The NES fan favorite, Blaster Master, recently made its way onto Wii’s Virtual Console, and now Sunsoft is following up the return of the franchise with a new game entitled Blaster Master: Overdrive (BMO). Does this run-and-gun platform shooter reinvigorate the genre? Read on for the full scoop.
Earth has been overrun by a “polymorphic virus” that has transformed the world’s wildlife into ravenous, blood-thirsty terrors. You play as Alex, a scientist-become-world-savior, and with the aid of a spelunking four-wheeler named S.O.P.H.I.A., it’s up to you to rid the planet of this vile menace. The story is trite and kind of unnecessary, and it fails at the Contra-esque humor it seems to be going for. Back-story isn’t the focus of Blaster Master, though, so there’s no real love loss in that regard.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t quite save the adventure (BMO), either. Bumbling A.I., confusing button mapping, along with really bad save locations – it’s all here. The platforming can be entertaining, and there are definitely glimpses of retro greatness, but Overdrive never quite hits the spot when it comes to satiating an old-school appetite.
Generally speaking, there are three modes of play in BMO. You’ll either be navigating 2D levels inside S.O.P.H.I.A., on foot, or you’ll be exploring caves from a top-down view. The game plays much like the original NES classic, utilizing the Wii Remote turned sideways. Movement is handled with the D-pad, and both Alex and S.O.P.H.I.A. have several weapons/tools to choose from, which can be switched out on the fly by pressing the A button. There’s quite a bit of platforming involved as well, and jumping is mapped to the 2 button when playing from the side-scrolling perspective.
Since the game has a heavy emphasis on exploration and discovery, you’ll spend a good deal of time running around on foot from the top-down perspective. Alex will aim in whatever direction you move him in (rather than locking onto enemies), so strafing is an absolute must. The kicker, however, is that the developers decided to map strafing to the B button, which, simply put, just doesn’t work. When you’re exploring caves in top-down view, Alex can’t jump. Why the developers decided to assign the activation of special bombs (a rare item) instead of strafing to the 2 button during these segments of gameplay is a mystery to me. A much more comfortable fit would have been to switch the two mechanics out with their respective button assignments, but there is no option to set up a preferred configuration.
To make matters worse, the screen often scrolls too slowly to give you a good view of the terrain and enemies ahead, while other times the view is completely obscured, leaving you unable to see what’s down below. There’s a map system in place, but it gives no indication of enemy locations or the layout of an area itself. Navigation isn’t always clear, and you’ll spend ample time just noodling around trying to find a save point.
This is perhaps the biggest source of contention I have with the game. You can only save in cave areas marked green on your map, and they’re usually in the most impractical locations. There’s no auto-save system or checkpoints throughout the game, so if you beat a boss and end up dying on your long haul back to a save spot, oh well – you get to do it all again. To add insult to injury, enemies re-spawn when returning to level areas or even when simply moving far enough to another part of the screen.
In spite of my obvious frustration with the game, there are some things here to love. Platforming with S.O.P.H.I.A. is fun and she controls really well. Her movement and mechanics are almost pixel perfect. She also acquires some neat, little gadgets along the way, and though many of the gameplay elements aren’t cutting edge in this day and age, there are plenty of entertaining tidbits to enjoy.
None of those things, however, make up for bad hit detection, terrible shooting angles when moving along ramps, or a host of other technical problems and design flaws. The levels all look very similar, and I often found myself wondering whether or not I’d already made my way through a particular area. Finding tools and power-ups requires quite a bit of digging around and backtracking, and with the save system being what it is (and the game starting you out in a crippled state, with only about one tenth of your full health bar), it’s hard to muster the inspiration to dig deeper into the game’s levels. You’ll simply want to find the bare minimum in order to move on to the next leg of the adventure.
The bosses are definitely another highlight of the game, though you’ll be robbed of much of the satisfaction of defeating them. Boss encounters mix things up in a mostly fun, old-school fashion, but they’re way over-padded with health, making for a lack of difficulty in what would otherwise be a nice burst of challenge.
In terms of presentation, BMO finds a way to disappoint here as well. Environments and enemies are a mix of 2D and 3D assets, some of which are fairly attractive. The fog effects and lighting are impressive; the plain-Jane platform designs are not. Though there’s quite a bit of recycling when it comes to mobs, the boss sprites are detailed and pretty cool to look at. The production overall, though, lacks polish and feels unfinished.
The music tries to evoke that good ‘ole nostalgic gamer vibe, but there’s not enough variety or originality in the soundtrack to hit a real high note. Some of the sound effects are pretty satisfying, especially when S.O.P.H.I.A. is bouncing around platforms and such. The same can’t be said about the generic-sounding gun blasts and explosions, which do little to enhance the action.
With the generally favorable response to the many great retro-style WiiWare games from folks like Konami and Capcom, it’s no surprise to see other publishers jump on the bandwagon. Blaster Master: Overdrive, however, lacks the innovation of its forebear, substituting obtuse level design for a true challenge. Enemies patrol haphazardly about levels, and the save system is borderline broken. S.O.P.H.I.A. is about the only real saving grace in the game, but she simply cannot carry the show alone. If you’re hot for some old-school action, there are better titles on the Wii Shop Channel to choose from, including the original Blaster Master for Virtual Console. This one, however, won’t give you the fix you’re looking for; it will only send your jones into overdrive.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
I appreciate many of the 3D and 2D elements, but the animations leave a lot to be desired. The variety is also quite sparse. 2.9 Control
Controlling S.O.P.H.I.A. was mostly a lot of fun, though using her to shoot could be problematic due to the actual level design. The main issues stem from poor button mapping that make it virtually impossible to strafe with any level of comfort or enjoyment. Other foibles leave their mark as well. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The themes sound generically retro, and the shooting effects aren’t impressive either. 2.5
The game has some pretty cool features, even though many of them are old hat at this point. Overall, the package feels slapped together – more a proof of concept than an actual game. The location of most save points is sure to be a source of frustration for most folks, and ultimately, it’s a game that begs to not be played.
2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.