceilings. Likewise, most places Jason cannot get to at all, much less survive. Any fall of decent height will kill him, and even relatively small falls will injure his health.

Whether in Sophia III herself...
The second type of gameplay type takes place in top-down Zelda-like maps. Of course, here there's little to no puzzle solving to be found. The focus here is on pure combat and a little exploration, too. Many areas in the 2D sections of Blaster Master Zero feature caves that only Jason can enter. These bring him to said top-down maps. Usually at the end of these multi-room spaces of varying lengths and labyrinthine qualities there lies a boss of some type. These can be as simple as enemy horde rooms where you shoot as many foes as possible as you try to survive or actual encounters with big bosses with their own attack patterns to learn and avoid, all the while blasting their weak points in a war of attrition.

...or taking matters into his own hands on foot, Blaster Master Zero's gameplay is satisfying either way.
The rewards for vanquishing such foes are new abilities both mandatory and optional. These can be things like new weapons for either Sophia III or Jason himself, abilities like diving and boosting for the tank, and other upgrades. This allows for the Metroid part of Blaster Master Zero to intervene. New parts and abilities offer new exploration possibilities. Normally the game shows where you need to go next, so you're never at a loss for what your next objective is, which is nice for a modern take on a Metroid-type game.

Ah, one of the most helpful upgrades, the ability to hover and rise!
How would we beat you, Central Gear, without it?!
That said, there is a lot of backtracking to be found in Blaster Master Zero, and it becomes a bit annoying and tedious. Metroid-style games are no stranger to this, but some do it better than others. All of the areas in Blaster Master Zero are interconnected-- that's true of many Metroid-likes. The difference between the fun exploration of those and Blaster Master Zero is that each area in the game is connected one after the other in a linear pattern. No one area connects to two different areas, for instance. This means if you're at the end of the game at Area 8, and you need to travel to Area 1, you have a good deal of distance to cross with little in the way of shortcuts.

Merely beating the game is an easy task, but when you want to backtrack to pick up missing upgrades (such as helpful health ones), find and battle bosses that you haven't beaten yet, or anything else, it becomes a bit of a slog, and a tedious one at that.

Still, Blaster Master Zero sports engaging combat and bosses whether in the Sophia III tank or just moving around levels and areas as Jason. There are some truly stunning and behemoth-sized bosses to tackle which make up the most impressive spectacles of the game, while exploration, other than the aforementioned backtracking (required or not), is generally a lot of fun to do. The abilities you earn as both Sophia III and Jason are enjoyable, allowing for new ways to tackle old areas.

This mostly submerged area features the most time Jason spends in the 2D part of the game.
Blaster Master Zero nails its 8-bit era aesthetic. It takes liberties with the technical limitations of the era, of course, but no one said Inti Creates had to limit themselves to the late '80s and early '90s realm of NES power. The visuals are crisp and suitably colorful and at times dynamic, and the audio delivers old school chiptune goodness. It's just a satisfying package presentation-wise all around.

Blaster Master Zero has everything: intense boss battles, Metroid-like upgrades and exploration, and even a little story to keep you engaged if the gameplay doesn't (hint: it will!).
Inti Creates continues to be one of those developers that delights me with its output. First, it was the action-packed awesomeness of its Mega Man Zero games. Then, it was Azure Striker Gunvolt. Now, its take on Sunsoft's Blaster Master with Blaster Master Zero had me loving a lot of what I played. Blaster Master Zero takes a lot of the good and some of the bad of the Metroidvania game, and overall it reaffirms to me Inti Creates position as a terrific indie developer. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the code. Blaster Master Zero gets a recommendation.

[SPC Says: B+]

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