Blaster Master Zero is a re-imagining of the original Blaster Master for the NES. It follows the same basic structure of the original, and keeps many of its gameplay themes, while changing the core gameplay loop considerably, and for the better. While it features retro graphics, this isn’t the kind of game designed to mimic what people think the original game was like through nostalgia-tinted memories. This is something new, an expansion of a good game idea into something much more modern and interesting.
The core idea of Blaster Master was that you adventured through eight areas, earning an upgrade for your jumping tank vehicle in each of the first seven. These upgrades opened new paths in a semblance of what would come to be known as the Metroidvania style. Even though the areas are not connected in direct order, the game still plays out in a linear fashion. Blaster Master Zero does not change this, but it does expand on it by giving you a variety of new upgrades. Further embracing the genre it foresaw, many upgrades take the form of selectable weapons or powers, giving the game a touch of a Super Metroid feel.
In addition to expanding on Blaster Master’s basic ideas, Blaster Master Zero refines a number of the issues that game had. Instead of having three sub-weapons with limited and independent ammo, your vehicle now has one auto-regenerating power meter that powers all sub-weapons as well as its flight powers. This mechanic works wonderfully well, and the weapons are well-tuned and will find a lot of use. Hovering (and the alternative multi-jumping) are easier than ever, and gone are the days of scouring the map for a powerup if you run out of energy at the wrong time.
Perhaps more importantly in terms of correcting its predecessor’s flaws, the gun power system has been reworked. There are still eight levels of gun power, and you still lose a level each time you are hit in one of the overhead sections, but now each level corresponds to a different weapon, and you can find a device early on that lets you ignore one hit to your gun power every few seconds. The result is that the top-down combat is much more tactical, rather than being frustrating. In addition, grenades have been expanded to a set of sub-weapons. Each is limited in use, though refills are quite common, and they all have their own purpose. Combined with save points in these areas, the top-down sections are no longer the part of the game the player will learn to dread.
By correcting the flaws of a game with such a great core concept, Blaster Master Zero emerges as a great little game. It’s fairly short, and the save system makes it far easier than the NES game was, but there are several modes to tackle once you’re done. Whether you want an extra challenge or just want to blow by everything, you can do that. There is even DLC for alternate characters to change things up.
If you were a fan of Blaster Master, I highly recommend picking up Blaster Master Zero. This goes double if you could never actually finish the original. This is basically the perfect modern version of that game. It even added much more story, notable because it somehow managed to combine the mythologies of several totally distinct versions of the original game. (Which is to say, it’s not an amazing story, but its existence is worthy of praise.) If you’ve never played Blaster Master, you should still give this a shot. Playing as a rolling, jumping tank is just fun.