Time to Take up Your Blaster Rifle One Last time to Save the One You Love
Blaster Master Zero III is a game I’ve been eagerly anticipating since its announcement. The story of Jason and Eve’s battle against the mutants has been one of the best things to come out in recent years. This is amazing in a way when you consider that this series is based on an NES game that not only was difficult but had a very limited plot. What Inti Creates has done to modernize this franchise while keeping true to its roots is a shining example of how you update a series. This brings us to this title and the finale of the trilogy.
While I loved the gameplay and story of Blaster Master Zero I & II, I was still wondering how they’d wrap things up. On the one hand, I didn’t want this tale to end. But one the other, if Inti Creates was ready to move on, I could respect that. I just hoped they could stick the landing and give Jason and Eve’s story a satisfying conclusion. So, did they end up doing it? And does this game hold up to the previous two entries in the franchise? Let’s start things off with a bit of a refresher about what the Blaster Master Zero series is about.
The Story of a Boy, a Support Droid, and their Frog
As I briefly mentioned, the Blaster Master Zero trilogy is based on the NES game of a similar name: Blaster Master. Created by Sunsoft in 1988, the game was called Chō Wakusei Senki Metafight. This roughly translates to Super Planetary War Records: Metafight. While this story was about an advanced civilization that was fighting a force known as the Invem Dark Star Army, the Western release changed a few things.
For one, the hero’s name was changed from Kane Gardner to Jason Frudnick. Also, Jason had jumped down a hole to chase after his pet frog Fred and thus stumbled upon a battle tank known as Sophia the 3rd. Using it, Jason explored the underground fighting mutants until he completely defeated them and then escaped with Fred. Well, in 2017, Sunsoft and Inti Creates teamed up to reimagine the series. And in doing so, expanded the story by combining elements of both plots creating Blaster Master Zero.
The first game, Blaster Master Zero, essentially retells the NES game’s plot with the addition of Eve, who is a support droid that assists with operating and maintaining Sophia the 3rd. Eve herself did appear in other Blaster Master-related material in the past, which is one of the neat things about this franchise. It honors the past entries by borrowing elements from them. Rather than wiping the slate clean, Inti Creates respects the legacy of the franchise. Even if many of us (myself included) have only played the first NES game. And the series could have ended there. But a sequel was commissioned.
Blaster Master Zero II picks up shortly after the end of the first game. Sadly, there’s no happy ending for Jason and Eve. Due to something that occurred near the end of the first game, the pair head to space in search of Planet Sophia. Where Eve and Sophia the 3rd were created. However, Jason and the crew are utilizing the brand-new Gaia Sophia, which can regenerate its energy from falling onto the ground from large heights. It’s a neat idea that gets used again in Blaster Master Zero III. And the game really built upon the first’s story and gameplay.
While Blaster Master Zero was a retelling of a story, Blaster Master Zero II was an original story. And due to why Jason and Eve were on this journey, you immediately cared as a player. Combine their interstellar journey, the refined gameplay, and one of the best final levels ever, and you had an excellent title. And yet again, you could have ended the series there. But, while fate was kind to us as players since we got another game, it wasn’t so kind to Jason and Eve.
Blaster Master Zero III begins as Jason and Eve arrive on Planet Sophia… and are promptly thrown in jail. Yep, our heroes who have pretty much saved the universe from the mutant threat are treated as a major hazard. It doesn’t take long, though for the mutants themselves to show up and for Sophia to fall under attack. Jason doesn’t waste the chance as he breaks out of jail and reclaims the tank for this game, the Gaia Sophia Superior Vehicle (SV), with two goals in mind. Rescue Eve and stop the mutants once and for all. Speaking of which, let’s touch upon the controls next since you’ll need a mastery of them to succeed.
New Mission, Same Rock-Solid Precision
Blaster Master Zero III’s controls are solid. If you’ve played the previous games, you’ll feel right at home with how Jason and Sophia control. The gameplay alternates between two modes. A side-scrolling platformer where you control the Gaia Sophia SV to blast away at enemies. And a top-down dungeon crawling mode where you’ll take enemies on using Jason’s Blaster Rifle. In fact, let’s start with that since most of the changes for Blaster Master Zero III occur in that mode.
First off, your Blaster Rifle works differently this time. In previous games, the rifle’s shot type could be changed based on what level the gun was at. You gained levels by collecting powerups. However, if you took damage, your gun would lose levels. This means you could lose access to your most powerful shots if you got too reckless. As such, Blaster Master Zero has always been about being more defensive and evasive than offensive. However, this entry mixes things up a bit.
Instead, this time your rifle automatically has five shot types from the start:
- High Diffusion
- Turbo Whip
- Lock-On Striker
- Cross Wave
All five of these are based on gun levels from the previous games. While you can access any one of these from the start, their shot power is weak. That’s where the powerups come into play this time. Instead, they power up each shot. So, if your gun level is at a 5, the RG-Blaster will shoot faster and farther while the Lock-On Striker will allow you to lock-on to more targets. It’s a change that I really enjoy since it always allows you to have the proper weapon for a boss fight. Which, those have also changed a bit.
While in the previous games’ bosses would only have one single health bar, this time around, they have three. While that might sound scary if you’ve played the previous games, it works out well. Many bosses will work in phases. So, downing one life bar might have the boss switch tactics just a bit. However, other bosses have an additional trick up their sleeves. They’ll force you to change gameplay modes when down to their last health bar.
