Among the many NES classics we've all played and forgotten about, Blaster Master is one that still manages to amaze today. I remember marveling at the game's remarkable special effects when it came out 12 years ago, and even as I play it now, I'm astonished at how cool the shots and explosions look. Even the sound effects and music hold up well in an age where video game audio is so good that it's not even worth talking about anymore.
But it would be foolish of me to start a tribute to one of the greatest action games of all time by focusing solely on its cosmetic elements. While essential to any classic game, in this case they function as the proverbial icing on the cake when you consider what else the game has to offer.
Perhaps the most memorable thing about Blaster Master (besides the gameplay) is the unique premise that serves as the backdrop for all the blasting. It all revolves around a boy named Jason and his quest to find his pet frog, Fred. Now, this situation may seem overly simplistic and less-than-urgent when compared to the more mature themes we see in today's games, but it's also very effective. There's a cinematic slide show at the beginning of the game that sets just the right tone. As this strange, ominous music plays in the background, we see Jason chase after Fred and fall into an underground cavern—right next to a huge armored vehicle we come to know as SOPHIA. As a gamer getting ready to embark on this mission, you identify with Jason's predicament immediately. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself lying next to a kick-ass battletank and you've lost your pet frog? You'd climb inside that thing and go get 'em, that's what! Playing through the game's many challenging levels, you never forget the objective the game so clearly illustrates at the beginning: Find out what happened to Fred.
Upon starting the game, you're treated to what has to be one of the great scenes in all of video games—an animated sequence that shows Jason and SOPHIA rocketing off into the underworld to the beat of the awesome Blaster Master theme song. After experiencing it, you feel totally energized to take on whatever the game throws at you.
Blaster Master distinguishes itself from other action games in just about every way possible, and as a result playing the game is an absolute joy. Sure, everyone fantasizes about getting in a tank like SOPHIA and going to war against a bunch of mutants and robots. There's no doubt about the game's success in that regard, but there's also more to it than that. The gameplay is a flawless combination of platform exploration and shooter thrills. Even though the game centers around vehicle-based action, it behaves like Mega Man or Metroid, or any other of the standard action-hero games. SOPHIA moves fast, it jumps and it goes through doors, just like Samus Aran. And not only are the controls precise, but they have that special touch that really pulls you in. You can "feel" SOPHIA's weight and power as you move and jump across the game's landscapes. Blaster Master also features non-linear gameplay, so progressing through the game involves as much backtracking as going from left to right. At one point in the game, after getting the hover modification for SOPHIA, Jason has to go all the way back to the first level's starting point and fly up to a high plateau, which leads to the next level and beyond.
However, what surprised me the most about Blaster Master when I first played it so many years ago is the ability to actually exit SOPHIA and move around on foot. At the time, such a concept hadn't really been tried before, much less executed so successfully. Even today we don't see such dynamic gameplay in action games. However, while the idea of a shooter that lets you exit your war vehicle to continue the battle on
foot is novel, it wouldn't mean anything unless it blends with the game thematically. In this case, acquiring the various modifications and special weapons for SOPHIA that Jason needs to get through each stage is done by leaving the comfort of the tank and meeting the enemy head on.
Enhancing SOPHIA's capabilities is not easy, however. Each power-up item must be obtained by defeating each stage's boss character, who hides out in areas behind small doors big enough only for Jason. Upon entering these doors, a whole new game world opens up as the perspective switches to an overhead, up-close-and-personal view. In what is essentially a completely different game, you navigate through labyrinth-type stages and recover new parts for SOPHIA by defeating many bizarre boss critters. In these levels, Jason can power-up his little gun to high degrees and toss hand grenades. This part of Blaster Master eventually evolved into the basis for a future Sunsoft game—the Addams family adventure, Fester's Quest. That in itself is a great example of how much Sunsoft put into Blaster Master—you can take one aspect of it and make into a totally separate game.
There's one level in particular that illustrates how nicely the game balances the different game modes. In the underwater stage, SOPHIA is initially ill-equipped to move through the murky depths—instead she sinks like rock and the bad guys immediately take advantage of her helplessness. If you can manage to land her onto a safe platform, you eject little Jason from the vehicle with the trademark "plop" sound (something I never get tired of), and swim around—trying to stay alive as you search for the room that holds the piece that will enable SOPHIA to negotiate the underwater space. Once SOPHIA is equipped with the part, she turns into a mini-submarine. Moving through the water becomes a breeze—allowing you to get some payback on the little monsters who almost killed you at the beginning. And that's another thing I like so much about Blaster Master—all the hard work pays off in the end. It's an extremely rewarding game.
That scenario also serves as an illustration of the dilemma Jason is always faced with. The game constantly reminds you of the importance of never straying too far from SOPHIA. You never forget that these are hostile environments Jason is exploring. By putting him in an extremely vulnerable state outside of SOPHIA and allowing him to restore his life energy inside it, the game further enhances the tank's role as a safe haven in a world of unusual and fierce creatures. Without SOPHIA to protect him, all Jason has to defend himself with is a little pea-shooter of a gun, and falls from severe heights can prove fatal for him. But there's no relief quite like jumping inside SOPHIA to turn the tables on some robot who was previously kicking your unprotected ass all over the underworld. It's not unlike a beat-up Popeye reaching for that can of spinach. It's great fun.
