Blaster Master Zero looks way better than it has any right to

Yesterday, Nintendo hosted an event to show off a bunch of upcoming Switch games from independent studios, and I do mean a bunch. I wasn’t there to see it, since they had to go and show off their lineup before I made my way to Game Developers Conference. It’s a shame, because I kind of feel like this lineup was specifically constructed with my tastes and interests in mind.

One game in particular has especially caught my eye: Blaster Master Zero from Inti Creates. Just gaze upon this majesty:

Zero isn’t news, precisely; it was announced for 3DS and Wii U last year. This is the first time I’ve seen this much footage of it in a single spot, however, and the fact that it’s not only coming to Switch but will be doing so next week definitely qualifies as a Rad Development.

I admit to having been pretty unenthused about Zero until seeing this trailer. There have been quite a few attempts to re-bottle the lightning that was the original Blaster Master, and none of them have ever quite worked out. Inti Creates certainly has the chops to put together a game like this — the name Blaster Master Zero hints at the studio’s breakout title, Mega Man Zero — but the question is, do they get what made Blaster Master work?

It’s hard to say until I actually play the game (which will happen next week apparently!?), but everything in this trailer suggests they’ve sorted all their ducks into proper rows. The only real question is, will the returning top-down sections include the original game’s power-drain mechanic, wherein you lose offensive strength along with health any time you take damage? Honestly, that was one of the must punitive game design choices I’ve ever witnessed and turns the original Blaster Master into a brutal, borderline-unfair slog. It’s one of the very few NES games I owned back in the day but never managed to complete, ultimately sputtering out a couple of times against the second form of the final boss before abandoning all hope for the rest of eternity. Battletoads? Crushed it. Dracula’s Curse? Beat it with all three companions and Trevor solo. Every Mega Man? Cake. Life Force? One-life wins. Ninja Gaiden? Blasted through without a single continue. But Blaster Master… man, screw that game.

Assuming Inti Creates doesn’t go hardcore on this one (the prospects of which don’t fill me with optimism; the original Mega Man Zero‘s cyber-elf and ranking system beats out even Blaster Master‘s power drain mechanic for cruelty), this could be the game to finally give us the Blaster Master follow-up we’ve deserved for nearly 30 years. And I couldn’t be happier about that. Despite my frustration at never finishing the game, I found Blaster Master really fascinating; it even inspired me to create my own trading card series, MUTANTS, which was basically a bunch of weird monsters you’d have fought in the game… and also some dad jokes, decades before my time (incl. “Mario Poppins” and “Rambozo”). Seeing Blaster Master given what appears to be a proper treatment all these years later warms my heart.

Zero seems to take the elements of Blaster Master and recreate them in a bigger, more ridiculously bold fashion without succumbing to aesthetic mismatch. The game looks too good to have run on NES hardware, but Inti are pros and don’t do that awful thing you see in a lot of retro-inspired software in which you have NES-caliber elements combined with out-of-place high-resolution visual components. Instead, they’ve gone with a decidedly PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 look here: Better color depth and sprite detail than NES, but not quite at a Genesis or Super NES level. The color choices and heavy black outlining absolutely nail the PC Engine “look,” and aside from the smoothness of the animation, number of interactive elements being thrown around, and the widescreen layout, this really looks like a Blaster Master game you might have played on TurboGrafx circa 1991 right before NEC gave up on America.

Anyway, you can bet your sweet bippy there’ll be a review of the game here sometime soon. The game debuts on Switch next Thursday, March 9.

20 Comments

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20 Responses to Blaster Master Zero looks way better than it has any right to

  1. Patrick Garlotte

    I watched this trailer and was sold immediately! I’ll be picking this up next week on my Switch. I watched a 16-minute gameplay video this morning and it appears that you do still lose power when you take a hit. However, it looks like each notch on your gun power meter gives you access to a different type of shot, such as a shotgun or a flamethrower, which you can swap between on the fly. When you take a hit, you lose one block of your gun power meter and therefore lose the access to that tier of weapon until you can find another power up. This doesn’t seem nearly as punitive as the original game.

  2. Super Boy Allan

    I still need to beat the original. Unfortunately, though, I have a copy of Chubby Cherub in my NES and I’ve committed myself to finishing a complete loop of that game before going on to something else.

