Blaster Master Zero is among the first post-launch games releasing for Nintendo's new hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch; it follows a fairly strong launch lineup with several fantastic titles, such as FAST RMX and Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, and of course the historic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The question of course, is how does Blaster Master compare to those titans? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly to those acquainted with the series, is quite well.
Blaster Master Zero feels less like a proper prequel or sequel and more like a reboot for the series; in that sense the name absolutely makes sense. In it, as with the original Blaster Master for the NES, you'll be in control of Jason as you search for your pet frog, Fred, only this time Fred is a mysterious frog-like creature that seems to be able to travel between dimensions, rather than becoming mutated by radioactive materials. When Fred leaps through a wormhole, Jason follows him where he finds Sophia III, the game's iconic vehicle.
From this point forward the game reveals its true nature as something of a unique type of Metroidvania title. There are essentially two modes of play, the overworld exploration elements which are largely vehicle-based, and on-foot missions where Jason must leave Sophia III behind and enter small caves and such. In those missions, the view will switch from the zoomed-out landscape to a top-down perspective with a much tighter camera angle. The sprites feel less like an NES game in this mode and more reminiscent of something one might see on the Super NES, but still decidedly retro.
Both modes control similarly. In Sophia III you can tilt your main gun left, right, up or diagonally; the only direction in which you cannot fire is down. The control layout is simple, with the Joy-Con's four face buttons dedicated to shooting, jumping and interacting with objects. Pausing the game will bring up a menu where you can switch weapons in both Sophia and on Jason. Tapping the SL or SR buttons on your Joy-Con will allow you to quickly cycle through weapons, similarly to how the Mega Man series handles the mechanic.
The way in which weapons are handled is quite interesting, in that the level of your weapon is determined by how much damage you've taken in your travels; the more damage you take, the lower your weapon's level. As your weapon's level lowers, you will lose access to some of its more high-powered functions, like the flamethrower.
Speaking of control schemes, Inti-Creates opted initially not to include support for the Switch Pro Controller. As of this writing this means playing Blaster Master Zero in portable mode, docked mode with both Joy-Con functioning as a single controller, or turned sideways as they are with Snipperclips - Cut it out, together!. The developers have already promised an update one week after launch to add Pro Controller support, though we had no issues using the Joy-Con to play the game.
The core gameplay, moving beyond the controls, is centered around exploring this mysterious dimension to find Fred. To accomplish this task you'll follow your radar, which is located in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen and will begin to make noise when it detects Fred's signal. Chasing the signal often results in a false alarm that will lead Jason in to a cave or structure that houses not Fred, but an upgrade for Sophia III. You'll rinse and repeat this until you've made your way through all of the game's four areas, untangling the narrative all the while.
There's room for a second player as well, but we often felt having another person joining us did not add much to our sessions. Multiplayer is couch co-op only, and the second player is put in charge of an on-screen reticle that will allow them to fire shots at any enemy on screen regardless of the first player's position. It can be helpful at times, but it never feels truly necessary as the game isn't all that difficult.
Blaster Master Zero is a lovely addition to the Switch's library. We suspect that it will help to fill the gap between major retail releases for anxious Switch owners looking for a low-impact game to play on the go. As Blaster Master Zero features simplistic visuals, we were able to squeeze some extra battery life out of our Switch while playing it when compared to some of the more visually intense titles already on offer.
If you've finished your launch titles already, or are just looking for something new, we highly recommend Blaster Master Zero; it's a great homage to the original and one you will have a blast (sorry) playing.