Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Checkin' in.

Apologies for the lack of updates over the last month. You can chalk up my absence to a deflating combo of crushing stress and a lack of motivation. I'll have something up toward the end of the June, which is about when I'll have returned from my little mini-vacation. Check back then, won't you?

And if you're that short on entertainment options, you might want to consider my recommendation of Blaster Master Zero. I've played through it multiple times since my previous post went up--both with Jason and the monthly DLC characters, which are free to download for the first week of their availability. I've also been having a lot of fun with Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap--Lizardcube's delightful remake of the Master System's third Wonder Boy title; I can't express enough how much I love that it provides the option to instantly switch between the modern visuals/music tracks and those from the old 8-bit game. I'm hoping that other retro-minded developers take notes and choose to implement similar features into their future 8-bit remakes!

So yeah--you might want to check that out, too.

Catch you later!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Modern Wonders: Blaster Master Zero (Switch)

Area 5

And now we've arrived at the game's oceanic area (the "man-made water area," as Jason labels it). The music takes a melancholic turn, as it should; wistfully charged chiptunes always have a way of capturing that feeling of yearning that arises whenever one thinks of a serene ocean setting. Here it works to convey the desperation of the moment--how Jason and Eve would rather be in a better place. I still greatly prefer the original Area 5 theme--another of those 8-bit works whose nostalgic resonance I find arresting--but this new piece is a solid substitute; it does well to imbue the surrounding environment with nostalgic energy.

The area's basic structure is largely unchanged, as are the expected means of exploration. That is, the aquatically challenged Sophia has no choice but to sink down to the ocean depths; from there, it's up to Jason to exit Sophia and navigate his way around the underwater maze and its aggressive marine life. Interestingly, the standard fish enemies have been replaced by a new breed of finned nuisance that comes equipped with a diving suit and an arm cannon; they function about the same, but still theirs is a neat little alteration.

Oh, there is one major change here: Now prominent are long patches of currents that work to either aid or restrict Jason's movement. Part of the challenge entails figuring out which currents must be avoided, lest a series of them will carry you back to the starting point. Just for laughs, I suppose, the trolly designers include segments that force Jason to spend minutes crawling within the open spaces below wide-ranging currents. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that I was supposed to reunite with Sophia before attempting to progress through these segments. 

Special note: Nope--mine was the intended course of action. I don't even know what to say about that.

You stay funny, Inti Creates.

The top-down sections, too, are submerged, theirs scenes rendered through a cool watery filter. Though, I soon discover an even better atmospheric touch: Providing the terrain substance are the quivering shadows that indicate the presence of the aquatic creatures (schools of fish, manta rays, dolphins, squid, etc.) swimming around above us. I like to stop and observe their activity. One particularly grizzly scene entails a giant crab viciously T-boning a dolphin and presumably killing it, the act temporarily rendering all of the water in the immediate area blood-red.

The perpetrator was Hard Shell, our main boss for this area. This is the same pincered horror that haunted my dreams in the days following my rediscovery of the original Blaster Master. Though, my sense is that this encounter won't be quite as terrifying.

In fact, the battle conditions are completely different this time: Our fight occurs within Hard Shell's screens-wide domain, its innards arranged like a grid. Hard Shell scurries about its rows and columns, his movements mostly evasive; getting in some clean shots entails discovering his location and striking his vulnerable middle portion. He stops occasionally to emit streams of acidic bubbles--which negate your gunfire but in the process drop a bevy of replenishment items--or execute a swift charge attack. As the generous drops make it easy to maintain the Wave gun, I'm able to take down Hard Shell without breaking a sweat (and, really, I could have destroyed him in seconds had I decided to get in his face and mash like crazy).

So we trek about the underwater labyrinth until we find the Sophia-modifying enhancement chip that allows for her to freely navigate underwater; the accompanying boosting ability enables her to resist even the strongest of currents, which makes possible Area 5's full exploration. All that's left is to fill in all the squares and clear out the rest of the top-down sections--one of which yields the highly useful multi-directional, rapid-fire turret, which provides assist fire and in addition can decoy enemies. I use it to great effect in the battle against the giant fish creature Gurnahide, which succumbed so quickly to the onslaught that I didn't even get a chance to see any of its offensive maneuvers. So yeah--the turret will likely remain my sub-weapon of choice for the rest of the game.

And onto Area 6 we go.

Area 6

It's the slippery ice area, as expected. And oh no--the tougher-skinned versions of the worms are back, and they're as obnoxious as ever! As they're more numerous than before, I can going to have to be more liberal in my use of homing missiles. Though, I soon find a better option: my Maximum Shot main, whose scrolling blast has the vertical length necessary to prevent them from sneaking under Sophia's line of fire. No longer will these worms be a persistent menace!

The area's new gimmick entails freezing entire sections of the environment by entering into top-down controls rooms and interacting with their climate-controlling computer systems. Doing so alters the affected rooms' layouts in two essential ways: spongy water beds become navigable frozen terrain, and series of destructible ice blocks come to clog up passages, providing necessary platforms; therein, exploration requires carving a desired path through the ice blocks while hovering and maneuvering your way around enemies and deadly spikes.

The top-down sections more closely match up to Blaster Master's. They're mostly about slipping and sliding your way around enemy fire and patches of spikes; though, this version of Jason proves to possess much greater traction, so exploring these sections isn't as nerve-wracking (or as devastating to your health). Also, you can further neutralize their challenge by using your Flame weapon to melt away the ice covering the immediate surface! Very cool.

It's here where we finally catch up with our pal Fred, who we find has been incapacitated. The open wounds on his flesh give view to underlying machine parts, which draws from Jason a confused reaction. I think the implication is that Jason believed Fred to be a wholly organic creature, but I can't be sure; the writing here is too unfocused, as if the translator didn't understand the context and tried to cover for this failure by scripting the characters to speak in an ambiguous, often-empty way.

