Preserving Ideas with Blaster Master Zero II

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  • Sometimes, ideas come out of left field and coagulate into something truly unique. This happened all the time in the NES era, with downright weird ideas, incomprehensible visual design, and bold mashups. All three apply to Blaster Master for the NES, a game that combined side scrolling tank action and top-down on-foot combat to create one of the more memorable gaming experiences of the era. Of course, that’s not to say it’s a perfect experience. The tank portions of the game are undeniably better than the on-foot top-down parts, perhaps to the point where taking the latter out would make for a better game, but doing so is missing the point of Blaster Master. The NES era was a time of wild experimentation, and the ideas contained within Blaster Master are worth preserving. That’s why Blaster Master Zero II is such an important release: It gives ideas that deserve to be remembered a home and a future.

    Picking up where developer and publisher Sunsoft left off, pixel specialists IntiCreates chose to preserve both sides of the Blaster Master coin by including both halves of the formula, albeit in updated forms. You still pilot a tank in the side-scrolling sections and get out of the tank for top-down shenanigans, but the latter has been given a much-needed boost thanks to special moves that let you counterattack enemies in different ways and a plethora of different guns that you gain access to for not getting hit, not to mention creative bosses in this viewpoint. It’s a far cry from the old Blaster Master and lesser successor Fester’s Quest.

    The thing is, the top-down part of Blaster Master still doesn’t make a convincing case that it’s as essential as its superior tank parts. Your evasion options are still incredibly limited, making movement during combat clunky. And being limited to the lower level weapons can leave you in a lurch against some of the more powerful bosses in the game. It’s still awkward, but you know what? It’s still a necessary part of the Blaster Master DNA, and honoring its history and contributions means reckoning with all of what Blaster Master is. And the welcome improvements do just that while moving the idea forward, if only a little bit.

    But rethinking the weakest part of Blaster Master isn’t the only way the game’s ideas are moved forward. Blaster Master Zero II rethinks the structure of the game in a way that completely suits the original’s design. Blaster Master featured a set number of levels, with a fair bit of exploring them along the way. Zero II takes that to its logical conclusion by giving the game a bit of a metroidvania feel, dividing up levels into planets on a galactic overworld for you to explore. You find maps and gate keys that will move you on to new areas, and you’ll often find yourself backtracking to find something new as you progress, though only a little bit. When you deeply examine this new structure, it’s not really so removed from the original game’s, but it feels like it has more room to breathe with the new one, more rewarding exploration thanks to the more open nature of the spacefaring conceit and permanent upgrades you can find in the universe. Blaster Master Zero II moves the original game’s ideas forward while honoring the spirit of the original’s execution.

    If IntiCreates were to merely recreate Blaster Master with modern balancing and aesthetics, that would be enough to preserve the memory of the original game’s ideas. But ideas aren’t static things. They’re meant to grow and evolve with time and hindsight, and Blaster Master Zero II is the perfect example of this. It isn’t enough to remember great ideas. You have to nurture them and let them grow with you. IntiCreates found a way to honor the original Blaster Master of the past while giving it a home here in the present, making it the studio’s best work by far.

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