Genre: Action Developer: Software Creations Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1 Released: 1993
Fans usually anticipate the release of a sequel to one of their favorite games, especially if said sequel is going to appear on more powerful hardware. One is naturally optimistic, believing that the newest entry into a series is going to expand and improve on the original, all the while retaining the key elements that made the first game so special to begin with.
The sad reality is that many times, the original is a classic for a reason. Usually a unique mix of great development talent, a decent budget, and some great creativity, it leaves its stamp on the industry forever. Sequels, on the other hand, are often cash runs that attempt to capitalize on a name, and they often disregard everything fundamental about the game whose name they bare. The result is a shallow stain on the brand that leaves fans disappointed and sometimes even jaded.
Case in point: Blaster Master 2. As I sit here and type this, I try to visualize the difficulties that the developers faced, trying to do justice to the classic game that was released on the NES. The original Blaster Master was a hit and remains a fan favorite to this day. As Sunsoft tried to bring the series to the Genesis, a practice that grew as Sega’s console grabbed more and more market share from Nintendo, the company did something that almost never works: it farmed out a license. Software Creations did what most companies that have a franchise tossed into their laps do – it stuck close to the original formula and deviated little.
At least it was wise enough to ensure that this would be a proper sequel. After SOPHIA is blown apart by those nasty denizens of the underworld, Jason discovers that her weapons have been stolen and are being used to destroy the planet. He quickly reassembles his pimped out ride and sets off to save the day again. Without the benefit of SOPHIA’s established armament, Jason has to redesign her for the task at hand.
The purpose of this is to have you start out weak and slowly gain strength as you battle mini bosses to reacquire SOPHIA’s missing parts. This approach is reminiscent of Super Metroid, but it lacks all the flare of that SNES classic. The levels are uninspired and bland, and there just doesn’t seem to be any “soul” to the whole thing. Even the audio just seems to be going through the motions. The overhead dungeons with Jason from the first game are gone, and everything is decidedly more linear in style. Run through the stage from left to right, find the open door, and battle the mini boss inside for a weapon upgrade. Using Jason in these stages is actually fun, and the enlarged view give you a great boss battle that while hard, isn’t cruel. Sadly, such moments are few and far between in Blaster Master 2, and the majority of the game is spent wading through the mediocrity to find these tiny bright spots.
This is because the few areas where Blaster Master 2 deviates from its predecessor are actually detrimental to the overall experience. While things are nice enough to look at, the gameplay has taken a major hit. Jason’s armored vehicle SOPHIA can now fire in multiple directions, but this doesn’t work at all in practice. Jumping to a higher platform while firing at an enemy below is impossible, since your turret moves in the direction you press on the controller. Press up, and that’s where you shoot. Maneuvering SOPHIA to fire where you want can be cumbersome since you have to press the pad again to move the turret back, and the enemies here aren’t forgiving enough to let you get around the learning curve. Blaster Master 2 is quite hard, and not being able to master the controls quickly adds an artificial level of difficulty that makes the whole game an almost frustrating chore.
This is especially evident during the overhead tank sections. As you move SOPHIA through a cannon-filled maze, she tends to bump around like a ping pong ball against the walls. Moreover, you have to manually align her turret to fire by using a separate button for each direction, which means that you’ll often get beaten up pretty bad before you’re even able to fire back. Think of how much fun you’ll have rotating your gun 180 degrees as an enemy pounds you. Now imagine things with multiple foes. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? I found that the easiest way to pass these stages was to devote one life to killing everything possible so that the next life could actually make it through unscathed. Oddly enough, these are the only stages where enemies don’t respawn, so this sacrificial tactic actually works.
The gameplay in the side-scrolling stages is a bit better, and Jason himself controls decently. He can fire in all directions, duck down to avoid enemy bullets, use a jetpack, and can even fire in all directions as he scales ladders (which you can’t jump onto or off of). It’s a small consolation, however, in a game where the enemies constantly respawn and never let up. Wandering around outside of SOPHIA is dangerous business, and you’ll find yourself trotting great distances to fight a boss or open the path for your amored companion to get through. There’s some strict platforming involved here, so great care must be taken with your vulnerable human avatar. Jason jumps as though he were on the Moon, but a fall from too high and he’s instantly killed. What? I can jump three stories into the air, but falling from two kills me?
When you combine the spotty controls with the the almost cheap A.I., it leads to unnecessary frustration. I could get past the gameplay, but the respawning enemies that fire constantly was almost too much. This is compounded by the fact that you can’t depend on the power ups to protect you, as the majority of those available are virtually useless. Things get a bit better when you upgrade SOPHIA, but for most of the game, it’s slow going.
Taken for what it is, Blaster Master 2 is competent, and it does offer a decent ride through what was once a great franchise. Things take an entirely different turn when you compare it to its source material though, and you’re ultimately left thinking that a merely decent game could have been much better if the developers had actually tried to venture out a little further.
I expected great things from this sequel, and what I got would have been much better if it bore a different name. As a sequel, it does just enough to live up to its moniker, but little else. The weak power ups, cheap A.I., brutal difficulty, and frustrating controls suck away any spark of life that might have been born on the drawing board. Maybe someday Jason will be able to ride SOPHIA through a truly wonderful adventure, but this game is set on cruise control.