I continue to appreciate how they mix in some of the old texture-work, like the green girders ("columns comprised of green Xs," as I originally saw them) found in the ice area's upper portion. Reusing (or closely approximating) these assets is such a great way of memorializing the work of people who so many years ago labored to produce this unmistakably vintage artwork, which they'd be honored to know continues to resonate with us.

Enduring a chaotic battle with the Remote Blaster--a wall-mounted turret that transports about its labyrinthine chamber and targets Jason for successive missile strikes--nets me the Wall Climb. And as I guessed by gauging the option menu's display, using a designated button to activate the ability is so much more practical. Sophia is far less clingy than before, which eliminates the possibility that she'll start curling around platform edges and frustrating the hell out of me. Interestingly, it appears that Wall Climb is the game's only surface-cling modification, where before there were two (one for climbing up walls, and the other for riding along ceilings). I'm not sure how their being combined will affect my expected means of progression.

As goes the story: Eve has learned (or remembered) that Fred is a drone that was built to assimilate with the planet's creatures and search for the whereabouts of mutants. However, he couldn't stop the mutants from consuming all of the resources and leaving the planet in ruin. These same mutants once invaded Eve's home planet but were successfully repelled, though the destruction was massive. That's when her people created Sophia III to combat the mutants wherever they surfaced; they also engineered a support bot--a maintenance android--named NORA-2057, whose job was to repair Sophia. Not surprisingly, Eve then reveals that she is in fact NORA. 

Having informed Jason of this, she requests that he return to the surface and leave the rest to her and Sophia. He rejects her request, swearing that he's not fearful of the consequences of continued participation; mainly, he wants to be there to offer her support. Eve is touched by the gesture and happily agrees to continue teaming with him.

As I finish exploring the area and cleaning out its top-down sections, I come into possession of another cool Main weapon: the high-powered Cannon--an arcing shell that explodes with such force that it can clear away fields of blocks and even large spiky obstructions! Though, I quickly discover that it's best to be cautious while using it, since Sophia suffers damage whenever if she's within the blast radius. But being able to destroy spikes is big; having the propensity to do so will certainly alleviate a lot of the stress involved in navigating through areas that are rife with spiky obstacles. I'm lookin' at you, Area 8.

But first we have other business.

Area 7

Staying true to the original's routing scheme, my accessing of Area 7 entails backtracking through just about all of the previous areas and snaking around a certain set of zigzagging columns in Area 3. Negotiating the barrier requires a bit more effort this time; that is, we have to force open the columns by using our wall-riding ability to interact with a nearby wall-embedded conveyor-belt. As ever, our surface-clinging grants us access to the fiery zone.

While I was backtracking, I stopped at Area 1's previously inaccessible watery cavern and used my Dive ability to squeeze through a narrow passage and enter the area's last remaining top-down section. Clearing it out earned me that old Thunder sub-weapon ("Thunder Breaker") from the original. It's a more refined weapon this time around; it's especially useful in water, as its electrical energy disperses over a wide area (practically a screen's length worth of liquid) and fries all visible enemies! Nice touch. The boys at Inti Creates just keep surprising me with how they give so much care and attention to game aspects that we'd be apt to consider marginal.

Perhaps I'll put it to greater use here in Area 7, which I'll start exploring tomorrow.

The crimson-hued Area 7's is an ominous composition with a funky beat. Its tone isn't quite as urgent as the original's, but it does better to elicit feelings of concern. And it certainly isn't dishonest in its conveyance: the enemies here, most alarmingly, are super tough. There's a reason for this, which I at first failed to gauge: Their bump in resiliency is a condition of the area's newly implemented stealth element, which dictates that its intsectoid inhabitants patrol over designated areas with their activity-sensing cone-shaped tracker beams projecting out over a four-block distance. If you get caught in their beam, the alerted parties will go berserk--aggressively pounce on Jason while bombarding him with lasers. The healthiest choice is to avoid getting spotted--keep your distance and hover around them.

Area 7 also introduces a transportability gimmick wherein Jason needs to separate from Sophia and work to gain her further access by positioning her on lifts and manipulating their corresponding terminal. In some such sequences, he has to avoid the reach of spotlights (which, if triggered, seal off the immediate area and sic worms on you) and the previously mentioned insectoids as he scurries about from station to station. This is a fun idea; call it Example #122 of the designers building whole new systems around an existing frame--much like R&D1 did with Metroid: Zero Mission.

The top-down sections stick with the theme; patrolling them are numerous tough-skinned sentries who endlessly circle around specially carved structures. The stealthy maneuvering required here is comparable to what would be expected of you in a top-down Metal Gear. The consequence for getting caught by a pack of them is certain death. Of course, you can attempt to pick off sentries, one by one, by safely firing at them through walls, but that carries the risk of alerting every unit currently patrolling the room--of inviting those with favorable positioning to charge you from every angle.

I even lost a few lives here! Could it be that the game is suddenly spiking in difficulty?

Exploration in the side-scrolling sections also entails blasting your way through rocky structures and carving out a desired path to a goal. The trickier layouts require that you clear away an appropriate amount of space and then use your Wall Ride ability to tactically maneuver around and carve passages in the walls and ceilings. This is nothing we haven't seen in the original Blaster Master.

The last of the transportability sequences funnels Jason through a top-down section and eventually the area's exit point, where a giant skeleton dragon--another boss of the side-scrolling variety--is waiting. Jason's shots are too weak to even nick the dragon's exterior, so we can't possibly engage it; instead, we take to heart what the room's design is hinting and platform ourselves up a series of ladders and over to a terminal whose activation lowers down the Eve-controlled Sophia. After reuniting with my friends, I camp on the room's left side and assail the dragon from afar. As none of its bouncing projectiles or spewed charge-shots are a threat to me, I destroy it with ease.

Following its defeat, Eve informs us that the mutants' ringleader is hiding just up ahead, in the final area.

Area 8

We've arrived at the familiar purple- and orange-hued stronghold, but all is not as it appears. Eve and Jason deduce that we've actually moved to within the pulsating innards of an enormous mutant! Even then, the layout is entirely reminiscent of Blaster Master's Area 8. There are no special gimmicks here--just straightforward action.