Yes, if you started fighting a boss on foot, you may have to switch out to fighting it in Sophia and vice versa. Honestly, I like this change since it makes the boss fights more varied and a bit tenser as you must beat the boss completely in one shot. No restarting after switching phases here. Thankfully, like many other Inti Create games, the bosses in Blaster Master Zero III often use patterns. As such, once you learn a boss’ pattern, you have a much better shot at defeating it… so long as you remember to dodge. Aside from this change, there’s one more thing Inti Creates introduced in this game, and it’s worthy of its own section: the VRV system.
Diving… er Reversing Into Super-Dimensional Space.
The Vision Reversal Visor System, or VRV System, is the main gimmick that was introduced this time around. Using it, Jason can enter Super-Dimensional Space. Whenever you find a crack in the world, you can dive into it and explore another area. Sometimes, this might be a shortcut, but many times this is necessary to progress. If you’ve ever played A Link to the Past and are familiar with the Light World/Dark World system in that game, this is very similar. So, how do I feel about it?
Honestly, I quite like the concept. It feels like it doubles the length of each area and, in some cases, does provide to be an interesting challenge. In reality, the length of each area is about the same as in the previous games. Additionally, each area works a little differently when it comes to Super-Dimensional Space, and learning the gimmick for that area is key to getting past it. There is one exception, though, Sophia Force Bases.
Sophia Force Bases are a new type of dungeon that you can explore either in normal space or Super-Dimensional Space. Dealing with them in normal space means you’ll need to fight an endless horde of robot enemies as you try to activate switches to open doors. It’s a bit difficult, but doable once you get some better equipment. However, you can use the VRV system to take an alternate and random path.
Yep, using the VRV System here will let you delve into a randomly generated dungeon. While the start square and ending square will always be the same on the map, the route you take will change every single time. As such, if you’re trying to fill in every map square, well… be ready to be here for hours. Thankfully, doing this is not required for completing the game and getting the true ending. Still, I’m not a big fan of it.
Honestly, one of the best parts of the game was exploring everything. I liked trying to explore every nook-and-cranny and filling in my map. Now, if I want to do that, I’m at the game’s mercy. RNG and I are not friends, and it’s no different here. I must have spent a few hours trying to map out one of the Sophia Force dungeons completely. I know this sounds like an odd gripe but keep this in mind for later. One thing I can say, though, is that Super-Dimensional Space is gorgeous. As such, let’s talk about the graphics next.
Beyond the NES and Into a Dimension of Its Own
Blaster Master Zero III is a magnificent-looking game. It’s interesting when you look at the trilogy as a whole and see how the graphics have evolved. While the first game tried to capture the look of an 8 or 16-bit game on the Switch, the latter two titles have been a bit more daring in pushing those limits. It’s a bit hard to explain by just showing you images, but the best way to put it is this. While these games try and emulate the look and feel of an NES or SNES title, they don’t constrain themselves to it. This works amazingly well.
For one, there are little cutscenes that occur when Jason enters VRV mode or when Gaia Sophia SV takes off out of Sophia Base. Something the original NES hardware Blaster Master ran on would probably have trouble doing. However, the biggest example would be Super-Dimensional Space. The backgrounds here are otherworldly and gorgeous. It really does feel like you’re in another world. Aside from that, the sprites and their animations are fluid and excellent-looking. However, I have one complaint—the story cutscenes.
Maybe it’s just me, but the cutscenes at some points feel constrained by the art style. It’s hard to explain why, but I think it’s because they need a bit of motion to them. Compared to Jason engaging the VRV system, they just seem… flat and static. The big exception to this is the ending of the game, where Inti Creates did produce some amazing sprite work. But let’s now move on from the visuals to the audio since every game needs a great soundtrack to back it up.
Blasting Some Tunes While Saving the Universe
The music for the Blaster Master Zero franchise has been something of a debate among fans. Especially the first game. Some people enjoyed what the Inti Creates’ sound division, III: Sound Create Unit, came up with. While others have felt it didn’t differentiate itself enough. Especially since Sunsoft’s original Blaster Master composition is considered one of the NES’ best soundtracks. Personally, while I’ve enjoyed the music, I didn’t find a lot of it memorable.
It’s odd saying that since I adore the soundtracks of many other Inti Creates games such as the Mega Man Zero, Mega Man ZX, and the Azure Striker Gunvolt series. However, nothing from the Blaster Master Zero games has made me feel like I need to throw the soundtrack on my phone. Until now.
Blaster Master Zero III’s soundtrack is a step up from the previous two games. While there are some returning songs, I do feel many of the new tracks for this game can stand on their own. However, for me, one of my favorite songs in this game is the theme for the True Final Boss. In fact, I’ve been listening to it via my Switch as I’ve been writing this review.
This, along with the song for the fight that comes right before it, is one of those tunes that stands up there with “Cannon Ball – Hard Revenge -” from Mega Man ZX or “Indigo Destiny” from Azure Strike Gunvolt 2. Inti Creates, please throw this OST up on iTunes or some other platform so we can continue to enjoy this awesomeness. That said, let’s move from one awesome thing to another as we talk about the story on the next page and why I’m so invested in it.