Blaster Master is a legendary series of games that has its roots way back in the early days of NES. Combining multiple gameplay styles, perspectives, and even genres, Blaster Master solidified itself as a nostalgic fan-favorite. Inti Creates brought the series back with the excellent Blaster Master Zero, and its sequel, Zero 2, although there was little-to-no news as to whether Blaster Master Zero 3 would ever see the light of day. A stealth reveal not too long ago alleviated those concerns, and now the world can experience the final entry in the Zero trilogy – but should you?
Blaster Master Is Back
Blaster Master Zero 3, despite being a direct sequel to Zero 2, is surprisingly accessible for newcomers to the series. Before you get the chance to hit start, the game opens up with a quick introduction cutscene that gives you a recap of what has happened so far, and what you are expected to do in this game. It’s no replacement for actually playing the games of course, but it does more than enough to get players acclimated to the third entry.
You play as Jason Frudnick, an artificial genius (by his own admission), who is trying to find his series-long friend, Eve. Being locked in prison, tears in space-time, returning rivals, and interstellar navigation all stand in your way, but Jason is more than up for the challenge. This is thanks to his fancy suit, and more importantly, his swanky set of wheels, the G-Sophia SV. The story itself is well done, interesting, and has you meeting and interacting with new and returning characters that should give series vets a bit of a kick.
The gameplay in Blaster Master Zero 3 falls in line with what the series has been working with for decades. The game is split into two distinct gameplay styles – side-scrolling and top-down. The bulk of your adventure will be done from the former, with the latter being primarily for dungeons and puzzle-solving. In general, these can mostly be split into side-scrolling with the G-Sophia SV and top-downing with Jason; that said, Jason can get out of the Sophia at any time and side-scroll with the best of them. In fact, this is encouraged.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is split into a number of large areas, called…well, Areas. These locations serve as small, mostly self-contained, Metroidvania-like sections littered with collectibles, upgrades, and side gubbins that may require backtracking to collect. Getting lost is pretty difficult thanks to a robust map system that, similar to games like Metroid Fusion, tell you where you need to go. That doesn’t mean it tells you how to get there, however, and that keeps exploration on the side of natural, as opposed to railed.
Each Area is also littered with various enemies ready to give Jason and his tank a firm kicking. The enemy count is quite high, they can attack from all angles, and they aren’t afraid to spawn out of nowhere to land some cheap shots if you aren’t paying attention. This is where the Blaster in Blaster Master comes from. Mastery comes a bit later, and this is in no small part due to the G-Sophia SV being a bit of pain to control.
The Sophia can fire straight ahead, diagonally, and straight up. This gives you a fair amount of coverage when engaging whatever mook stands in your way, but it does little to stop those same enemies from taking a chunk out of you first. It is quite the beast in terms of size, and maneuvering her hefty bulk is rather awkward due to being bizarrely floaty in the air and slightly stiff on the ground. It took quite a while to get adjusted to her mechanics, and early on, combat felt a tad unpolished.
Pacing For Days
Our Sophia can take a beating though, and enemies drop generous amounts of health pickups to keep you topped up. I would have preferred the game to feel a bit tighter in these sections, but what we have here isn’t exactly terrible. Things also get significantly better, in true Metroidvania fashion, as you unlock new abilities. The Sophia will eventually gain access to a myriad of weapons, both main and sub, and these greatly expand your ability to deal with threats – as well as explore new areas. Enemies that once caused you issues can be quickly dispatched with a homing laser, for example. In this regard, Blaster Master Zero 3 has excellent pacing and constantly rewards you with new bits to play around with.
Of course, the Sophia can’t use her vast arsenal freely. In fact, it has quite the stingy energy supply that prevents you from spamming away with your ordinance all willy-nilly. Sub weapons and primary weapons have their own resource bar and running out of energy seriously hampers your ability to fight and explore. They recharge over time naturally once depleted, although regaining lost energy prior to an empty tank is a bit more tricky. Namely, you need to utilize the power of gravity itself – or get crunked on the hatch a few times.
Significant impacts recharge Sophia’s batteries, so falling from a great height, or taking a hearty blow rewards you with a nice boost in your reserves. This lets you unleash more devastation, or complete platforming sections more effectively by using things like the hover ability. The system is certainly unique, but I often felt like the system was too restrictive, and often resulted in multiple prolonged bouts of just waiting. Many sections aren’t designed to give you a gravity-based energy boost – especially when exploring – and this left me feeling like the game was wasting my time at regular intervals. This is somewhat fixed with upgrades that increase your energy cap, but it was still quite the pain.
