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Under the Radar: Blaster Master Zero 2
‘Under the Radar’ is a series dedicated to the unknown titles that many players might have missed. These can range from games that no one’s ever heard of to known titles that haven’t seemed to gain any traction for one reason or another. The aim isn’t to pour over the title in a critical fashion, it’s to celebrate the qualities that make it unique and fun to play.
Alright. Inti Creates. Let’s just sit down and have a chat for a second. Just a quick chat.
You’ve got to stop. This has gone on for long enough. You’ve released too many good games back-to-back. Dragon Marked for Death? Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon? Even Mighty Gunvolt Burst? And then you have the nerve to only charge around ten bucks?!? You’re starting to make the other developers look bad.
In all seriousness, Blaster Master Zero 2 continues the trend of quality titles that Inti Creates has been putting out the past few years. It’s a game that was announced and released on the same day during an Indie Showcase. I expected to see a lot more about the game, however it seems to me like it’s not being discussed as much as it should be. Luckily, that’s what I’m here for.
If you’ve never heard of the Blaster Master series, it’s basically a combination of a side scrolling Metroidvania and a top-down shooter. The majority of the game is spent piloting a multi-purpose tank in a side scrolling environment that has you looking for powerups and blasting mutants. You can then hop out of your vehicle to enter doors that lead to the game’s top down sections, which provide a nice change of pace.
The Blaster Master Zero series tells the story of a boy named Jason who pilots his tank named Sophia. He is joined by an alien girl named Eve and a frog with strange powers named Fred. Blaster Master Zero 2 picks up right where the first game left off and finds the crew in outer space searching for Eve’s home planet in order to find a cure for an illness she was struck with. The story isn’t the main focus here, but what’s there is definitely entertaining. The cast of characters met along the way stand out particularly well due to their interesting and unique designs.
“Blaster Master” Revisited
The game is mechanically sound and the controls are tight and precise, however that’s really not what this article is about. The first Blaster Master Zero was the same way, with both the side scrolling and overhead segments providing interesting and varied gameplay. What makes Blaster Master Zero 2 so special is simple: it’s provided the blueprint to the perfect sequel.
Sequels are a tricky business. It’s challenging to strike the balance between innovating upon the previous titles while retaining what made them great in the first place. This goes for any form of media in general, including books, movies, and even tabletop games. Part of the challenge is pleasing the fans, as their criticisms need to be addressed while also holding on to the original creative vision. Inti Creates has clearly understood this with Blaster Master Zero 2 and manages to deliver an experience not unlike its predecessor while improving nearly everything about the concept.
The first thing I noticed, that was a massive change from the original game, was the level layout. The first title was essentially a run-of-the-mill metroidvania by design. Levels were connected by doors and could be traveled between at the player’s leisure. It worked well enough, but the backtracking often affected the game’s pacing in a negative way. Zero 2 splits the levels up into separate planets that are accessed from an overworld. Larger planets make up the non-linear stages whereas smaller planets serve as more contained challenges that often reap rewards in the form of upgrades.
This kind of level layout creates a much more evenly paced experience that moves along at twice the speed of the original. Rarely did I ever feel stuck during my time with the game, yet the larger stages still felt like they should. While some on the smaller planets are required in order to see the credits roll, many of them are completely optional, and it makes Zero 2 feel like a more meaty experience because of it.
A Worthy Challenge
The difficulty has also been ramped up significantly this time around. My biggest complaint with the last one was that some of the weapons and upgrades were just way too strong. Bosses could be annihilated in a few dozen seconds in the over-the-top mode, which took a lot out of the experience for me. The challenge still feels fair, but bosses no longer pull any punches.
The bosses themselves are by far the game’s greatest spectacle. They sport some of the most impressive pixel art I’ve seen in awhile, and they’re just as fun to fight as they are to look at. Many of these baddies have brutal attack patterns at first, but checkpoints are usually very forgiving and allow for multiple retries in order to come out on top. They’re also more massive than ever, with many of them taking up over half the player’s screen.
This series is normally sprinkled with spoilers here and there, but I’m purposefully avoiding giving out specific details about the game because of how new it is. Buy the first Blaster Master Zero. Finish it. Play the second one as soon as you’re done. It will become immediately apparent how good of a sequel this is, especially when considering some of the surprises hiding in the later parts of Zero 2. Considering the total price of both games is only $20, you really can’t get much better than this.
This increase in quality also demonstrates the potential of this to become a long running franchise. Inti Creates has shown how they can take a game series that was thought to be dormant and regenerate it into something that is both an homage to the originals and an experience that is uniquely their own. There is some genuinely brilliant stuff here, and I hope I’ll be piloting the Sophia in more games for years to come.