Though, there are three minor differences: (1) Passages tend to be clogged up by stacks of cubical green mutants--some of which nest the globulous hatchlings that begin homing in on you when their protective cover is destroyed (Cannon shots can effectively clear away whole fields of green cubes, the powerful blast negating their ability to produce hatchlings). (2) Top-down sections are home to a new type of degradable slime enemy, the fanged mass breaking into two smaller slimes when sufficiently damaged. And (3) It's necessary to fully explore the area's southwestern portion and its lone top-down section, whose guardian, the Mother Brain-derivative Anti-Body cell, protects the key that we need to enter the ringleader's domain.

So it's final-boss time. Surprisingly, the expected wall-embedded alien is a no-show. Rather, we skip right to the whip-wielding knight (now called the "Underworld Lord"), whose weapon is now electrified. I've always felt that this towering humanoid fellow seemed out of place among Blaster Master's cast of animalistic mutants and chibified sentries. Apparently Inti Creates' writers agree with that sentiment, which is why they address the obvious incongruity by having Jason tell us that "This feels completely different from the other mutants!" Though the comment might go over the heads of most players, its inference makes a big difference to how we visualize this character; it both address an anomaly and creates the narrative substance necessary for us to wonder about his possible mysterious underpinnings.

This time, there's no need to cheaply camp in a corner and exploit his nonadaptive programming; he goes down pretty easily when showered with Wave bullets and turret fire. Of course, nothing could be so simple. Naturally, he then reveals his newly conceived "true form"--the fiery Multidimensional Overlord, who executes and expels all manner of scary-looking attacks (stalking, burrowing spikes; giant encircling orbs; short-range energy bursts; and maybe one or two others). Once again, I couldn't get a true sense of how powerful the Overlord is supposed to be, because he just as quickly succumbed to my deluge of Wave fire and my devastating Remote Blast sub-weapon, which prompts the surveilling Sophia to lock onto a target and bombard it with missile fire.

Well, that wasn't as climactic as I'd hoped.

But wait--apparently it's not over. What I thought were the end credits actually weren't. It was all a big fake-out, the tsunami of exposition and sappy mutual-aid dialogue exchanges the substance of a prolonged transitional cut-scene that concludes with Eve inexplicably rendering Jason unconscious via physical contact. She takes this measure because she knows of a nebulously defined nemesis called the "Mutant Core," which is supposedly too incomprehensibly powerful for him to confront. A while later, Jason awakes to find that both she and Sophia are long gone; all he has left is a memory of Eve's mentioning a "certain thing" that was still hidden on Earth. As if sensing Jasons' desperation, the hopping Fed leads him to the journey's starting location and ribbits opens another wormhole. Inside, they find an upgraded battle tank called "Sophia Zero." 

Responding to Jason's request, Fred opens up an additional wormhole that leads directly to wherever Eve and Sophia ran off.

Area 9

And that would be the cosmic, otherworldly Area 9, which Jason describes as "an amalgamation of a bunch of different things." Ah--one of those ol' recycled-content-heavy "chaos zones" that developers are apt to throw together when challenged for time.

I'm glad to see that all of my acquired abilities transfer over to Sophia Zero. The only obvious difference is that Cannon is now my main weapon--at least until my ammo meter is depleted, at which point I default to the basic turret shot. It seems that I'm now immune to the Cannon's explosive blasts, which means that I can fire away as recklessly as I want! In fact, I'd say that the enemies and obstacles found early on--particularly the returning skeleton dragon--have been positioned in a way that encourages a frenzied demonstration of my newly realized destructive potency!

That's not to suggest that the designers didn't get creative here. Nay--they still manage to surprise us with some inventive platforming scenarios. Notably, most of our navigation is done by hovering over to and across what look to be gravitational fields composed of water; therein, we have to use our buoyancy to weave our way around enemies and the unaffected open spaces.

Mainly, we want to find creative ways to access the area's three top-down section, all of which challenge us with mini-boss rushes. Defeating any series of bosses earns us one of the keys we can use to unlock the final path to the Mutant Core.

We arrive at the core--presumably the last top-down section--and find that Sophia has been corrupted by its essence, her shell now a mass of twisted mutant tendrils; inside lay a tired, injured Eve. Still able to communicate, she insists that it's too late to stop the core; not wanting to see Sophia serve the core as its destructive instrument, she requests that Jason destroy both of them. He reluctantly complies, and the big fight commences.

I begin spraying Sophia (now called "Invem Sophia") with bullets but to no avail; my offense is completely ineffectual. Turns out that this is a scripted battle; I realize this when I'm suddenly prompted to exit the room. Now it becomes an escape sequence in which I must backtrack through the vertical top-down section while being chased by Sophia; as I negotiate my way around enemies, rocky obstructions, and conveyor belts, I have to dodge her crippling cannon shots, which become more difficult to anticipate when fired from offscreen.

Upon making our exit, we enter into Sophia Zero and prepare for the final battle (I think) against the corrupted Invem Sophia. In an interesting twist, the battle occurs from a side-scrolling perspective. It's no surprise that Sophia III attempts to give us a taste of our own medicine--attack us with all of the sub-weapons and abilities we've collected over the course of the adventure. Basically her attack-cycle entails hitting us with three-directional missiles, spark tackles, thunder breakers, shield mines, and occasionally a devastating acceleration blast.

It's a chaotic battle of attrition (or, at least, I made it as much with my spammy offense), which I somehow win at the last second. This triggers a scripted sequence wherein we're prompted to exit Sophia Zero and rescue the incapacitated Eve from the cockpit of Invem Sophia, whose damaged appendages no longer restrain her. We're then instructed to re-enter Sophia Zero and administer a final blow to the mutant-corrupted Invem Sophia. One final barrage of Cannon shots and finally it's all over.

