Blaster Master: Blasting Again, as the name implies, is a really stupid game. You are this guy in a silly helmet who runs around in a tank with a woman's name fighting aliens underground. You do it for a pretty good reason, though. Your dad died fighting them years ago, as told in the somber opening narration. So now it's just you, Roddy, and your sister, Elfie, who are the last hope against the Plutonium Boss.

Those of us who remember the 8-bit NES will quickly recognize the name. Blaster Master, the original, was a classic from the heyday of old Nintendo. Of course, many games now considered classics weren't necessarily great games, but Blaster Master was, at least, original. That game starred Roddy's father, Jason, who chased his pet frog into a hole in his backyard, found an amazing tank, and fought his way through armies of mutant weirdos before finally finding his frog again. Blaster Master: Blasting Again (for the PlayStation) is, apparently, a sequel to this game, although the original NES game makes no reference to Jason getting married to a woman from space, having two kids, and dying. Maybe these events were detailed in the little-known and even less-played 16-bit Genesis sequel, but having never played the game myself I wouldn't know. Perhaps this backstory is supposed to be unexplained, or perhaps were supposed to believe that Jason married his frog who then became a girl from space.

No matter. As you may have guessed, Blaster Master: Blasting Again, like its predecessor, isn't about story even though the fact that it pretends to be at times is so pathetic its almost cute. Rather its about, well, blasting. The original Blaster Master was a simple side-scrolling action game where you piloted Sophia (the amazing tank!) through several areas of the vast underground collecting new abilities and weapons along the way. Blaster Master: Blasting Again continues this concept literally unchanged, save for the move to 3D. Now the view is behind Sophia, a la a driving game, but otherwise the gameplay is unchanged. Its all about shooting, jumping (yes, a jumping tank), and driving around underground. There are also sequences where Roddy (like Jason in the original) can exit Sophia and fight on foot, which also involves a lot of jumping and shooting.

At first glance Blaster Master: Blasting Again looks like a very shoddy game. It has blurry, washed-out graphics that look gross and dirty much of the time. I know the game is supposed to be underground and all, but this is no excuse for visuals this uninspiring. The original Blaster Master was memorable for its vivid and colorful world, and this sequel is weak in comparison especially when you consider than many of the locations in Blaster Master: Blasting Again are supposed to be reminiscent of the original. The gameplay also makes a very mediocre first impression. The camera-view is locked into either a high position or a low position that can only be changed by exiting the game. This basically means that you have to restart your game depending on whether you want to look up or down. And once you do get the hang of the camera you'll find that the "blasting" isn't as visceral as it could be. Sophia's starting weaponry isn't thrilling, and there isn't much to do at first besides chip away at weird plants, machines, and creatures with Sophia's basic pea-shooter while bouncing through ugly caves.

So the game sounds like it sucks, right? Well, not really. Its a lot more competent than it first appears. Although everything about it at first makes it seem slapped together, if you stick with it for about an hour or so you'll probably realize you're having fun. Sophia actually controls quite well in 3D, and you'll quickly agree that she's a pretty amazing tank. One nice addition is Sophia's ability to quickly dart to the left or right while either on the ground or in mid-jump. This can result in some fun and engaging battlefield acrobatics. It's hard not to feel satisfied after you dodge a missile in mid-air, spin around, and take out your opponent before you even hit the ground. Also, Sophia is upgraded as you go along by Elfie, your "spotter" and certified amazing tank technician. Although these upgrades don't amount to much in the way of strategy, they do offer plenty variety in how you choose to dispatch the enemy. Some of the upgrades (such as the "hover" and "sub" conversions) allow you do access new areas of the underworld, ala the original. The world of Blaster Master: Blasting Again is completely backtrackable, offering several locations that can be accessed off of a central "hub" location where the game begins. Basically, what this all amounts to is Metroid-on-wheels: a somewhat open-ended shoot-'em-up that progresses through ability upgrades and item-hunting.

Not that this is anything special. Honestly, there's nothing remarkable about the game other than the fact that it got made. If this game retailed at full-price I would not recommend it. However, considering the $9.99 price-tag I figure what the hell. Its the right price for a game that offers nothing more than mindless shooting backed by the nostalgia-factor of a dead franchise. I freely admit I played it for one reason and one reason only: the cheap buzz of playing a 32-bit Blaster Master sequel, and the fact that it turned out not to completely suck was just enough to sustain my interest for the money I spent. However, I imagine those who have never heard of Blaster Master will see it for what it is: a mediocre action game with horrid graphics that is only partially redeemed by a pretty amazing tank. Rating: 7 out of 10.

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