Head Games: Blaster Master (1988)
Just a story about a boy and his pet frog… and randomly placed crates of radioactive waste.
The year 1988 was a pretty good year for me… I just turned five, the Hubble Telescope was launched into space and Die Hard hit theaters subsequently providing my first encounter with the badass known as Bruce Willis. It was also the year I received my very first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and while games like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt seemed fun enough it was the first “new” game I received that really got me hooked: Blaster Master.
A gift from one of my aunts, the boxart featured a creature that would later become closer associated to the DOOM franchise and literally flung itself at me with it’s oddly askew “3D” graphics. Although I would discover that there weren’t any “3D” monsters in the actual game it didn’t much matter because 1) I was only 5 and 2) I got to kill stuff other than innocent birds.
Blaster Master starts off with little exposition, also great for my limited 5-yr old attention span, that uses a series of images to explain that you are playing as some boy (I later figured out his name was Jason) who chases his pet frog into a crate of radioactive waste and then down a hole in the earth where he finds a mysterious (and incredibly awesome) vehicle (SOPHIA) along with a special suit of armor. As any boy would do Jason puts on the suit, hops in the SOPHIA and sets out to find his lost frog… and kill hideous mutant freaks.
The one negative about playing the game when you’re that young is that Blaster Master is far from a linear gaming experience. In fact, it shares a lot in common with Legend of Zelda which I wouldn’t discover for another 3 years or so. Your main objective consists of exploring the each area of the world for upgrades to both your SOPHIA and yourself. While 65% of the game could be considered a side-scrolling adventure game, to progress through certain points in the game you also need to hop out and play in a top-down shooter mode to obtain the upgrades need to proceed including stronger guns and a “hover” mode.
Even going back to it now the game is extremely long if you’re going in without a guidebook and I don’t think that I’ve ever actually completed the entire game, though I’ve seen people who have (eventually you do get to fight the rad-looking monster from the cover). The difficulty level falters between relatively easy on the platforming parts and frustratingly difficult on the third person boss fights like the giant crab you encounter in Level 5. As several others have pointed out the lack of save points or level passwords, even in the Wii version, can be a real bummer. Luckily the Wii can “save” a state of the game when you quit, but you’re still limited to only a few continues.
While I’ll fondly remember Blaster Master for broadening my gaming horizons, it’s entertainment value slowly fades as the game progresses. What begins as a fun adventure to save your pet frog quickly dissolves into a pattern of driving, shooting, and upgrading until the game is over.