Let’s take an objective look and review Blaster Master for realsies.
Sunsoft had a solid run of great NES titles in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Batman, Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Fester’s Quest all seem to hold a special place in gamers’ memories. Even if some of them are insanely difficult. But perhaps the pinnacle of Sunsoft’s NES spree is Blaster Master.
I rented Blaster Master a few times as a kid and loved it. I have really fond memories of adventuring through that first area, the forest with the flooded caves. And the great soundtrack. When I eventually blundered my way to Area 2, I felt pretty good about it and assumed I must have been close to the end of the game. Yeah, not quite.
It was only last week that I managed to finish this game. It consists of eight areas with bosses and it gets very hard in the latter levels. But even though I could barely scratch the surface of this games extensive world, I was perfectly content as a kid to jump around those first few areas. I loved it.
But let’s forget about all the fond memories and nostalgia for now, and take an honest look at Sunsoft’s opus. Is Blaster Master the game we remember? Does it hold up today?
Let’s check it out!
The Story: Froggy Feels
Okay, just one more bit of nostalgia: I remember watching Blaster Master’s intro cinematic and having serious feels about that damned frog. Honestly, it’s a great cinematic. I played through this recently with my son Milo watching (and providing emotional support). He’s four and had no problem at all understanding the plot. He even explained it to his mom later. He was as captivated as I had been all those years ago.
Besides the clarity of the cinematic visuals, that simple sad intro music sets the perfect melancholy tone. You feel Jason’s concern over his beloved pet. Man!
Anyway, let’s try again to put nostalgia aside. The point is that the intro scene is well made and the music is great. In fact…
All of Master Blaster’s music is pretty great.
Seriously. I’ve mentioned it already in this review, but it’s worth saying again. Every track is unique and sounds great. In fact, pretty much every Sunsoft game I’ve played has a great soundtrack (Batman anyone?)
(If you don’t already own every Sunsoft game, learn how to grow that retro collection.)
The graphics are great, too.
Another common theme in Sunsoft games are the moody and gritty graphics.
The character sprites in Blaster Master are well-crafted and easy to recognize. But you may not have noticed the clever use of scale in the graphics.
Blaster Master’s character sprites are quite small by the standards of most NES games. Especially when Jason exits the tank and wanders the overworld on foot. Outside of the tank, Jason’s overworld sprite is just 10 pixels across. Compare that to Mega Man’s 21 pixels. And he still manages to be cleverly detailed. Check out the 4-pixel gleam in his faceplate!
Working on such a small scale, the character designer had no room to spare. Every single pixel had to be cleverly placed. The result works wonderfully.
The half-sized sprites were designed purposefully to give Blaster Master’s overworld a feeling of hugeness that is lacking in most NES games. By keeping the hero scaled down, Sunsoft was able to adequately communicate how massive and sprawling the world of Blaster Master is! And for the technical limits of the time, Blaster Master is truly huge.
The cleverness displayed here cannot be overstated, and it’s that attention to detail that helps propel Blaster Master into pantheon of genuinely good NES games.
Navigating the world of Blaster Master
So since we broached the topic of Blaster Master’s epic game world, this is probably a good place to discuss that.
It’s huge! Not only does it span 8 areas, it also requires players to backtrack in the style of a true Metroidvania. However, Sunsoft sort of drops the ball on this count.
The problem is that there’s no indication at all where the first backtrack happens. If you don’t already know, once you get the Hover tool, you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of the game and climb the tree where you spawned.
It’s not that big of a deal today because you can just Google it, but back in the pre-internet days, there was just no figuring it out. I mean, you have to go all the way to the very beginning, where you spawn for the first time, then climb the tree. I never figured that out until re-playing it a few years ago.
But if we’re giving Blaster Master an honest review for the internet age, we can’t really be upset you have to backtrack aaaaaall the way to the beginning. Twenty years ago it may have been a legitimate gripe (unless you had a gaming magazine subscription), but today with all the knowledge of the world inside your pocket, I can’t mark off points for it.
Dat difficulty tho
Besides being cryptic in its navigation, Blaster Master gets really difficult in the later levels. The ice world of Area 6 and the weird bio-world of Area 8 were especially tough. Honestly, Area 6 had me about ready to throw my controller.
Well, mark this one off the list.— The Ghetto Game Gifter 🎁 (@longie_long) November 30, 2019
I stand by my earlier statement. Blaster Master is harder than Zelda 2. Or at least equally hard. pic.twitter.com/RA5Wl6vYjp
Pile on top of that the fact that Blaster Master provides no passwords, no game saving, and only 5 continues. It’s amazing that anybody figured out how to finish the game back before save states and Switch Online’s rewind feature. For myself, I used that rewind feature a LOT. No way I would have had the patience to finish this game without it. But I did. And it was worth every moment.
Blaster Master is a Blaster-Masterpiece. It will test your patience and your skills, but most good games from this era do. They just don’t make ’em like this any more.
Blaster Master is officially Ghetto Approved.–GG