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by Paul Brownlee - August 20th, 2006

Jason Frudnick was your normal teenaged kid living in a seemingly average suburban neighborhood, who happened to have a pet frog named Fred. Unbeknownst to him, one day a chain of events would occur to forever change his life. As he was playing around with Fred, the frog spontaneously decided to hop out of its glass cage and flee outside, causing Jason to give chase. Fred made his way to the radioactive container in the middle of Jason's yard, which caused him to grow to freakishly huge size. He then proceeded to jump down the nearby huge hole in the ground that led deep under the earth. Jason, completely unconcerned about why there's a giant radioactive container sticking out of his front yard or how deep the unusually large hole is, continues his chase and follows the enlarged Fred down the hole. Somehow surviving the fall, Jason finds himself in a cave of some sorts. There was no sign of his dead frog, yet he discovered a shiny new battle tank just sitting there, as if it were waiting for his appearance. Again, not one to ask questions, Jason put on the battle armor inside the tank and drove out of the cave into the vast underground world outside, determined to get his beloved frog back.

And it was that preposterous story that marked the beginning of one of the greatest video game adventures around, Blaster Master. Known as Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight ("Super Planet War Records: Metafight") in Japan, Blaster Master is an example of the cross-pollination of two different styles of gaming. Part of the game is a straightforward, action side-scroller. In these parts, you control your tank, Sophia the 3rd (or the "Metal Attacker" in Japan), armed with a potent cannon that can fire in front or above, and a jump that can rival Super Mario's. In a unique feature for platformers at the time, you can actually choose to get out of the tank and fight on foot, though this is usually the quickest way to get your ass handed to you, since your gun sucks and you're extra weak in the overworld.

At first, your tank is very limited as to what places it can reach, and requires the assistance of equipment expansions in order for progress to be made. This is where the game's second aspect comes in and serves as the primary reason you'll need to get out of your vehicle. Throughout each area's main sections are doors small enough for only a human to fit. These doors lead to overhead, dungeon crawling sections (similar to the original Legend of Zelda or Link to the Past). Most doors lead to dungeons that are dead ends, and may only be useful as quick power-up spots, but one door contains the lair to the area's boss, and is regularly hidden in the area's most out of the way location. Defeating the boss earns you a new part for Sophia, allowing it to bypass whatever obstacle currently prevents you from going to the next area.

Your character has a separate health meter from the tank, and a gun meter in the overhead rooms. Your main gun starts off pretty weak, but by collecting the appropriate icons, it can be made significantly more powerful as your gun meter fills. Getting hit however, not only causes you to lose health, but a unit of gun energy as well. You also have a secondary weapon in the form of a close range, yet powerful grenade, useful for dealing with stronger enemies when your main gun is in a weakened state.

Blaster Master's presentation of platform jumping and "shoot everything that moves" style play, combined with exploration-focused adventuring, caused it to become one of the more popular cult hits among gamers. To capitalize on Blaster Master's appeal, its creator, Sunsoft, released a number of follow ups. They contained the basic gameplay elements described above, while adding their own little expansions and/or changing some existing things. Each have varying levels of success as far as playability, but none were quite able to recapture the popularity of the original. As of this writing, there are five games in the Blaster Master series.

Blaster Master (NES)

Blaster Master: Enemy Below (GBC)


Blaster Master / Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight (超惑星戦記メタファイ) - NES, PlayStation, Wii Virtual Console, 3DS Virtual Console (1988)

American NES Cover

Japanese Famicom Cover

When Blaster Master was released in the late 80's, games that attempted to blend multiple genres weren't all that common. Frankly, they still really aren't today. Blaster Master pulled it off superbly, and the only other game I can think of at the time that matched its effort is The Guardian Legend. As described in detail from the article intro, you basically spend your time in each area looking for the door leading to the boss's dungeon. Then, after killing the boss, you use the new ability your tank receives to search for the entrance to the next area. To keep things delightfully fresh, Blaster Master has some aspects that break up this rudimentary style of play. Several areas are non-linear, meaning the entrance to the next area may not even be in the area you're currently in, as some areas have multiple entrance doors. For instance, once you beat the Area 3 boss, you have to do some drastic backtracking through already visited areas to find the entrance to Area 4. Blaster Master also likes to occasionally force you out of your tank for certain stretches of the area's overworld parts. In one of the game's harsher moments, when you initially enter the water stage, Area 5, you find that your tank is ill equipped to maneuver underwater. The minute you jump in the water, it promptly sinks to the ocean floor like a rock. Eventually, you have to get out and swim through a good portion of the area to the boss's dungeon and, if you survive the boss, go all the way back. Not to mention while on the way, you have to deal with annoying humanoid/fish enemies that not only move around better underwater, but have better guns than you.

