Over the past few years, many NES games have made a comeback with re-releases on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
Now, when I say comeback, I mean “I have five dollars, I’m bored, I’m gonna buy Milon’s Secret Castle.” Then, two days later when I get my paycheck, I buy something new and never again play Milon’s Secret Castle.
So maybe “comeback” isn’t exactly the right word to describe the re-releases.
But, there were a few games I was excited to have available on the Wii. Also, there were a few games I would actually pay five dollars to play again, and for more than two days, too. Surprisingly, the NES game that I was most excited to play again was not a Mario, not a Zelda, not Metroid–that game was Blaster Master.
When I was a kid, I caught a frog while I was exploring the woods. I put him in a terrarium, and two days later, he shriveled up and died because I was a terrible pet owner. I did not feed him, and I never gave him any water. There was a method to my madness, though that may have simply just been madness itself.
I assumed, because of malnutrition, Hoppy Frog Jones (the best I could do at age six) would seek to escape. He would then stumble onto a radioactive box, and since he was starving he would eat the radioactive material inside the box.
Then he’d grow into a fifty-foot mutant frog. He would escape into a hole, and I would follow him. After finding a jumping battle tank, I’d shoot mutants until I was reunited with my pet frog. But, because he was going to be upset with me for starving him, I’d have to blow him up with missiles.
I can only blame Hoppy Frog Jones’s death on my grandmother.
Why? She bought me Blaster Master for my birthday in 1993–and the game starts with the main character’s frog befalling the same fate. Thankfully, as I have learned to separate games from reality, nothing living has died in such a dumb way by my hands since.
Blaster Master is a 2D platformer-shooter (y’know, Contra-style) developed for the NES in 1987 by SunSoft. While there is a story, you kind of lose track of it after shooting your first mutant.
After that it’s “shoot, jump, drop bombs, shoot, shoot, jump, backtrack, shoot, jump, jump,” lather, rinse, repeat. You can also use one of three special weapon pickups. They include homing missiles, multi-missiles and a giant lightning bolt. The homing missiles and multi-missiles made sense to me, but something about a tank summoning Zeus threw me a bit.
Also, you can leave the comfort of your tank, which you’ll need to do to get pickups like keys or more ammo for that God-summoning lightning bolt.
But, Blaster Master also offers a secondary playing field.
While the majority of the game is a 2D platformer shoot-em-up using a tank, there are also a few levels that play in a top-down perspective. During these top-down levels, you shoot, drop bombs and maneuver (no jumping here) your character to make your way to the boss of that area.
During these levels, you may notice that the animation is less Alien/Mutant/scary monsters than the initial 2D game play and more of a “Huge heads and monsters that I want to pet–cutesy, cute, cuties” game world.
Don’t let the cuteness of the top-down world make you let your guard down. You still have to get from A to B without getting killed by, um, little circles. The science was never explained, so “little circles” it is.
Blaster Master also features obligatory boss fights. The bosses are giant floating versions of things, typically:
- A brain with little floating brain shields;
- A crab with a vagina for a head; or
- A box that shoots lines.
The boss fight gameplay is pretty typical. The technique being another version of move, shoot, left, shoot, right, shoot, shoot, left, shoot, shoot, shoot and so on. The concept that distinguishes this game from most other 2D platformers, to me, is the backtracking. It is a non-linear game that forces you to go backwards in order to move forwards.
Generally, I don’t recommend leaving the tank just to laugh at your character’s giant head. However, I do recommend leaving the tank to laugh at the hilarious swimming animation.
The jumping control is some of the best in the genre. If you mess up a jump, it’s more than likely your own fault. The tank gets a little more air than the human character. It makes sense considering that people don’t have boost thrusters.
The most difficult aspect of the game is the difficulty itself. You will die–a lot.
When you die, you restart the level. Once you lose all of your lives, you’re done. Blaster Master sends you back to the beginning of the game, and the game is not short. As far as I know, there have only been a few people who have ever actually beaten Blaster Master. That probably has a lot to do with the unforgiving NES-style save system.
Also, some of the bosses have tons of health. A good five minutes of dealing consistent damage, and you might just kill them.
Why You Should Play It
This game represents a time when we thought giant floating brains were scary as hell. We lost that feeling over time. Now, if a game has a giant floating brain, we think, “Wow, that’s dumb.”
Blaster Master released in the U.S. around the same time as Metroid, and I believe that Blaster Master had as much effect on platformer gaming as Metroid did. Both of these games represent the beginning of the evolution of the platformer.
Nineteen Eighty-Seven: The time when SunSoft developers thought, “We can’t just simply jump on heads anymore. We need tanks! And guns, and little bombs, and hilarious swimming animations. This is our time! We’ll go forth and bring a revolution! We will not go quietly into the night!”
That’s how I like to believe SunSoft developers visualized it. Considering what actually happened to SunSoft, maybe that last sentence depressed a few people. I’m sorry if it did.
Nevertheless, you should play Blaster Master; because it’s the frog’s knees. (The pun was forced. Plus, the pun itself does not exist, and it sounds really stupid. For that, I am sorry.)