The cut-scene viewed in following shows us what's going on inside the mind of the unconscious Eve. Basically it recounts all events post-Multidimensional Lord from her emotionally confused perspective. When she awakens from this nightmare, she can't help but feel apologetic for how she chose to handle the situation. Jason consoles her by playing a message from Sophia Zero on his gun's communicator; it reveals to Eve that her parents, Kane and Jennifer Gardner, were the creators Sophia Zero, who he surmises was constructed to aid Eve in her quest to destroy the core. I don't what that explains exactly, but somehow it works to brighten her mood. That's fine; whatever works, I say.

In following, Jason and Eve put into gear their respective inferiority complexes and spend another several hours (or so it seemed) sharing some tender words (each exchange basically equivalent to "Nuh-uh--I'm such a complete failure, which means that you're the one who's special!"). Also, Jason begins to speak of a secret that he's been keeping from her, but then credits start to roll before he can spit it out. I hope that means what I think it means.

Sadly, the endgame activity doesn't terminate by displaying for me a Super Metroid-style percentage-total. Really, I was interested in knowing how close I came to achieving a 100% completion rate. No helpful math for me, I guess. However, a special prompt reveals that I have unlocked the "Unlimited Mode," wherein I can start a new mission in control of a fully stocked Sophia Zero! Neat. I'll be sure to check it out in the future--perhaps after I've played through the normal mode a second time.

(Special note from Future Mr. P: I actually did achieve a 100% completion rate. Doing so was what allowed for the story to advance after the Multidimensional Lord had been defeated. Had I failed to collect every last item, the game would have ended right there, and I would have gotten a bad ending.)

Closing Thoughts

Well, that turned out to be quite a ride. Just when I'd think it was close to over, Blaster Master Zero would surprise me with additional hours-worth of content. And none of it felt superfluous or lazily constructed. I was never eager to see it end; rather, my immediate reaction to the unanticipated post-Area-8 content was that of brow-raised delight. I viewed what I was seeing as a necessary supplement--as a welcome product of Inti Creates' well-earned license to put its personal stamp on a creatively woven, lovingly produced remake of a treasured 8-bit classic.

Sure--there was a period, early on, when I was disappointed with what I perceived to be Zero's strict adherence to the original's blueprint--to its prescribed means of level-advancement--but hours of play-time and some unbiased observation showed me that I was being too presumptive. Indeed there was wisdom to Inti Creates' approach, the realization of which hit me when I became aware of the fact that I was suddenly finding great enjoyment in material that I used to swear off in frustration. That's Zero's purpose. Its creators knew that before they could realistically entertain the idea of taking us to new places, we, enthusiasts both experienced and untested, first needed to experience Blaster Master in a more-palatable form--survive so that we might recognize its genius.

As I remarked earlier: Blaster Master Zero is Inti Creates' Metroid: Zero Mission. Here we have another case of a design team striving to retain an original game's all-important core while calling upon decades-worth of acquired knowledge plus a whole lot of creative spirit to embellish it and build an expanded world around it. In that regard, Blaster Master Zero is a highly refined portrait, and all of its interesting new gimmicks and inventively retrofitted platforming challenges, which I've raved about all throughout this piece, are its skillfully brushed layers of texture--the compelling substance that will surely help to render it more attractive to those who are normally repelled by those ol' 8-bit values.

Zero does almost everything better. And then it goes beyond and provides us more: more weapons, more power-ups, more bosses, and even a whole extra area! That's a considerable amount of content for only $9.99!

All I know is that I felt good about Blaster Master Zero from the earliest moments. It was fun to play, and its remindful vibes had the effect of warping reality around me--of texturing the air with a quality whose influence could almost trick my brain into thinking that I was back in Brooklyn, soaking in that 1980s atmosphere.

Yeah--it has its issues: The action in top-down sections can grow tedious when a gimmick requires that you remain stationary for several seconds at a time. Certain enemies' AI is embarrassingly unevolved. Boss battles are easily trivialized, which speaks to both the exploitability of the game's systems and the overly generous item-doling. And the writing is, well, painful (not really a big deal, but still--you don't need for elements of your game to project a sense of amateurism). So there's still room for improvement, and I'm certain that the guys and gals at Inti Creates will recognize as much; I have as my assurance Blaster Master Zero, which stands a symbol of their commitment to righting the wrongs of history.

Now, does my telling you that Blaster Master Zero is improved and refined mean that it's definitively better than the original? If you have the choice, should you absolutely play Zero over its progenitor? I always struggle with these types of questions--with trying to determine what it is that makes a new game better than an older one or vice versa. I mean, I admit that I have something of a bias; that is, for someone like me, who's been around the medium since virtually day one, it's difficult to resist the insidious influence of nostalgia, which is indeed a powerful force. A well-adjusted person would tell you that Zero is objectively the more polished and more playable of the two and call it the better game based on that criteria. I can't. I'm simply unable to ignore Blaster Master's vitally significant intangible qualities--like how it captures the spirit of a beloved era and so unfailingly stokes the imagination with its unmistakably classic 8-bit graphics and music--and what they mean to me. There's just no replacing that.

So let's leave it at this: Blaster Master Zero is where you'll want to turn if you're looking for an enjoyable, well-made modern remake that does an excellent job of celebrating an original work while correcting its most crippling flaws. That's were it excels. That's what I'm going to continue to appreciate about Zero as I replay it.

But it could never make me forget the original Blaster Master, even though I have some serious issues with it. For certain, I'll forever return to Sunsoft's epic for reasons that aren't as easy to put into words. In simple terms: Its highly desirable intangible qualities are absolutely irreplicable.

Still, I won't detract from the fact that Blaster Master Zero is a damn fine game, Inti Creates' reverentially crafted remake a fun, delightful experience from beginning to end. I'd recommend it to anyone. I hope it finds great success.