The graphics in Blaster Master are very nice looking for an earlier NES game, featuring an impressive level of detail and animation. Each area has its own visual theme, from the typical fire, water, ice, etc. world look, to the more unique like Area 2's old English castle theme. To detract from this a little, things tend to slow down when more sprites appear on the screen, a problem shared by many other NES games. Blaster Master also has a great soundtrack, featuring some technically advanced sounding NES music. The most notable thing about the music is how each song conveys the mood and atmosphere of each area with uncanny accuracy. The best song in the game, Area 1's theme (what could be regarded as the "Main Theme"), has a beginning part that perfectly matches the area's short intro scene of you taking off out of the cave into the the actual level, and a follow up melody that does much to inspire you to explore the strange world you see before you and find that damn frog of yours.

Blaster Master will provide you with plenty of challenge. To beat the entire game, you're only given three lives with no opportunity to earn more, and a short supply of credits. Depending on your preparedness (meaning: gun level), bosses can be tough customers, though several can be easily bypassed by taking advantage of the infamous grenade pausing trick (simply hit "start" when the grenade is exploding). On top of it all, those not familiar with the locations of where things are will probably get lost easily, and the traps and enemies spread around each area will be more likely to kill you during the search for the next destination.

There isn't much else to remark about from here, Blaster Master is simply an excellent game. As a testament to its greatness, the game remains just as engaging as it was when it came out all those years ago, making it a strong candidate for one of those rare games you'll pick up and replay through every now and then.

The difference between the English and Japanese versions are small; however, Metafight has a completely different story. To summarize, your character is Kane Gardner, who uses the Metal Attacker to fend off the invasion of planet Sophia by the evil emperor Goez. Since, unlike Blaster Master, Metafight lacks an intro sequence, the only indication of the story difference in game is from the Area 1 beginning animation, where the tank takes off from a base-like structure rather than from a cave. However, the final boss is different, as are some of the ending graphics. Metafight was later re-released in Japan on the PlayStation, as part of Sunsoft's memorial disc compilations.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sunsoft

Publisher:

Sunsoft

Designer:

Yoshiaki Iwata

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Lost in Space
Spelunking


Blaster Master (NES)

Blaster Master (NES)


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Additional Screenshots

Intro Screenshots

Comparison Screenshots


Blaster Master Boy / Blaster Master Jr. / Bomber King: Scenario 2 (ボンバーキング シナリオ2) - Game Boy (1991)

American Game Boy Cover

European Game Boy Cover

A less commonly known fact about Blaster Master Boy (or Blaster Master Jr. in Europe) is that it originally wasn't even part of the Blaster Master series. It started out as Bomber King: Scenario 2, a spin off game of Hudson's Bomberman series (the first Bomber King you may have played on the NES as Robo Warrior when it was released in the West). Strangely, Hudson's name doesn't appear anywhere on the Japanese version's title, but Sunsoft's does. One can assume Sunsoft must have noticed the similarity between Bomber King 2 and Blaster Master's overhead dungeons (not to mention how the main character sort of looked like Jason in his battle armor), and after some minor modifications, domesticated it as a Blaster Master game.

Aptly so, Blaster Master Boy is like a cross between Bomberman, and the dungeons in Blaster Master. Sophia isn't around this time, so you just control Jason through the whole game. You still have your gun to shoot enemies with, but instead of using grenades, you now plant bombs that can destroy scenery blocking your path or damage/kill things including yourself. In addition to obstructing scenery, there are various obstacles that hinder your progress, such as water, spikes, or darkness, and there are items you can collect that enable you to maneuver through these obstacles. You can also collect various other items that will improve your gun, armor, etc. or let you use bombs that have differing effects. Each substage has a key you need to find in order to reveal and open the room's exit. Eventually you reach the boss at the end of the stage and after beating him you move on to the next.

Graphics are typical for an early Game Boy game so don't expect anything eye popping. There isn't much music to be heard but its all very Hudson-like, particularly the reoccurring main stage theme which sounds oddly like the Stage 1 music from Starship Hector. A few spots in the game may give you trouble, but for the most part the game is straightforward and easy to get through. If you lose all of your lives, you can restart from the stage you died on as the game has unlimited continues. You can do a lot worse than Blaster Master Boy if you're looking for a Game Boy game to kill some time with. After finishing it though, it's doubtful that you'll ever give it a replay, since it's fairly unremarkable. All versions look and play the same besides the title changes.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Aicom

Publisher:

Sunsoft

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Lost in Space
Spelunking


Blaster Master Boy (Game Boy)

Blaster Master Boy (Game Boy)


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Additional Screenshots


Blaster Master 2 - Genesis (1993)

American Genesis Cover

Blaster Master 2 was released on the Genesis for Western audiences, but Sunsoft didn't do the development work themselves. It was licensed off to Software Creations, of Solstice/Equinox fame. Thanks to them, a true sequel to the original Blaster Master became a reality. Unfortunately, it isn't a very good one.