Perhaps the only fault with Blaster Master is how long and insanely difficult it is. A simple password feature is all this game needs to give some mercy to the meek gamer. Believe me, you have to be hardcore to beat this game, because it has to be done all in one shot. It's one of those games where you wake up one day and say, "Damn it, I'm going to beat Blaster Master today, no matter the cost!" But even discouraged gamers can't deny such innovative gameplay and charm—making it impossible to put the controller down for very long.
In conclusion, you would think a game this good could have become a money-making franchise for Sunsoft. But Blaster Master Boy (1991) for Game Boy and Blaster Master 2 (1993) for Sega Genesis were uninspired sequels that lacked the sensibility that made the original so special. I myself remember first seeing the ad for Blaster Master 2 in an issue of Sega Visions that said, "Jason and SOPHIA are back!" I was so excited I almost wet my pants then. You can imagine my excitement when I found out not too long ago that Sunsoft, who has been all but absent from the gaming scene recently, will be releasing two new games, Blaster Master: Blasting Again for the Sony PlayStation and Blaster Master: Enemy Below for Game Boy Color. Fanatics like me are obviously praying for a U.S. release of both games, which are currently on the verge of shipping. But even more importantly, the new sequels will hopefully live up to the original and spark a new interest in Sunsoft's greatest game.
Special thanks to Dave Winstanley at The Blaster Master Shrine and Chaos Theorem at Blaster Master Underground for helping us obtain images of the game. Be sure to check out their sites for information on all things Blaster Master.
"Blaster Master was the first NES game I ever owned. When I first purchased the NES console, I wanted to christen it with Mega Man, but the store where I made my purchased didn't have any in stock. I didn't want to bring home my shiny new system without any games, so without having any prior knowledge of the title and based purely on the face value of the box art, I choose Blaster Master off of a shelf of maybe half a dozen other games. Luckily my choice was a solid one and the graphics and gameplay really blew me away. The only thing that really bugged me was the insane difficulty level (what would later become a trademark for all Sunsoft titles)! I must have been stuck on the second stage for months! It was only until after I discovered the secret trick—where you could easily beat bosses by dropping a grenade and then hitting the pause button—did I finally pass the second stage. Beating the second stage was a major accomplishment for me at the time, but of course much to my horror, there were plenty more stages left!"
Chi Kong Lui
Forest Hills, NY
"I remember long ago, my mom and myself still lived with my grandparents and uncles in a big house. I wasn't very old the day we got the NES. We had Mario and some Snowboarding game. One day we rented Blaster Master. I fell in love with it, sneaking downstairs all night long and playing it, I don't think that NES turned off for the 3 days we had the game. I wasn't able to beat it though. Years later, now living in a new house, I saw Blaster Master again in a video store, I of course rented it. I ended up renting it so much from this place that when they put all but a few NES games up for sale, BM was one of the games they left on the shelf. They explained to me when I asked to buy it that it still rented out a lot. I told them I was the one renting it every week, the guy checked his computer, and sure enough, I was the one. So I bought it that day for 10 dollars. What a great day this was, I finally owned this wonderful game. I played and played hours on end, and I finally beat it one day. Now I am obsessed with this new GBC rendition of the game and the all-new PSX game. Sophia will never die!"
The Blaster Master Home Page
"I remember renting the game at a local video store for the first time in 1988 and immediately was blow away by the game, but buying the game proved to be VERY difficult do to the shortage on the DRAM chips (Dynamic Random Access Memory) in the game carts, because of the high demand for NES games at the time (the NES was taking this country by storm). I used to rent the game from one video store, and reserving the game at another video store so I could have the game for a week at a time. I even offered the owner of one of the stores $75 for the game, but they were unwilling to part with it. I finally got the game (which I still have complete) and easily put 20 to 30-plus hours into the game before I beat it. This game was my first true videogame experience, and I still love to play the game to this day."
The Blaster Master Shrine
Grand Rapids, MI
"I got an NES when I was six-years-old and eventually played a lot of games and beat almost all of them! Blaster Master was one of those I just didn't finish—but made near the end! I guess I didn't have too much patience as an eight-year-old. : ) But looking back, the game was definitely innovative, and I too was totally amazed by the graphics of the boy and frog—they were almost lifelike to me at the time. Blaster Master is one of those games, despite its title, that characterized the NES and its ability to prsent something original and addictive. It definitely ranks up there with the big ones like Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and Mega Man. I've been playing games for as long as I can remember, and that game still stands out above so many games that may look more realistic, have better sound effects and graphics, and have more realistic storylines. And no doubt it stands out because it has something that so many games nowadays lack—an original concept with the ability to keep you hooked and really take you (and your mind) totally into the game. Hopefully the re-release of the game, despite the critics' downplay of the game due to its fluffy story, will teach these new gamers what it was like to play a really, really great and innovative game."
