Back in the day, I managed to beat the overwhelming majority of the video games I played, but there were a few titles that remained above my humble gaming skills, so playing for completion was a hopeless effort (like smashing your head against a wall). Blaster Master
was one of those games. I loved playing Blaster Master
, but the ending always seemed unattainable, like the summit of the infamous K2 mountain in winter. Now, just over twenty-five years later, and I feel ready to climb that mountain again. Being older and generally less
skilled at gaming than in my youth, do I have a chance to finally beat this notoriously difficult game?
I've had my eye on picking up the first Blaster Master
title for a while now, and when I started on my most recent retro jag, I thought what better time to get it than now. And since I've really been putting my junky (but humble) 3DS to work a lot lately, why not pick up the game on the 3DS Virtual Console? Then I would have the extra added bonus of being able to play it on the go, as well as taking advantage of the save state system that all 3DS VC games have in common. I might actually have a chance at finishing it, even with my poor platforming skills.
Within the first few moments of playing the game, I felt nostalgia give me a big ol' slap in the gob. It felt strange to play this game after so many years, and on such a smaller screen than the 16" family television of my youth. I instantly vowed to get a New 3DS XL model, even if my own collection had to suffer a tiny bit (larger screen and less hand cramps? Yes please!). And for the first time in decades, I marveled at the scale of Blaster Master
. This is what I fell in love with, not only the massive areas, but how the driver (Jason), could traverse the game world outside of the tank, and also on his own scale in sub-levels, different from that of the tank (SOPHIA the 3rd). The movement and weight of the game felt awesome, and I marveled at just how much of the game I seemed to remember, from enemy locations to the "Extended Grenade" trick.
After the first hour of playing, reality sank in: This game is hard. Not horribly blisteringly hard, like we occasionally find in modern platformers, but that special kind of hard found in many early NES games, when game design on the console was often more about revolution than simple evolution, but with that little edge of jank that we find in so many early NES/Famicom games. You get an eight-bar energy meter, three lives (shared between SOPHIA and Jason), and five continues total. In the sub-levels (where you control Jason through an overhead view) you also get a "Gun" meter that can be powered up eight times, but each time you are hit you lose one power up bar. Seems kind of normal for a 1988 console game, but Blaster Master's
has a Metroidvania level layout and game structure, and once you realize this, you'll manage each life bar with a teensy bit more efficiency. Moving around a hostile environment with a depleted energy bar is a recipe for disaster, especially once you pass the mid-point of the game. But I get ahead of myself.
Even getting good pictures for this article was a challenge!
Despite the obstacles (high difficulty competing against old memory), I managed to get past the first three areas with nary a drop of sweat. See, there is a gameplay pattern to Blaster Master
, and realizing this really helped me out. It goes something like this:
1) Explore area
2) Within a sub-level, power-up "Gun" meter for Jason (i.e., grind)
3) Find and defeat boss for SOPHIA upgrade
4) Locate entrance to new area
5) Use SOPHIA upgrade to access new area
And thus Blaster Master
continued, almost in a mechanical fashion, but something seemed off. I clearly remember struggling through this game, so I had to ponder for a bit. Is the 3DS VC version somehow compromised and easier? Perhaps I'm not quite as poor a gamer as I thought. Area four isn't too much of a change, though the sub-levels got so difficult that it put the kibosh on any ideas I had for a quick finish. The area map wasn't too bad, but the sub-levels are so devoid of weapon upgrades whilst also filled with difficult enemies that survival becomes difficult. The boss sub-level of area four wasn't too much trouble, which was a blessing, though I did have to break out the paper and pencil to map.
The last four stages are where Blaster Master
truly earns its rep as one of the hardest NES games. Area five was large and difficult, but the boss was a bit of a weenie. Area six was short and linear, but the boss drained two and a half of my continues and caused a horrible realization: I dreaded having to restart Blaster Master
from the beginning. I remember seeing the "Game Over" screen so many times as a kid, I knew I never wanted to see it again. Through some fluke, I managed to use the old "Extended Grenade" trick I learned from Nintendo Power back in the day, and thus ended the suffering that was the area six boss. Area seven was the first point where I had to access a walkthrough...just to find the area entrance itself! Seriously, it is such a part of the background that I never noticed it, and can only imagine the amount of searching some poor kids had to do to find it pre-Internet. This makes me think about the hidden location of Death Mountain from the original Legend of Zelda
and what I used to call, "playground intelligence," meaning that since everyone on the playground was playing Zelda
, everyone on the playground knew where to find Death Mountain. Not so for Blaster Master
, or at least not in my memory.
As for the seventh and eighth area, I would call it a mix of pain, suffering, and frustration. Seven is basically like area six (short level, painful boss). But eight... Area eight of Blaster Master
made me want to give up. This is where I wiped. Yep, total loss of lives and continues and back to square one; beginning of the game. And even when I got back to area eight (after two hours of gaming), it was still obscenely difficult to get to the third screen, much less past it. This screen is a spikey hell, and was the only part of the game in which I became enraged. And to make make matters worse, some of the rooms are so big you will
need to take a leap of faith, which will usually drop you in a deep spike pit that will
Lastly, I'd like to bring up a few things about my console of choice for this playthrough, that being the 3DS Virtual Console. After spending about four to five hours playing Blaster Master
(a rough estimate), I have to say I enjoyed it on the 3DS more than I thought I would, despite the smaller d-pad, screen size, and dark allure of the Restore Point feature. The 3DS also has a very nice "Notes" function that you can access without actually closing the game you are playing, but the lack of a shape creator and more than two color pens means it is not appropriate for map creation (at least for me). Seriously, the chicken-scratch maps I attempted to create were too embarrassing to share. I think I'll just stick to good old fashioned graph paper.
