I was pretty good at Blaster Master in my youth. Not great—I never actually finished it despite trying all through middle school—but it was a favorite among my collection of NES games, and one I still think of fondly. I was vaguely aware that the Blaster Master franchise continued after I’d left it behind, but I never really looked too deeply down that rabbit hole until the demo for Blaster Master Zero 3 appeared on my Steam feed as I selected titles for our 12-day extravaganza. Turns out that not only has Blaster Master lived on, but it’s still alive three and a half decades after I ejected my venerable cartridge for the last time.
Obviously it had to be one of the games I’d try out. How often do you get to revisit a beloved childhood icon and see how it’s doing for itself?
Pro and con list…
Pro: it’s clear that Blaster Master Zero 3 is basically still Blaster Master. Same lead characters, now surrounded by a sprawling cast of new names. Same mechanics, now enhanced with decades of additional complexity. Same lore, involving a kid named Jason (now grown), his pet frog (not sure if it’s a very decrepit frog or if Jason got a new one), and an experimental super-tank called S.O.P.H.I.A. that somebody left parked in a cave near Jason’s childhood home.
Con: while Blaster Master is essentially unchanged, I am 35 years older. My hands are also 35 years older. My reflexes are 35 years slower. Everything hurts 35 years more.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I barely managed 35 minutes of Blaster Master Zero 3 before the pain in my hands went from merely excruciating to something best described as a true harmonic miracle of agony.
Given that Blaster Master was such an important game in my childhood, I thought I’d have a lot to say about this demo. But all I really can say with certainty is that my hands hurt, and I am old. Video games and anime tanks may never die, but middle-aged gamers develop osteoarthritis.
The story of the original Blaster Master is as follows:
- Jason (kid)
- Fred (frog)
- Fred escapes his aquarium, bounds out the back door with Jason in pursuit, and leaps onto a barrel of toxic waste (it was the Eighties, people kept drums of toxic waste in their yards)
- Toxic waste causes Fred to become a Very Large Frog Indeed (not like Godzilla large, but pretty big for a frog; like maybe a Volkswagen)
- Fred hops into a cave and disappears (as giant rad-frogs do)
- Jason follows, stumbles on a futuristic ultra-experimental modular battletank with the keys in the ignition, steals it, and roars off into a mutant-infested cave world to rescue his pet (it occurs to me now that I never wondered why Jason knew how to pilot S.O.P.H.I.A.)
Eat your heart out, BioWare!
I’m not sure how many Blaster Master games have come and gone since the first. My guess is at least a million, because though the Zero 3 demo tried to bring me up to speed on what’s happened in the Blaster Master cinematic universe, I got lost by the fourth page of text. Here’s what I was able to piece together:
- Jason is older than he was
- The tank is called G-SOPHIA now
- There are other SOPHIA tanks
- There is a planet called “Sophia” where the tanks live
- Mutants are still a problem
- Jason and some other people and maybe some aliens fight them
- There’s a girl or maybe a girl alien named Eve (update: a visit to BlasterMaster-Zero.com reveals that Eve is a robot girl; and for some reason, despite robots not needing breasts, Eve has astonishingly large ones)
That’s it. After that I just hit B and went to the main menu, because the recap was showing no sign of winding down. (Another update: BlasterMaster-Zero.com indicates that G-SOPHIA is a new tank, not the same one Jason stole borrowed in my NES game. No word on the fate of the original)
Then the game started, and I learned just how old I really am.
I can’t say much about the demo because it physically hurt me to play it. Blaster Master Zero 3 looks like a lot of fun, but it’s definitely a young person’s game. A game for someone with speedy reflexes and young knuckles. Not a game for a doughy 46 year old who never even finished the original NES cart.
Not only is my body too broken down to play Blaster Master Zero 3, my brain is also. Both the Blaster Master of my youth and the cruel Blaster Master Zero 3 of my dotage belong to the the “Metroidvania” style, requiring fast reflexes and a steel-trap memory. These days, I have neither. “Metroidvania” is an annoying smush word I’ve never liked, but it’s easier to say than “semi-linear open world 2D parallax scrolling action platformer.” I liked them a lot when I was a kid, but I steer clear of them now. I find navigating those worlds intimidating. A few minutes with Blaster Master Zero 3 reminded me why.
I’d really like to play this game, because everything about it brought back memories of the original. The bright 16-bit pixel art, the peppy chiptune soundtrack, and even what little I saw of the level design seem perfectly, powerfully faithful. I could even get into the story, I bet, as overwrought and absurd as it’s clearly become, because it’d remind me of my childhood.
But you can’t go back, I suppose. Most of the games I downloaded for our Dozen Days of Demo are WASD shooters and management sims, with maybe the odd RPG tossed in. I’m delighted to discover that there’s still a place for games like Blaster Master Zero 3, and only a little disappointed that it’s not a place I can go. For the rest of you, give it a try and let me know how it works out with Jason and the frog and tits robot and the tank and whatever else the hell is happening.
My hands hurt so bad right now.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is developed and published by Inti Creates. It will be released on PC, Switch, Xbox One/X/S, and PlayStation 4 on July 29.
Email the author of this post at Steerpike@Tap-Repeatedly.com.