Your tank sports a new look and can now fire diagonally upward, otherwise it's pretty much the same. In the main parts of stages, you'll spend a lot more time out of the tank as Jason, and thankfully he's not quite as useless as he was in Blaster Master's overworlds. With Jason, you can fire in multiple directions, and shots from your gun travel farther. Furthermore, Sophia and Jason seem to function more like a single unit, since in Blaster Master 2, they both share the same life meter and gun upgrades. Doesn't sound too bad on paper, but Blaster Master 2 heavily degrades one of the things the original did spot on: play control. The control feels very stiff, and your tank does this annoying thing where it locks the cannon in the direction you push it, so you keep having to remember to manually bring the tank cannon back down as more enemies come at you on the screen. Also, many of the upgrades you get are pretty lame and poorly implemented.

The non-linearity of the original is nearly absent from Blaster Master 2. Each stage has a few doors for Jason (or Sophia) to enter and one door to the next stage. The stages come off as boring and uninspired. It's pretty easy to find where to go next, taking away from the exploration aspect of it all. Gone are the overhead dungeons of the original, and in there place are close up rooms of the main side scrolling areas. These aren't used often, only serving as battlegrounds for the enlarged Jason sprite to do battle with various bosses that cough up items when you kill them. Jason acts the same in these rooms as he does in the main parts of the stages, and he loses his grenade launcher. The worst of it however, are the new overhead tank sections you go to at the end of every stage that are more similar to the original's dungeons. The controls in these parts are especially bad. When you move and depress the directional buttons, the tank keeps sliding in said direction as if it were constantly on ice. It also bounces off walls like a pinball. On top of that, you have to use to the action buttons to adjust you turret and it turns very slowly. So basically, you spend the overhead areas clumsily sliding along and slamming off walls, while frantically trying to move your turret in the direction the group of enemies hammering you with ricocheting lasers and concussion missiles are located.

Graphics are okay for a later Genesis game, but they're hardly anything to sneeze at. Sometimes they can be overly detailed and blending, making it hard too see certain obstacles. The music is a hearty mix of meh and terrible, as many stage themes have annoying bleeps and bloops that sound less like actual music and more like random noises being crapped out of the Genesis's soundchip. Much of the game's difficulty comes from not being genuinely challenging, but from the game's rampant cheapness. Combined with the spotty controls and the lackluster feel the of the game, playing Blaster Master 2 will provide a very frustrating experience. Only the hardest of hardcore Blaster Master fans should ever give this game their time. For everyone else, just keep ignoring it like you probably have been doing.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Software Creations Ltd.

Publisher:

Sunsoft

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Lost in Space
Spelunking


Blaster Master 2 (Genesis)

Blaster Master 2 (Genesis)

Blaster Master 2 (Genesis)


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Additional Screenshots


Blaster Master: Enemy Below / Metafight EX (メタファイトEX) - Game Boy Color, 3DS Virtual Console (2000)

European GBC Cover

Japanese GBC Cover

Sunsoft left the Blaster Master franchise alone for years after the last game, hoping the bad taste Blaster Master 2 left was washed out of people's mouths by now. The release of Blaster Master: Enemy Below was somewhat sudden and something of a surprise. At first, BM:EB appears to be a carbon copy of the original Blaster Master. There are eight areas, and each of them look exactly the same as their respective Blaster Master counterparts. Sprites from Blaster Master are reused and even the music, although in lo-tech Game Boy form, is all taken from the original. However, underneath the surface, there are prominent differences. BM:EB is like a remixed version of the original; the area layouts are completely changed, and additions are added to make the game arguably longer and harder.

BM:EB adds a mandatory reason for you to go in dungeons other than the boss's. Each area's boss dungeon door is locked, and in order to gain access to them, you have to find a key (or later in the game, two keys) hidden in one of the other dungeons. Therefore, it's not enough just to find the boss's lair this time around. You still earn extra parts for you tank after defeating bosses, but now you can also collect optional parts for both Sophia and Jason. The extra parts are pretty helpful and make it a little easier to get through this pretty challenging game. As with Blaster Master 2, but not quite to that extent, you have to spend more time in the overworld as Jason, but you acquire an overworld gun upgrade for him later that makes him less wimpy.

There is one alteration to the controls in the dungeon sections; you can no longer move diagonally like in Blaster Master. Otherwise, the control is the same as the original. To keep the game from being too difficult, BM:EB has unlimited continues and a password feature so you can pick up where you left off at a later time. I like to think of BM:EB as the Blaster Master equivalent of the original Legend of Zelda's Second Quest. It looks and feels the same as the first, yet it's still something different from what you're used to. It's a solid game and a good revival title for the Blaster Master series, but it doesn't really offer anything truly "new" like an entirely fresh sequel would, especially to those who have played the first.