I think about Blaster Master Zero the same way I did DuckTales: Remastered, whose creators also sought to refine a classic work and therein bring it back into the public consciousness: I see it as a good launching pad for a reboot--for the series of amazing sequels the original never got. The DuckTales reboot I was looking for didn't pan out, unfortunately, but that won't deter me from rooting for Inti Creates to seize the same opportunity and aspire to build an enduring Blaster Master franchise. They have something good here, and it would be great if they were able to expand upon it further and in doing so reestablish Blaster Master as a major brand. It's not too late for that to happen--not even after 30 years.

And if that's what the future holds, I'll happily spend those years telling you about how I was there from the very start.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Modern Wonders: Blaster Master Zero (Switch)

Well, ain't this somethin'? I spend all that time lamenting the fact that I passed up the opportunity to get to know Blaster Master during my formative years, when surely it would shaped my world in a most amazingly indelible way, and then suddenly I'm minutes away from playing its sparkling-new remake: Blaster Master Zero, which as it so happens arrives during another period of development--a time in my life that's been all about indulging in the medium's history and enriching myself via the enthusiastic discovery and rediscovery of the classics and hidden gems I sadly overlooked the first time around.

That's why I've been so excited for the release of Blaster Master Zero, which promises to provide me an uncommonly rare opportunity to experience an all-time classic as though it were entirely new and currently at the height of its relevance.

I mean, I never dreamed that I'd get a chance to be there, virtually on day one, for the release of an 8-bit Blaster Master! Really, it feels like an experience I should relish. It feels like an occasion whose every indelible moment demands documentation on, say, a memory-themed blog. It feels like I'd be missing a golden opportunity if I chose not to leave a record of my first journey through Blaster Master Zero!

After all: How many second "first chances" do you get?

Now, the original Blaster Master has always been a unique case for me: I have a strong appreciation for much of what it does, but I struggle to enjoy playing it past its fourth area. And that's sad because it scores amazingly high in the categories that mean the most to be as an enthusiast: Its strikingly rendered 8-bit visuals stand among the best in how they're able to stoke my imagination. Its terrific soundtrack is dripping with the type of nostalgic resonance that always reminds me of simpler times. The size and scope of its ambitiously crafted world has always blown me away. And I find all of its vehicular-based mechanics to be brilliantly conceived even if they aren't flawlessly implemented.

But none of that can convince me to overlook Blaster Master's fatal shortcoming: Quite simply, the game is just too damn difficult to be any fun--particularly when we're discussing its top-down gameplay, which would stand out as amazing differentiator if it wasn't so poorly executed. The action in top-down sections is unpolished and glitchy; the obnoxiously patterned enemies, who aggressively avoid your line of fire while endlessly hounding you, make it almost impossible to maintain an adequate level of gun-power; and the later boss fights against giant crabs and lobsters, with their entirely unavoidable flailing limbs and lightning-fast projectile attacks, are plain unfair regardless of whether or not you manage to remain fully equipped. Hell--these top-down sections are the reason that even the most skilled gamers can't finish Blaster Master without resorting to abuse of the damage-multiplying pause glitch, which seems to be the only practical solution to dealing with them.

In short: Blaster Master's is a treasure trove of great ideas and wonderful aesthetic qualities buried under a thick, grungy layer of questionable design choices and a crazy level of difficulty.

Yet, still, I remain filled with regret over my decision to overlook it when I was a kid. I'm certain that it would have meant a lot to me had I been able to write about Blaster Master from the perspective of someone who grew up with it and held for it a much-deeper level of reverence. Instead, all I can do is wonder about what might have been.

"Oh well," I'd say were it not for Blaster Master Zero, whose sudden, timely appearance seemed almost miraculous, as if the gaming gods had sensed my pain and were gracious enough to offer me some form of remedy. From the very first moment that my eyes caught sight of its name, I knew that I wanted to cover it--had to cover it--on this blog. Here, I recognized, was my chance to make amends for that past mistake. Since then, I've eagerly awaited the game's arrival.

Well, the time is now. I've got my Nintendo Switch at the ready (you can attribute my month-long absence to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which promptly washed away my feelings of skepticism en route to becoming something of an obsession), and only a click of a button separates me from my first encounter with Blaster Master Zero.

Honestly, I don't know much about Blaster Master Zero beyond what I've read in those few blurbs on enthusiast sites (as per usual, I tactically avoid in-depth coverage of the games I'm anticipating). I know that it's a "remake of the original," but I'm not sure what that description entails--what it means for the game's story and general world design. Does it strictly adhere to the orginal's formula, or is it something completely new? I don't know!

How 'bout we stop chatting and find out? There is, after all, no time like the present!

Well, that was one ridiculously long storyline intro. In short: Wars and environmental disasters ravaged planet Earth and forced humans to move underground, where they remained for a number of years before they were able to reemerge and start restoring their natural habitat.

I understand that the original Japanese version of Blaster Master (titled Super Planetary War Records: Metafight), after which this is patterned, had a much deeper narrative, yes, but this is a bit too much for a Westerner like me who was weaned on the not-quite-as-epic tale of the suburban kid who followed his frog down a hole. I was fine with that, really. I prefer that they keep things simple--leave something to the imagination.

Our story takes place several hundred years later, when Jason Frudnick, a genius in the field of robotics, first encounters an amphibian creature for which there are no records. His curiosity piqued, he takes the creature back to his lab and begins to observe its behavior; during this time, he names his new companion "Fred." One day Fred escapes and dives into a wormhole of unknown origin, prompting Jason to give chase. The wormhole transports him to an underground cavern, where he discovers a mysterious battle tank called Sophia III, whose door opens as if to invite him inside. Immediately Jason decides that it's the correct action to utilize this vehicle for the purpose of hunting down his companion, Fred.

I like how they retained the aspect of Jason chasing after his frog--a plot element that wasn't present in the Japanese original. It's silly, sure, but it keeps with the spirit of Blaster Master as we knew it. However, I'm hoping that the writer has now exhausted the majority of his or her creative energy--that this prolonged intro isn't foreshadowing a whole lot more in the way of drawn-out cut-scenes and lengthy expositional sequences. The best old-school action games hold up well because of their focus on maintaining a consistent pace and keeping the player engaged. Hopefully Zero intends to follow their lead and limit the interruptions.

