Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Lost Classic Shifts Into Overdrive... The Blaster Master Overdrive Review

If you were around in the NES days, chances are you played a game called Blaster Master. This beloved classic by Sunsoft was definitely something for the time starring a tank that jumps. It was also a difficult game in the day where a game over screen starts you over from the beginning. Even though it eventually grew into a franchise in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, games that followed never really topped the original. Fast forward to this year and Sunsoft has recently returned into the gaming landscape with a re-release of the original NES Blaster Master on the Wii's Virtual Console service. However, they didn't stop there as they are bringing back the franchise to its original roots with Blaster Master Overdrive on WiiWare. Overdrive is indeed faithful to the original in terms of overall feel and still challenging, but more forgiving. It will provide great nostalgia for those that loved the original while giving new gamers to appreciate a franchise that influenced games like the Assault Heroes franchise.

Blaster Master Overdrive feels like a remake of sorts to the original maintaining its 2D feel while keeping up with modern times. There is a simple story of why you play as a upgradeable tank to save the world from a virus that has decimated humanity. The structure is done "Metroidvania" style (slang term for those that loved Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) in terms of progression in which there are eight areas and most of them can not be accessed without the proper equipment with the S.O.P.H.I.A. tank. There are bosses to defeat within each area on-foot rather than using the tank in order to gain upgrades such as a grappling hook and a drill. It is indeed still a formula that works in today's world of gaming giving players a sense of exploration finding everything they can improve their chances of beating the game such as scattered health and energy upgrades. The tank sections are the major drawing point of the game and they are fun just to go around especially when upgraded. Unlike the original where one death equals a start over from the beginning, Overdrive now has save points in the on-foot sections, which makes things forgiving, but also still frustrating when some save points are too scattered out of the overworld map especially before fighting a boss.

The gameplay still has the same proceed with caution type of approach as playing both the tank and on-foot sections recklessly will result in a quick death. Even with your on-foot character is has upgraded their three weapons (a laser, a spread gun, and a grenade launcher) beyond the first level to even its max, one hit drops their weapon one level, which totally goes along with playing the game cautiously. For the duration of the game, I have to take my time going through every room slowly expecting anything and not affording to get hit losing my weapon upgrades because they make a huge difference especially in boss fights. As I mentioned before, this game follows the Metroidvania formula and you can not reach a certain area out of the gate, there will be a upgrade later on that will let you go reach that area easily. I do want to also take note of the controls in Overdrive where it is only the Wiimote sideways keeping faithful to the NES original. They work well for the tank sections, but I had a harder time with the controls in the on-foot sections. When on-foot, the B button, which is strafing, is your best friend when you are in tough spots. Without strafing, it will be difficult coming out of the later on-foot sections alive especially when certain areas and boss fights will provide bullet hell-like sequences like those insane 2D shumps.

Blaster Master Overdrive definitely looks like a modernized 16-bit game with the occassional varied backgrounds as the eight areas. You got your standard water level, fire level, and ice level, and so on as they look fine. The bosses look bigger than they were in the original even though there is some lack of variety with them in which you have to fight some bosses more than once. The explosion effects are okay, but not great when enemies get defeated. As for the sound, the music sounds fine as well as the theme song is modernized for the current generation. Some of the background music do annoy me like the one in the third area as if it felt out of place in a game like this. The other sound effects on the other hand are great from drilling the opposition to "spider walking" up the walls.

For a normal run of Blaster Master Overdrive, it will take players about eight to nine hours to beat especially if they want to get every health and energy upgrade in the eight areas. I simply enjoyed the game as a nostalgia trip to the 8-bit and 16-bit days even though it still provides a decent challenge yet more forgiving with the addition of save points. The controls can get frustrating at times as well as starting pain with your hands if you're playing for a long stretch of time. Other control options like the Classic Controller and Nunchuk would be nice to see, but I can see why the developers want to keep it fully faithful to the original. For 1000 Wii Points (ten dollars), this game is definitely worth adding to your WiiWare library. Sunsoft is off to a great start bringing back the Blaster Master franchise for old-school gamers to enjoy and it is only just the beginning of the comeback for the S.O.P.H.I.A. tank.

Score = 8/10

  • Faithful remake to the original retaining the "Metroidvania" formula.
  • Save points make the game more forgiving, but still a challenge.
  • Tank sections are great especially when upgraded moving down the opposition.
  • On-foot sections can be frustrating at times especially trying to be very cautious keeping your weapons intact as well as control issues.
  • Lack of controller options (only playable with the Wiimote sideways)
  • Some of the music feels out of place, but still a decent modernized soundtrack

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