Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, and Switch via Nintendo Switch Online
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/25/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Blaster Master is a series that, despite having a couple of spin-off games after this NES hit, kind of flew under the radar for like thirty years. That is, until, Blaster Master Zero hit the Switch and 3DS and blew up in popularity. How does the NES game hold up, though? To put it simply, a lot better than I expected.
Blaster Master basically plays like part Xenophobe under a microscope and part Metroid but in a tank. The majority – I’d guess around 65% – of the game consists of exploring a side-scrolling overworld in your tank. A tank named Sophia III. There’s a lot of platforming to do as you blast your way through this overworld giving it a feel extremely similar Metroid on NES. Your tank can jump, hover, point its cannon straight up, and even turn into a submarine. Clearly, this is where the United States defense budget is going. Once you find the right part of the overworld, you have to exit your tank (which is super dangerous in the overworld because your on-foot gun is basically a peashooter) and enter the boss area. These areas are overhead rather than side-scrolling and feel a bit like if Xenophobe were zoomed in. These areas aren’t too difficult for the most part, but your goal in these areas is to reach the boss room. The bosses are where the real difficulty here lay. The first few aren’t too bad, but they get downright brutal and unforgiving.
One of the other things that makes it feel similar to Metroid is that this isn’t a strictly linear game. There’s a lot of backtracking involved here; as you get an item from a boss, that gives you the ability to get to a different part of a previous area. In all, there are eight areas, but you’ll be visiting the first few several times as you progress, backtrack, and progress again. This can be a little stressful as it’s pretty easy to get lost, but it never feels truly tedious; the gameplay is a lot of fun, and each of the eight areas feels really unique, so the world never feels bland.
It’s easy to see why Blaster Master has come to be so beloved. What I don’t understand is why it spent so long in relative obscurity. I mean, ten years ago, only the dedicated 8-bit gamers probably knew what Blaster Master was. Today, most Switch gamers have at least heard of it through Blaster Master Zero, and given the similarity of gameplay, they’d probably enjoy playing it if they enjoyed that game. Blaster Master certainly isn’t perfect; the controls felt a little clunky to me at times, and there’s some pretty serious flicker and MAJOR slowdown. It is, however, an extremely fun game once you get into it, definitely fun enough to make up for those performance issues. If you’ve got a Switch, definitely check this one out on the NSO NES app.