Gauging the control scheme in the options menu fills me with confidence that Inti Creates, the game's developer, has solved the problem of unintended wall-clinging by requiring that the player hold down either the ZR or ZL button. So there'll be no more accidentally hooking around corners and charging turret-first into spike pits!

Area 1

Ah, there's that classic starting tune. If any part of the original game was kept entirely intact, I'm glad it was that. The only difference is that it features a uniquely composed intro, which changes the flavor of the accompanying starting visual of Sophia charging out from its cavernous hold; it's fine for what it is, but it doesn't quite build to the same satisfying crescendo, nor does it work as well to get the blood pumping. However, the main piece, with its amplified percussion and newly infused energy and, does as well as it ever to drench its environments with nostalgia and induce goosebumps. Its presence makes me feel right at home in a game I've known for only minutes.

So we're going with a pure neo-retro aesthetic here, huh? I was operating under the assumption that Zero's designers would aim for that Axiom Verge-style 8- to 16-bit median. Instead, it falls solidly on the side of the former, which I'm happy to see. I'd like for this remake to remain as visually faithful as possible. In fact, I think it had designs on doing just that; looking at it closely, it would appear that some of Zero's assets are recycled directly from the NES game! A quick screenshot comparison proves them to be merely similar, sure, but still: The basic texture-work is highly reminiscent of the original's, and some character sprites, like like those for Sophia and the bomb-dropping drone enemies, also appear to be a close match.

However, the designers do far more than simply replicate the original's textures; their environments feature multiple background layers, each with a prominent graphical element (rows of shifting clouds, expansive woodland, a cleaner-looking mountain range, and a tattered glass barrier), and parallax scrolling that allows for each to move independently. Also, the foliage on the surface is animated, which further increases the feeling of liveliness! I can already sense that the crew at Inti Creates put a lot of heart into this. For certain, their work early on has made for a great first impression.

Sure--neo-retro games will never look wholly authentic, because widescreen displays and HD resolutions are so noticeably incompatible with the rendering methods of 80s-era gaming machines, but Blaster Master Zero comes pretty damn close.

Immediately evident is that the controls are super-tight; they feel reactive and at all times responsive to button input whereas the original's sometimes felt sticky and laggy. And now Sophia can actually fire diagonally, where previously any angular turret movement was merely part of a transitional animation! Right away this proves to be a far more convenient alternative for dealing with flying enemies; before then your options entailed tediously picking off groups of enemies with series of horizontally fired airborne shots or riskily moving beneath them and firing upward, which would often result in being bombarded by their explosive emissions. Now I can fend them off with much less effort! What a great addition!

Though, I must admit that I'm having a little trouble with the input devices, themselves. Analog controls can be fidgety and imprecise, and the divided face buttons on left Joy-Con are no substitute for a proper d-pad; the positioning of the latter, specifically, makes it difficult to initiate and maintain diagonal movement. Of course, I'm not putting the blame on Inti Creates here (clearly this is a classic Nintendo shortfalling); I'm just saying that these particular input devices might work to hinder my experience with Zero and other precision-based 2D games. I've decided that it's in my best interest to stick with analog controls, which allow for smoother execution, and handle diagonal turret movement by holding down the right trigger, which has conveniently been assigned a Super Metroid-style automatic-diagonal-aiming function.

Also immediately obvious is that the top-down action is handled so much better: Your shots are now centered, so there's no need to press up against walls and reorient yourself depending upon an enemy's current position; thus, you don't have to rely heavily on grenades (which are now considered "sub-weapons"), whose stock, by the way, is now limited to ten. This suggests to me that (a) I should be more tactical in how I utilize grenades, and (b) and I can more comfortably rely on Jason's gun-power.

From even the earliest moments, it's easy to see that Blaster Master Zero is a highly polished game. The designers waste no time in showcasing that they took to heart all of the criticisms we levied toward the original and successfully addressed them. Really, it's the little tweaks that make all the difference--that render previously troubling control and mechanical aspects more addressable. Take the issue of Jason's always-dwindling gun-power, for instance: The system governing his gun-power still functions identically in that you increase its level by collecting specially colored power-ups and get knocked down a peg every time you take damage, but by affording him tighter controls and the ability to fire diagonally, Jason now has the capacity to deal with enemies that flutter about and fly in at funky angles; the result is that it's so much easier to maintain your current level of gun-power!

Another fantastic addition: Each level represents a different type of gun! There are nine in all, and you can switch between available weapons at any time! I've taken a liking to the Penetrator, whose shots can travel through walls and clear away series of blocks and enemies. One type of gun isn't necessarily more useful than another, it seems; they're simply situational! For instance: Diffusion, which is higher on the stack, can predictably devastate enemies with its wide blast, but its range is so short that it's not much use against enemies who lurk beyond barriers; that's to say that I won't be forgetting about the piercing Penetrator anytime soon. Also cool is that I can hold down the left trigger to access a sub-menu that allows for me to more quickly swap between available guns and sub-weapons (you can also do this in the overhead sections, where listed instead are Sophia's turret discharges and sub-weapons).

Also, the top-down sections now have an exclusive musical theme! It's a catchy little piece that definitely gets the head swaying from side to side, voluntarily or not. I can say with sincerity that it captures the spirit of those old 8-bit machines. The top-down sections are much prettier, too, their fleshed-out textures rife with detail and perspective; too, their graphics actually reflect the theme of areas that house them. Those early on display woodsy-type visuals like overgrown foliage and trees with sprawling roots; they also feature scrolling backdrops, like the forested mountain range depicted in the screenshot above, which give us a sense of what's going on beneath this elevated platform. There are wonderful atmospheric touches all around.