    No continues on Ninja Gaiden? I commend you. What was your solution to “that freakin’ bird” in 6-2?

    • Repeated play until it became an automatic reflex. The real challenge is making it through two phases of the final battle without dying.

      • I guess that’s the youtube.com/talbot1939 method…which, to this day, I refuse to believe is a real person.

        He has beaten, essentially, every SMS game without being touched. Inhuman.

  3. Sven

    The original’s flaws are easy enough to address:

    1. ANY SORT OF SAVE SYSTEM. The original was one of the cruelest “one sitting” NES games (up there with Batman – maybe it was a Sunsoft thing?)

    2. Selectable difficulty, which I’m sure we’ll get.

    There, done.

  4. I recently asked Sunsoft’s chief director about Zero. I’m working on a video series about the history of Sunsoft and actually got some interesting answers. If anyone reading this are interested in hearing about it please DM @gazimaluke on Twitter.
    And yes the original Blaster Master is to hard.

  5. Also noteworthy: the remake is leaning *quite* overtly into the Worlds of Power version of the story, rather than whatever the original Japanese game was actually about (extra weird considering the new super-anime artwork!). I mean, I knew that over time this franchise had sort of shrugged and accepted that as the canon, but it’s wild to see it so front-and-center in this trailer.

    Will F.X. Nine get a story credit??

    • discord_inc

      It’s so weird to me that of all the games that got a World of Power adaption it was Blaster Master that kinda canonized it. You’d have thought Metal Gear would be the one to include a reference to a kid-friendly version of his adventures, but I’m guessing Kojima never knew it existed.

  6. dc12

    I bought the Blaster Master cart from Gamestop last year but haven’t played too much of it. Time to practice!

  7. So, is the Switch super easy to develop for? It seems like in the last few weeks the floodgates have opened on titles coming to it, especially ports.

  8. Vic Vega

    “Battletoads? Crushed it. Dracula’s Curse? Beat it with all three companions and Trevor solo. Every Mega Man? Cake. Life Force? One-life wins. Ninja Gaiden? Blasted through without a single continue.”

    Based on viewing your recent gameplay videos, you’re either suffering from some severe mid-30s hand-eye reflex deterioration (man, getting older suuucks!), or a pretty foggy memory (in other words, proof or it didn’t happen =)).

    All teasing aside, though, really anticipating BM0, new Shovel Knight DLC, the Switch (in general), and any and all coverage of it by the Retronauts. Also loving the daily posts here (and looking forward to the new site redesign). I think there’s a real appetite out there for games of this era/aesthetic, Jeremy. Here’s hoping this gamble pays off for you in spades.

  9. econmara

    Oh man!!”!!

    After skipping the this generation of consoles I thought I was out for good…….but Nintendo are slowly pulling me back in!!!!

  10. Nathan Daniels

    Thanks for the news, Jeremy. I’m super excited about this….but you’re wrong: BMZ has every right to look as good as it wants to.

    In all seriousness, I didn’t play the original too much, so I don’t much remember the top down levels. I hadn’t realized how similar to Fester’s Quest it seems. That’s not intended to be an insult.

  11. Kevin

    I did go through Blaster Master a couple years ago myself with the help of some maps online. It is a brutal game for sure – you end up playing REALLY defensively in the overhead sections to defend the completely overpowered max level gun. As long as you can keep that those sections are a cakewalk and most bosses aren’t too bad, but otherwise? Oof. It’s also pretty helpful to keep in mind where you can max out your gun levels quickly and relatively if you do take a hit.

    This looks really cool, and I’m definitely going to pick it up. I recently gave Overdrive a whirl on the Wii, and it’s good and all… but this really hits all the right buttons to me.

  12. Kirin

    Ok, yeah, this is looking pretty super great. Here’s hoping it holds up! I”m not getting a launch switch so I’ll have time to see what people say about it.

  13. Jeremy Hopkins

    I wonder how many people will download it from the Japanese eshop especially since it looks like everything is already in english. Cool to see Waku waku 7 in the Neogeo section as well.

  14. Aron

    So…Eve? I know this dates me but we’re including characters from the FX Nine books? That makes them canon I suppose