Sometimes, sifting through the online store of a console, one stumbles upon a rare gem of a game; something amazing that they might not otherwise have even heard of. And digging through the Nintendo Switch eShop, I found one of those rare gems in Blaster Master Zero. Albeit, a very unpolished one.
I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the story of this game, as it is both confusing and lengthy. But the basic premise is this: you, as tech-whiz Jason, must fight an army of mutants on your personal quest to capture an extradimensional frog named Fred. With a tank. And all other sorts of flashy gadgets and weaponry, from laser beams to landmines.
Blaster Master Zero is developed by the Japanese company Inti Creates, also known as the developer of Gunvolt. The company has also worked with WayForward Technologies, the developers of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. And like Shantae, Blaster Master Zero is a new title that brings back an old franchise. The game is itself a remake of Blaster Master, originally available on the NES. And like the original, Zero’s gameplay is built around two formats: one, a 2D side-scrolling adventure portion where the player largely pilots a tank, and the other a top-down on-foot shooter. The integration of these two formats is key to the success of Blaster Master Zero. But it’s worth noting that the two don’t always fit together so well.
Like the original, Zero’s gameplay is built around two formats: one, a 2D side-scrolling adventure portion where the player largely pilots a tank, and the other a top-down on-foot shooter. The integration of these two formats is key to the success of Blaster Master Zero. But it’s worth noting that the two don’t always fit together so well.
The adventure portions of Zero I found to be a lot of fun. The tank, SOPHIA, is easy to control, the visuals are great, and there are plenty of secrets to find in the large environments. Zero has some great spritework and it is in these portions that this aspect really shines. There’s also plenty of enemies to keep you occupied, and the design is such that one is encouraged to use the full capabilities of SOPHIA. For example, homing missiles are great for taking out standing turrets, but the lightning strike ability is significantly better for destroying the mutant caterpillars.
This kind of variance in gameplay is part of what keeps Zero interesting. So it’s a shame that the top-down portions tend to encourage the opposite.
The top-down portions themselves occur whenever Jason leaves his tank to enter one of the many dungeon-like rooms of each world. The game all of a sudden becomes a third-person shooter and we’re given the opportunity to use Jason’s own personal firepower. Problem is, it kind of ruins things from the start.
Jason’s rifle has the ability to shift form, which is determined by a gun-track. Similar to a health bar, this goes down when you get hit and goes up when you pick up items to restore it. Where you are on this track determines what gun forms you can use. For instance, having four bars in the gun-track means you can now use a shotgun. But having seven means you can use the flamethrower, as well as everything else below it, including the shotgun and the default blaster. While each mode has its specialty, there is one that outshines the rest by far; Wave. You get Wave and you kill everything, including bosses.
With Wave, one can beat most bosses in fifteen seconds. And this is the problem. Wave not only does the most damage, but it also stuns all enemies on the first shot, passes through walls, has a wide spread and range, and has the quickest rate-of-fire. There is little reason not to use it and its sole presence simplifies what is an otherwise interesting system.
But while Blaster Master Zero might have a poor grasp of difficulty, it’s definitely a lot of fun, and the originality of its concepts provide for a unique experience. And to be fair, there were still times when I was surprised by a challenging room. This gives me hope for hard mode, which is unlocked after completion of the main game. How long this takes varies, but I’m somewhere towards the middle (I think) and I’ve already put in over four hours. But for a ten-dollar game, this is also a good sign of how much content the game has.
Available for $9.99 on the Switch’s eShop, Blaster Master Zero is great if you’re bored on a Saturday night or even if you’re just looking for something fun (and cheap) to play.
Additionally, this summer, there’s an added bit of value to Blaster Master Zero. Shantae was recently released as a (temporarily) free DLC character, and we’ve also been promised Shovel Knight. These characters should be vastly differently from Jason if their trailers are any indication, and this promises another playthrough or two at least.