In terms of proportion and basic design, Zero's top-down Jason is reminiscent of the original model; however, this new design is much more eye-popping--much cooler and sleeker-looking with its sharp red hues, pointy helmet, and communicator. His movement and animation convey a certain intensity, as if to say that this iteration of Jason is more battle-hardened.

The enemy cast, in both the side-scrolling and top-down sections, is mostly the same, save for a few new critters, like the machine-generated bees and shrimp; that their fluttering swarms and colonies are so abundant early on is clearly the designers' way of encouraging me to master the art of firing diagonally. I also discover a new game-changing mechanic: In either section, my weapons can actually stun-lock enemies, temporarily freezing them in place while I spray them with bullets. This prevents them from plowing through my attacks and rapidly sapping my health with physical contact while I recalibrate myself. This will be most helpful for neutralizing groups of encircling enemies.

I've already obtained a new sub-weapon: Remote bombs, which I can lay down one at a time. The presence of such a weapon continues to fuel my sense that Zero will introduce a tactical element to its combat. You can replenish your sub-weapon stock by collecting the little orange icons, which enemies generously drop. They're also laying around everywhere--out in the open or under rocks.

Other observations: The improved sprite memory means that I won't be blasting away the same rocks over and over again while wondering whether or not I've already done so. The fool's-gold collectibles have returned (that is, there are still instances where the designers place health items and power-ups within spiky enclosures, their collection guaranteeing damage), for, I guess, tradition's sake. Or maybe it's the continuance of a running gag. And there always seems to be good reason to visit these top-down sections, whereas navigating those in the original often seemed like a pointless exercise; there's always some interesting item to collect, be it a map, a gun or a sub-weapon. Also, being able to view the a boss' health via a displayed meter is a nice luxury to have; it gives me a sense of how well I'm faring and when it's safe to abandon all strategy and go all-in with sub-weapons.

I'm torn on Zero's adopting of certain standard conventions. I'm OK with save points and saving in general, since I can no longer spend six to eight hours a day playing through video games, but I'm feeling ambivalent toward the addition of maps; that is, I'm likely going to obsessively rely on them, yet I'll surely be haunted by the notion that maps betray the spirit of the original, which, like other Metroid-inspired games, was produced during an era when developers weren't afraid to leave us to our own devices. That was one of their intrinsic values--part of what made them what they were. I guess I just have to accept that we're living in a different time.

Jason is still exceptionally weak when outside of Sophia (he takes potentially fatal fall damage whenever he drops any distance greater than two blocks), so I'm guessing that the game will not be prioritizing Jason-only gameplay in these side-scrolling sections. That would be too bad, since I've always felt that the original missed an opportunity to present some fun Jason-only puzzles and platforming segments. I can confirm that he still wields the same ridiculously disproportionate gun, if that counts for anything.

Using the powered-up shot I earned by defeating the familiar Mother Brain boss, I'm able to defeat a wall-mounted guardian and locate a "Life-Up" upgrade in area's upper-middle forest portion (rather than increasing my health meter by one bar, the first peg of the existing meter is shaded white to indicate the bump in endurance), which in the original was barren. Neat. So I can see that it pays to fully explore the side-scrolling sections, too. Area 1 is just about identical to the original in terms of structure save for an inaccessible water section I spotted in the forest's watery south-western portion. I'm hoping it's a sign that Zero is about to break free from the established blueprint and become its own thing. I mean, I'm happy that they replicated the original Area 1 for the purpose of creating a nostalgic link, but I'll be disappointed if Zero fails to move in a new direction from here.

But so far I like what I'm seeing from the game. I've felt really good about it from the get-go. No build-up was needed; it was able to capture my imagination right away. The action is satisfying. The visuals are on key. The music is excellent. And the exposition, so far, has been kept to a minimum. Good show.

Area 2

And from what I'm seeing early on in Area 2, it does seem as though Blaster Master Zero is prepared to move in a new direction. It's established that we're in a "residential area," to which Fred has moved according to our tracker. It's sort of a domed city. Like in the original's Area 2, the main obstacles to our progress are pairs of indestructible blocks that plug up narrow passages. Also, pools of deadly purple liquid are embedded into most of the platforms; a few of them are home to a new type of enemy--a strange jumping cephalopod. 

Hmmmm--upon further inspection, it would appear that Area 2 is much closer to the original, structurally, than I previously thought. It's not an exact match, no, but there's enough of a superficial resemblance to make me worry. Though, the visual differences might be speaking of a different truth. Might it be that Zero is going to be meticulous in how it aspires to explore new ground? A visual shift that might inspire an inevitable change in level structure?

The music track is different, at least. This one is more mysterious-sounding in tone, its tensely arranged bass creating an air of investigation and imminent danger. It's not as memorable as the original work, which had the benefit of being compositionally similar to the iconic starting-area theme, but it's still quite catchy; like the other music in this game, it's definitely got that head-swaying rhythm to it. But I appreciate its shift in tone; the music in Metroid-style action-adventure games should grow more mysterious and emotionally unsettling as you move deeper below the surface.

Let me be clear: For whatever fears I have about its future direction, Blaster Master Zero certainly isn't lacking for distinguishing qualities. I'm only an hour into what I assume to be a six-eight-hour game, and there are already plenty of new and interesting additions.

I didn't realize until now that you can strafe in the top-down sections by holding down the right trigger! As I'm using the jittery analog controls, this will help to alleviate the problem of Jason suddenly veering off in some unintended direction as I try to line up a shot. This is one of the several "little improvements" I discussed earlier.

It remains true that retaining top-level gun-power is essential to victory. For as easily as the dispatch minor enemies, flame throwers, machine guns, and, really, most every gun listed below the devastating Wave are largely ineffectual against bosses. And, honestly, it hasn't been difficult to retain the Wave gun; thus far, the game has been overly generous in how in how it doles out gun power-ups. As a result of its free-handedness, Zero's challenge-level has been somewhat compromised. Also, having such a detailed map does indeed dampen the critical element of arousing the feelings of apprehension and uneasiness that I expect to surface during experiences with exploration-based games; the map-filling fiend in me just can't resist checking it every few seconds, so I'm hoping that the designers help to remove the temptation by making maps much harder to find.

