When you get to be my age, you tend to look back on your early gaming years with a sense of nostalgia. I yearn to return to those days of innocence when all it took was two buttons and a directional pad to play games. One title from my youth that holds a special place in my heart is the NES classic Blaster Master.
I have fond memories of the critically acclaimed mix of side-scrolling platforming and overhead shooter gameplay that made the game so popular back in the day. When Sunsoft announced it was releasing a spiritual successor to it on WiiWare, entitled Blaster Master Overdrive, I was extremely excited to have a chance to relive my childhood. Sometimes though, it’s best to leave those fond memories of your youth in the past.
The first thing that you’ll notice about Blaster Master Overdrive is that it was designed from the ground up to look, feel, and sound like a 16-bit version of the original. This is a perfect design choice in my opinion, since if this was an actual sequel it would have been released on the SNES.
If you’ve never played Blaster Master, here’s a quick history lesson. The game itself is essentially a Metroid clone, with a large side-scrolling world map divided up into eight different areas.
When the game begins you only have access to the first area, but once you defeat that level’s boss, you obtain a special ability that allows you to move on to the next area. Just like in Metroid there is a lot of backtracking to be done, and you constantly find yourself revisiting old sections of the game to gain access to new areas.
In Blast Master Overdrive, you play as a biologist named Alex, who’s trying to save the entire world from an evil virus that turns plants and animals into flesh eating monsters. Alex is the best choice for the job because “he specializes in viral mutation profiles and genetic manipulation”. He also just happens to have a huge tank at his disposal, called S.O.P.H.I.A., and a slew of kick-ass hand cannons. I guess in the future all biologists are this heavily armed.
The vast majority of the game is played as a side-scrolling shooter/adventure, with Alex driving S.O.P.H.I.A. around the world map, killing any mutated organisms that get in his way. Occasionally, he gets to jump out and venture by foot into caves which are spread throughout the map. These sections switch to an overhead view and contain completely different types of enemies and gameplay, which is a nice change of pace, keeping things feeling fresh.
In these overhead sections you’ll get a chance to find weapon and health upgrades to make Alex a more lethal biological killing machine. This is also where you’ll fight all eight of the game’s bosses, who drop upgrades kits for S.O.P.H.I.A. once they’re defeated. These kits give your tank the ability to hover, climb walls, and even grapple hook to higher ledges. You can also obtain health and energy upgrades for S.O.P.H.I.A., but these are found spread around the world map.
For the most part, Blaster Master Overdrive is a fun, old-school style game, which starts out strong. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart the further you get into it, thanks to poor controls and a difficulty level that’s off the charts.
The main problem with the controls is that the game forces you to use the WiiMote tilted on its side like an old NES control pad. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if you only had to use the directional pad and the 1 and 2 buttons, but the game also requires you to use the A button to switch weapons and the B trigger to lock your character’s direction in place.
Trying to use the B trigger on the back of the WiiMote with your left index finger has to be one of the most aggravating and painful control mechanisms ever designed. It’s far enough away that you have to hold your finger in an awkward position to use it, which causes your hand to cramp up. It’s also just close enough that you accidentally push it from time to time, which can be detrimental to your characters health when in a tough fire fight.
There is simply no reason to endure all this pain and suffering when the controls would work out perfectly on the Wii Classic Controller. I simply don’t understand why Sunsoft forces the use of the WiiMote. It doesn’t help that the controls were also a bit sluggish. My commands always seemed to register just a little bit late.
The other major problem with the game is its extremely hard difficulty level that invokes the controller throwing tendencies many titles were known for back in the 8-bit days. Now I don’t typically mind hard games where a difficult section requires memorization or the player to be more skillful.
What I hate is artificial difficulty, such as a boss that throws out 100 bullets and only gives you half a second to respond and no room to dodge them. Most of the bosses in Blaster Master Overdrive are exactly like this, and it really just brings the fun factor of the game way down. I have to admit I threw my controller across the room many times, as it took me almost 2 hours of repeated attempts to beat the level 6 boss.
Another problem that can get annoying is the 16-bit music from certain levels. For the most part I liked the soundtrack, but there were just some levels that made my ears bleed. I went out of my way to avoid backtracking into area 4 strictly because I thought I would lose my mind if I had to hear that horrendous music one more time. The dull minor tones still ring painfully in my head.
Blaster Master Overdrive is not the stroll down memory lane I was hoping for. Its sluggish and awkward controls, mixed with an unyielding level of difficulty and some horrible music, make for a painful experience that most won’t be able to endure. Only the most hardcore should venture into these dangerous waters.
The game completely succeeds in emulating the old-school feel of the original Blaster Master. The 16-bit visuals and music make it feel like a true spiritual SNES successor.
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The classic mix of side-scrolling and overhead shooter gameplay is tarnished thanks to horrible controls and an artificially unfair level of difficulty.
The classic 16-bit soundtrack feels perfectly in place, but some of the tracks from certain levels can get really annoying. The sound effects are also overused.
While the gameplay timer at the end read 5+ hours, that didn’t account for the 2-3 extra hours lost to deaths. When all is said and done, there is absolutely no reason to endure the pain again.
Blaster Master Overdrive could have been a great trip down memory lane, but instead the road is blocked by sluggish, physically painful controls and an extremely high level of difficulty that makes the experience a dreadful one.