Michael Sao Pedro
WPI – Computer Science – Class of 2000
"I'm not sure how long that Blaster Master article's been posted for (The Great Games — A Retrospective on Classic Titles), but I just came across it today while looking for some reviews of my latest purchase; Blaster Master: Enemy Below.
"I think the article depicted the feel of the original game perfectly. Every subtle emotion I felt when playing this game as a kid were portrayed exactly as I remember them. Blaster Master was definitely one of those classic games that made my youth a gaming fest.
"It's a shame that none of the sequels seem to live up to the original as far as innovation and excitement. For every feature they add in, they remove something crucial that had made the game more exciting, like the ability to walk diagonally in the Game Boy Color version. The ideas are there, but they're just not implemented very well.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I stole my copy of Blaster Master. I rented it from a video store, then came back an hour later with one of my old crappy games and pretended like the wrong game had been in the box. The story worked, and I got to keep Blaster Master all to myself (I did the same thing for Dragon Warrior II, bringing back the first Dragon Warrior in its place). I played so much of that game that I was eventually able to run through the entire eight levels from start to finish without ever dying once. And I repeated the feat over and over again until my NES finally gave out. It wasn't just the novelty of the game, it was the huge bosses that filled the screen. The big explosions from the enemies. The splash damage from exploding mines. The great physics of the tank. And it was all put together flawlessly.
"Maybe someday Sunsoft will finally be able to get their act together and give this great game a worthy successor. Until then, I won't hold my breath. But I'll hold onto those great memories of classic gaming."
"I hardly remember actually playing Blaster Master as a child. In fact, I had almost completely forgotten about it a few years ago when…
"My brother had done a favor for my aunt, and so she had given him a gift certificate to Boomerang Gameware. In fact, she drove us over there. My brother still owned (and still does own) a Nintendo system, and wanted to get a few more games for it. Among others (much less important), he bought Blaster Master. The cover of the game brought out a lot of half-memories from me, and I all I could do was think "Where have I seen this from?" Finally, we got home, and played it. Of course, half the puzzle was solved—I now knew what the game was like again. However, there was more to it. I don't remember how exactly I remembered, but something tipped me off that there was a Blaster Master book.
"Immediately I remembered reading that book as a child, and I was actually pretty shaken. The book had always been so weird and scary to me, and now that it was coming up again in fragments steeped in mystery, it seemed all the more weird and scary to me. Frankly, only three things have been able to retain that sort of chillingly mysticism for me: Blaster Master, Metroid and Watership Down (the cartoon).
"Besides Blaster Master's just plain weirdness, it had great gameplay (even if it was hard as hell). In these things, Metroid and it are equal. I'd say Kid Icarus doesn't carry the same sort of feel as Metroid, but the gameplay is as good as Blaster or Metroid."
"I met a kid from my town. We hadn't known each other very long, but my mom started inviting him over on the weekends to rent games, and have cookouts and stuff. We went to the local video store, but since Nintendo wasn't out for very long, there wasn't much of a selection. But one game caught our eyes: Blaster Master. We thought, "how corny, a game about a frog." We both laughed and rented it anyway. We weren't disappointed. We played it constantly, weekend after weekend, but could never beat it. We both loved the game and became real close friends for the duration of our adventure with Sophia.
"A month or so after we got into the game, he had to go to Dallas to visit his dad. When he got back, we played one more time, but he had to go live with his father suddenly and I didn't see him for a while. We lost touch and I never beat the game after that. A year later, he showed up at my doorstep with Blaster Master in his hand. We only had that day to spend together, so we played it all night. We finally defeated the last boss just before dawn, after which, he had to leave. I haven't seen him since, but we did beat the game on the last day we spent together. And it's always been my favorite game of all times—not just because the game rocked—but because I made a great friend out of the experience. And although I never got to see him again, he is still my best friend."
Wow I am totally amazed. As I've been reading these Blaster Master experiences, my jaw nearly drops to the ground, I have to say. Almost everyone experienced this game the same way I did. Addictive, so addictive. I rented it nearly every week and played the hell out of it. Actually, I never could beat the 3rd boss when I was little, leaving a game in my memory that was the BEST and the HARDEST. I've been thinking of this game ever since and one day, I saw it at Funcoland. "NO WAY!!" I thought and bought it for 2 dollars, hopping I could find someone who still owned a Nintendo so I could play it. I finally found a friend that had one. Since it was his, I just left it at his house and got to play every once in a while. I finally beat that damn 3rd boss, but having 1 life and 1 continue left, I died shortly after still in the 3rd level. Eventually, the dude moved and I never saw Blaster Master again. How sad.
Anyways, WOW, I seriously cannot believe so many people had the same experience I had when I was little. Now, I got it at home and play it a lot and beat it a few times. VERY HARD. I LOVE THIS GAME!!! Blaster Master 2 on the Genesis sux, and I've yet to play the ones on the Game Boy and the PlayStation. Sunsoft definitely needs to make a worthy successor of this fabulous game, and if they don't, I WILL because my urge to play more and more of this game never end! I'm glad I get to share my experience with you all, PEACE!!!