Metafight EX again has an entirely different story from BM:EB. While the latter deals with the continued adventures of Jason and Sophia, the former has something to do with monsters attacking again way after the first Metafight. Leonardo Gardner, the descendant of the original's Kane Gardner, is charged with the task of taking them out. This time, Metafight EX has it's own separate intro sequence to convey its story, and both games have slightly different ending sequences. As far as actually gameplay, both versions are the same thing.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sunsoft

Publisher:

Sunsoft

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Lost in Space
Spelunking


Blaster Master: Enemy Below (GBC)

Blaster Master: Enemy Below (GBC)


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Additional Screenshots

Intro Screenshots - American

Intro Screenshots - Japanese


Blaster Master: Blasting Again / Blaster Master (ブラスターマスター) - PlayStation, PSN (2001)

American PlayStation Cover

Japanese PlayStation Cover

Blaster Master: Blasting Again takes place several years after the sequels, where our hero Jason marries his girlfriend Eve (whom you may remember if you happened to read that Worlds of Power: Blaster Master novelization of Blaster Master's story. That stuff became canon at some point apparently). They eventually have two children and settle down, until the lightning beings and the plutonium boss, Jason's old underworld antagonists, return to cause trouble. Around this time, Eve and Jason pass away, leaving their teenaged son Roddy to carry on his father's legacy in the updated Sophia J9, assisted by his sister Elfie. Interestingly, Sunsoft chose to release the game in Japan as Blaster Master and eschew all previous Metafight continuity. I can only guess this was because Blaster Master had the more interesting storyline, or because Blaster Master was more popular in the west than Metafight was in Japan, and Sunsoft wanted to re-introduce the series to the Japanese as Blaster Master.

Similarly to other old game franchises, Blaster Master's foray into the 32-bit realm resulted in an upgrade to 3D graphics. Everything is now in third-person perspective, and a camera follows your movements. Unfortunately, the graphics are sub-par and have aged terribly, due to some extreme pixellization, and there's a lot of loading between transferring to new rooms. The camera can be clunky and disorienting, often not focusing on areas you want it to and zooming in and out annoyingly. Also, the control feels a little off at first, taking some time to adjust to. It's kinda hard to hit enemies since there's no real targeting system. If you can get used to all these things, the game becomes more tolerable gameplay wise.

Unlike in previous Blaster Master games, you tank starts with only one side weapon, and others are activated a little later in the game. The side weapons can be upgraded to increase their capacity and power. Your tank (and Roddy also) has a new strafing dash jump that is useful for dodging enemy fire, activated by using the shoulder buttons. Roddy still has the upgradeable gun, but instead of a grenade launcher, he has a napalm attack that acts like a bomb and creates mini explosions around the area the napalm was planted. In addition, by pressing the appropriate button, Roddy can activate Hypersonic mode, which has him temporarily spaz around the dungeon room at high speeds, destroying everything in his path. Use of the Hypersonic is limited by a meter that must be recharged after each time it is enabled. Roddy's dungeon upgrades are applicable to the overworld, so he can use his gun at its current power level, napalm, and the Hypersonic there too. Bosses are fought by Sophia or Roddy alone, and usually have multiple parts you can destroy. The bosses, along with most of the enemies, aren't easy, but shouldn't be too tough to beat. The game is longer than previous Blaster Master games, and to reflect this, there are numerous save points scattered around. The music isn't anything to write home about, but still remains decent. Most of them are either rock or techno inspired, and some even revisit themes from the original Blaster Master.

It's doubtful that BM:BA will end up on anyone's favorite games list, but it's not as bad as one would think, especially considering that it initially retailed in America for $10. If you don't have anything else more pressing to play, and are willing to spend a meager amount of cash, it might be worth your time to give this game a try.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Sunsoft

Publisher:

Sunsoft (NA)
Crave Entertainment (NA)

Genre:

Action: 3rd Person
Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Lost in Space
Spelunking


Blaster Master: Blasting Again (PlayStation)

Blaster Master: Blasting Again (PlayStation)

Blaster Master: Blasting Again (PlayStation)


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Additional Screenshots


Due to financial difficulties, Sunsoft withdrew from the western market at the turn of the century, around the time Blaster Master: Blasting Again was released. Since then, all they've been up to really is making Pachinko games, and due to their relative inactivity, the Blaster Master series has gone on hiatus once again. Perhaps if nostalgia rises again, Blaster Master will be graced with another revival in the future. Special thanks to the Blaster Master Underground for providing information about Metafight/Metafight EX's storyline, and ReyVGM for the ending comparison pics.

Blaster Master (NES)




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