The Extended Grenade cheat, a staple of my Blaster Master diet
Oh, and the "Extended Grenade" trick I talked about. I read about the trick about a year before I got the game (I think), but it involves throwing a grenade at a boss and hitting pause just as it causes damage. If you did it right, the boss will continue to receive damage while in the pause screen, and if you wait a few minutes and un-pause, the boss will die! It doesn't work on all bosses, but I can verify that it does so on the areas' six and seven bosses. However, this cheat is very difficult to pull off on the original 3DS, due to the placement of the "Start" button. As odd as it sounds, this trick has stuck with me just as well as the Konami code. I've even remembered the goofy name that the Nintendo Power writers gave to the code in the "Classified Information" section.
I must reiterate once again: Man does it feel good to have finally finished Blaster Master
after more than twenty-five years! And to think that I spent so long building it up to be this great impossible mountain of gameplay difficulty. It kind of makes me wonder just how many other games from my youth that I might finally conquer...
Thanks for reading!
Congrats! Never completed this one, mainly due to the length/difficulty. The game has to take at least an hour. Similar to Fester's Quest, it's really rough towards the end if you die and have to grind to get the gun power ups again. The grenade cheat is also similar to Mega Man with the Elec Beam trick.
"Being older and generally less skilled at gaming than in my youth"
I don't think this is true. Your reactionary skills are sharper now than they were when you were a kid. Plus, now you have decades of gaming experience. When you were playing this as a kid, you were a rookie who couldn't even fathom playing a game with a controller with more than 2 or 3 buttons. We're adults now. I would annihilate my 10 year old self in any test of skills.
Way to go, man! This is one of those games that I have in my collection, but it sits on my shelf taunting me, because of how long I know it will take to learn and master in order to beat it. I have so many games now, I want to play a bunch of the ones I can burn through to make a dent in my enormous backlog, so I've ignored this game for a long time, because I feel as though I should come back to it after plowing through some other stuff and tightened up my skills a bit. I always heard this game was difficult, and reading your article, it seems like it would perhaps not be an insurmountable challenge. Not that this will cause me to move it further up my "to play" list, but at least it gives me hope that I may be able to tackle this behemoth one day. Good write-up.
Congrats on finally conquering this one! I've played countless hours of Blaster Master and still love the heck out of it to this day, but like you I never finished it back then. That said, I got up to the final area, and agree with you that it's just so difficult that it's more frustrating than fun. I think that's why I never felt a super strong urge to go back and finish it for real. I played so much of the first five or six levels in my youth that I can still fire it up and get through them from memory alone, but once I get past the point where my memory fails me I'm no longer having fun, and instead feel satisfied that I got what I wanted out of it.
I also have to give a shout-out to Blaster Master's music. So freaking good. It has that classic Sunsoft sound and catchy melodies that hooked me right away about all the Sunsoft games I played. I still sometimes pull up the soundtrack on youtube just to listen to in the background or at work.
@JerryGreenwood: I'd say the grinding aspect is my least favorite part of the game, and the gun thing... I think this is really just bad game design with respect to the actual scale of the gun upgrades. There are eight upgrades, but they only really change three times, and only the last two are even remotely useful.
@MetalFRO: I think for the seasoned retro gamer, Blaster Master is a challenge, but not a massive obstacle. But it still took more than four hours, which is a little long for a NES action game now, but back in the day it would have been about right. I remember being proud because I managed to beat Wizards and Warriors multiple times over a four or five hour period.
@zophar53: That is exactly where I was when I was a kid, though it was at area three (I think). I managed to pull through on this one, but I have to say it was a close call. I planned for both endings with the article, but I really pushed myself to finish it. I'm glad I did, as finally putting this one to rest felt amazing. And I agree with you fully, that the music is great in this game, even though at times when it got a little repetitious on some of the longer areas, I didn't turn the music down or off once.
Congrats on finishing the game! I love that you stuck with it to the end. It's surprising how many games I thought were impossible in my youth I've been able to finish as an adult. I plan on giving the Famicom version of this game at try early next year.
@bombatomba: Both endings?? There's another ending? I don't know how I never found this out over the years....
@zophar53: Lol, sorry, should have been clearer. I meant just in case I didn't finish the game. I write the article as I played it, but did a rough outline just in case I wasn't able to finish it. I was really low when I had to restart.
Despite all the great games the NES has to offer, Blaster Master is still one of my absolute favorites. The level design, the exploring elements, the challenge, the ingenious way how the levels are connected and the great use of the key elements to gain access to reach the various areas are first rate. Not even the strange story could weaken the atmosphere of the game.
I finished the game back in the day, drew maps, and even if you knew the ins and outs of the game it took me almost two hours to finish it. I'll never forget when I finally defeated the Plutonium Boss.
Only the lack of a password feature or save battery prevented the game becoming a true classic. Without it it was sometimes a frustrating experience in particular taking the difficulty level of stage 8 into account. For a long time Blaster Master was underrated. I'm glad that the game the gets in the last couple of years the acknowledgement it deserves.
Awesome, glad you were able to finally scratch Blaster Master off the list. Never tried to beat this one. Its a great game but I just never gave it the attention it deserved.
I remember when I finally beat the first Mega Man as an adulT. Something I just couldn't do as a kid. I think it was because of better coordination, experience, and focus. All things, I lacked as a kid
So again Congrats on your success!