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Blaster Master

Year released: 1988
Company: Sunsoft
Genre: Action-Adventure

1988. The password is "mutant." With the Ninja Turtles' popularity in full swing, virtually every toy company was looking for a way to copy that success. Among the various spin-offs, take-offs and rip-offs was a relatively unadvertised game called Blaster Master. Despite the fact that this game was just an attempt to cash in on a trend, BM has quite a bit of quality behind it. So much, in fact, that it actually became quite popular with the adolescents. And not just because of the mutant plotline, either - this game had staying power.

As stated above, the storyline behind this whole game was obviously inspired by the wonder of genetic alteration. Jason's pet frog, Fred, somehow manages to leap out of its pen and make its way outside, where it hops onto a box of radioactive goop, grows to huge proportions and tumbles down a hole created by the crate. Jason, with no regard for his own safety, leaps down the pit and finds a fully loaded tank waiting for him. Climbing in, he searches for Fred inside an underground labyrinth teeming with evil mutants. While the plot is cute, it has enough holes to turn swiss cheese green with envy. Like, how did the box get there? How did the hole suddenly show up? Most importantly, how could Jason and his family spend their whole lives not knowing they were living over a mutant-filled stronghold?

The game is played from two different perspectives. A side-scroller not unlike Metroid, where you're crusing in your super-tank, blasting enemies and looking for doorways, and an isometric view, when Jason (our hero) disengages his vehicle and enters said doorways. Most rooms in the dungeons are about the size of the screen, although some are two screen-lengths wide. Each plot has a similar goal: Get enough weapons and power to survive the level's hazards, find the stronghold of the area's boss, defeat him, and proceed on to the next stage, by means of a special attachment left by the boss for use on your ute.

The most interesting part about this game is that it isn't linear in the fact that once you beat the boss, you automatically move on to the next level. There are cases when you can't even reach the next stage from the current one. Not without backtracking, that is. Blaster Master is comprised of 8 areas, each one linked together - but not necessarily in order. For instance, you can't immediately go to Area 4 from Area 3; you have to travel all the way back to the beginning of the game, the very point the game started, and implement your new hover feature to reach your destination. While this does make the game quite a bit more interesting, it's not without its faults. Most notably is the lack of a save feature in the game. The amount of backtracking required, plus the amount of exploration you'll be doing, adds up to a long game. Despite infinite continues, the fact that you have to do it all in one sitting detracts more than enough from the playability of this game to make it a concern.

Your powers vary with the situation. The tank (known as SOFIA) can fire left, right, or upwards, and may fire one of three special weapons, provided you have the ammuntion. These weapons are the multi-warhead, which fires forward and at upper and lower angles; the lightning bolt, which attacks enemies below you; and the homing missile, which predictably seeks out the nearest enemy and chases it. Jason himself has a relatively wimpy gun that can be powered up, and in the dungeons, can launch grenades. The gun has 8 levels of power, and you can advance one level by picking up gun capsules which can be found in many of the dungeons. But, be careful - any hit Jason takes inside the hideouts saps gun strength.

This is a major problem. Taking hits are inevitable in video games; even an expert takes a few hits now and then, especially when the bosses are in the mix. At the highest level, taking a hit demotes your weapon from an ultra-cool wave gun with wall-penetrating bullets, to a gun that retains its wave, but not the potency. As a result, hitting the enemy is tougher, and you take even more hits because of your inferior weapon. It's a slippery slope, and before you know it you're back down to your original gun whose bullets can't even reach across the screen. This wouldn't be as bad if gun capsules were as common as life power-ups, but gun capsules are only found in fixed areas, and only a certain few enemies drop them upon their demise. By the later levels, gun power-ups are pointless because you'll get hit before you can shoot anyone.

As far as challenge goes, the game is fairly tough, Partially because of the level layout, partially because of the futility of Jason's gun, but mostly because of the enemies themselves. Out and about, they're all mostly cannon fodder; most can be polished off in 1 or 2 hits. The bosses can be a nighmare, like the frog in Area 4 and the lobster in the aquatic fifth level. There is a trick where you can pause the game while a grenade is detonating to multiply its effect, and handily topple most bosses without much work. However, playing legally, you're going to have your hands full. Many of the bosses take up the bulk of the screen, and the projectiles most of them fire limit your movement to a very small portion of the screen. Jason moves rather slowly so you might take quite a few hits before you get the hang of fighting the boss.

In the dungeons, Jason is drawn a little chubby, so you need to have a pathway at least 2 blocks wide for him to walk along the y-axis. The grenades are tough to use with precision, since the distance they travel is dependent on if Jason's walking when he throws them. Turbo is certainly a luxury in the game, especially if your gun is at the lower levels of power. The SOFIA controls rather sharply, except for the traction. It won't stop exactly when you let go of the control pad; rather it skids a bit. Needless to say, you might spend a little time careening into enemies and falling into pits until you really get the hang of it. I do, however, like the fact that the SOFIA's gun can shoot upwards. Considering the number of enemies that approach from above, this is a real blessing.

The game is presented very well. Graphics are well-detailed for the most part, and the backgrounds are also very cool. The enemies lack variety, though. Bosses aside, all of the enemies come in two colors - grey and pink, pink being a stronger version of the grey enemies. If they used as much effort in creating the enemies as they did the rest of the graphics, we would have had a real winner. The music choices are inspired as well. Some of them, like the themes to Areas 1 and 3, have a bit of a heroic tinge to them, and they're all relatively long, which helps keep them from sounding overly repetitive. The sound effects are relatively soft, and thankfully don't get too much in the way of the music, and the croak you hear on the game over screen was a nice touch.

Though Blaster Master does have its drawbacks, it's still a great game, and with a lot of patience in both the short- and long-term aspects, the game can be very fun.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 14
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 16
Overall Score: 71%

You are now listening to the Stage 1 Music to Blaster Master.