Jumping Into Jason
Jumping out of the Sophia and into various Jason-only areas changes up the gameplay nicely. Jason has 8-way movement as well as aiming that follows a similar pattern – although it is not twin-stick, meaning your aim is locked to your movement. He has access to a bunch of weapons from the get-go, such as the devastating wave beam and the ever-useful auto-targeting lightning gun. Dungeons are often a gauntlet of enemies, forcing players to utilize all their tools to get through unscathed, although some puzzles are scattered here and there to keep things fresh.
Being unscathed is the best way to be, as, unlike Sophia, Jason’s health potential rapidly decreases as you take hits. Your screen-clearing Wave Buster will quickly turn into a slow-firing, ineffective pea shooter if you aren’t careful, and the game can be quite sparse on the pickups that reverse that process. You can find temporary shields to keep your health and weapon bars healthy, but really, the game wants you to master its mechanics and avoid getting hit whenever possible.
Jason has a few tools to assist with this, most notably his various counterattacks. If you slap the correct button at just the right time, Jason will do a fancy pirouette and unleash a devastating salvo at the enemy that dared to stand against him. Jason unlocks new counters as you play, in addition to a dash move that can reflect projectiles in a pinch. As with the Sophia, Jason starts off as a bit of a noodle but eventually turns into quite the force.
Bosses appear for both the G-Sophia SV and Jason, and these encounters vary in length, quality, and how mandatory they may or may not be. These guys often fill large portions of the screen, have easily readable attack patterns, and fall pretty quickly once you get them down. Jason’s are a bit more tricky as taking damage makes beating the boss significantly harder, but all in all, these are a fun time. Some bosses are also weak to certain weapons, for example, an armored cube-thing spends 99% of the time immune to most damage. Crack that bad boy open with a piercing round, however, and he goes down almost without a fight. It’s a nice reward for experimenting with your options.
Regardless of what you are controlling at any given time, a large portion of the game will be spent hopping through dimensions. Scattered around the place are tears in reality, and Jason can pop down his fancy visor and dive into them pretty freely. You can’t survive here long, making these journeys inherently heart-pounding. They are a nice change of pace at first and offer unique challenges whether playing as Jason or piloting the Sophia whenever you enter them. They did wear out their welcome as time went on though, mostly due to the frequency in which you are forced to traverse them. This isn’t helped by the fairly unpleasant visuals that accompany the other dimension.
Dimension leaping also makes up a fair amount of the optional side dungeons that litter each area. These are typically pretty difficult zones that Jason must conquer alone, and they reward you with all kinds of fancy equipment to make your journey easier. Interestingly, these dungeons have two paths – one in the real world, and one in the alternate dimension, and they offer different gameplay challenges to boot. If you can’t deal with the waves of powerful enemies, hop dimensions and speed run to the end. It’s totally up to you and it was a funky way to utilize the mechanic.
Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
Despite all of these interesting mechanics, Blaster Master Zero 3 doesn’t always stick the landing. I found myself being more than a little bit frustrated due to the game being overly punishing – especially during platforming segments. The game has a number of save points, however, these save points can be separated by surprising stretches of challenge. Dying yeets you straight back to the last save point, and dying is rather common. Instant death floors and walls don’t mesh well with this kind of system, and other games in the genre have implemented them in a much better fashion. These sections are of course made worse by the stringent energy system and floaty controls.
Blaster Master Zero 3 continues the wonderful pixel art style found in earlier entries, meaning you’re in for quite the treat. Large, detailed character models in cutscenes, varied environments and enemies, and surprising attention to detail throughout make this game quite the looker – alternate dimension notwithstanding. But this all pales in comparison to the fantastic musical arrangement that permeates the whole game. It’s the kind of modern chiptune that gets the headbanging and the heart pumping – and I loved it.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is a fitting end to a wonderful series of games. It’s not without its flaws, namely occasional bouts of brutal difficulty and controls that could have been tightened up a tad, but overall, it’s quite the romp. Fans of the series should absolutely check out the conclusion, and newcomers should totally give it a gander – although I’d still advise playing 1 and 2 first.
BLASTER MASTER ZERO 3 IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to INTI CREATES for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.