Some of the boss encounters are actually Super Smash TV-style endurance challenges that pit you against hordes of low-level minions, like the floating cybernetic heads and the Galaga-like insects who coincidentally chain together and attack in formations. Their defeat has supplied me sub-weapons that were originally standard, like homing missiles; sub-weapons are powered by my blue ammo meter, which replenishes itself over time. That's another genius move; it completely eliminates the fear of running out of ammo, yes, yet its slow rate of replenishment restricts me from cheaply spamming them. The homing missiles have been a boon in this area, which is abundant with those obnoxious worm creatures that are adept at crawling beneath Sophia's line of fire.

I should also mention that full exploration of the top-down sections also yields new "Main" weapons for Sophia, like the Mega Man-style charge shots. There's always an award waiting if you're willing to zealously explore.

Our main boss for the area is the familiar Crabullus, who I easily overpower with my Wave gun. Other factors that contribute to the painless dispatching of bosses include the guns' insane stun-locking potential and the more-spacious battlefields, their increased dimensions opening up more points of attack while minimizing the possibility that swiftly-moving foes and those with extended limbs will corner you.

Another pleasant surprise: Rather than remaining strictly combat-focused, the top-down sections introduce interesting new gimmicks! Here in Area 2, exploration entails working your way around and avoiding deadly pools of receding and reappearing toxic purple liquid. While I'm not a big fan of this particular gimmick, since it requires a lot of standing around and waiting (also, shaky analog control often result in my plunging into the liquid when I'm enclosed within it and I'm frantically attempting to engage the hordes of incoming Galaga-like enemies), I'm thrilled that the level designers have chosen to take this route! I look forward to seeing what they do in the following areas.

The order of weapon procurement so far is consistent with the original game: Crabullus' defeat nets me the Crusher Shot, which allows me to clear away those previously indestructible blocks. Also, I'm allowed access to the next room, where I find an unconscious girl, whose presence causes Jason's Blaster Rifle to emit a brilliant light; thus, he suspects that she's somehow connected to Sophia. Her name is Eve, and she's of course an amnesiac, yet she demonstrates an unexplained propensity for being able to repair Sophia. She decides to aid Jason in his mission by supplying him information when contacted (so she's basically Alia from the Mega Man X series). I probably won't be utilizing her services. 

The dialogue is head-shakingly bad, which I guess is a throwback to the earlier days when companies didn't prioritize quality localization. Yay for authenticity?

I'm a bit worried by this development, actually. Both the sheer length of that cut-scene and character's general chattiness feels like a harbinger of things to come. Still, I'll cling to the hope that future dialogue exchanges will be much more abbreviated.

After enduring several minutes of exposition, I finally retake control of Sophia. And with our Crusher Shot at the ready, we can now access Area 3.

Area 3

Eve informs us that Area 3 is an "industrial zone." Exploring its early rooms reveals it to be both visually and structurally similar to the original's Area 3. So we've reached the point where it's become apparent that Zero has no designs on straying from the original's blueprint--at least in terms of how its levels progress. In truth, I'd come to suspect that the desired "shift in direction" wasn't going to happen, as all signs were indicating otherwise, and I'd already started to come to grips with the reality. And, really--for reasons I'll explain later on--I've actually become accepting of Inti Creates' decision to play it safe in this regard.

But there are still some major differences: For one, it introduces a new area theme--another upbeat Mega Man 2-style, percussion-heavy piece, its composition likewise tinged with an underlying dose of melancholy. It's a really solid piece, yet it lacks the sheer power the original's nostalgically soaked Area 3 theme, which is one of my all-time favorite 8-bit compositions.

Also, the area now features a prominent conveyor-belt theme. Exploration and puzzle-solving is now conducted by interacting with platforms' many embedded metallic belts. The most recurring gimmick entails stationing Sophia on inactive, color-coded conveyors and triggering movement to force open the associated barriers (green and purple barriers lock in place once fully engaged while yellow ones begin to slowly retract the moment Sophia dismounts). The top-down sections, in keeping with the theme, also feature terrain comprised of conveyor belts and challenges that entail resisting their force in unique ways.

Area 3, too, introduces the first side-scrolling boss, which is another major surprise. Here we battle the track-riding Central Gear using the hovering ability we obtained seconds before the robotic monstrosity revealed itself. As Sophia's projectiles and sub-weapons aren't as overpowered as Jason's, it's actually a pretty challenging battle. I mean, I almost suffered my first death! Managing the quickly depleted hover ability while at the same time looking to secure the vantage point necessary to successfully fire shots through the gear's narrow aperture, out of which its attacks spilled, proved to be tricky.

The hover ability, our first "maneuvering" skill, is also fueled by our ammo meter, eliminating the need to constantly collect the elusive "H" icons. Strangely, it's not long before I procure a seemingly redundant ability by defeating the returning Photophage boss--a "Boost" maneuver that allows Sophia to repeatedly jump through the air. I reckon that either will allow us to fully explore the rest of this area and subsequently the leftmost portion of Area 1, which history tells us is our next destination (the flashing arrows on the map are certainly nudging us in that direction). Can't wait to get back above ground and hear that invigorating starting theme!

I like to break my play-throughs up into more-palatable sessions--make the experience last as long as possible--so I'll pick things up tomorrow.

Area 4

Our backtracking efforts take us to Area 4, the subterranean "Glacial Area," as Jason terms it. If its design resembles the original's tunnel system, then we've just entered the game's most labyrinthine area (though obviously to a much lesser degree due to the existence of a referable map).

The area 's musical theme abandons the original's mysterious undertones and looks to induce feelings of concern with its disturbingly ringy high-pitched strains. Either direction is fine, really; any tonal shift that induces anxiety is ideal. We're moving deeper underground, the environments are growing drearier, and our level of comfort is reducing exponentially; the music, as I've insisted should convey as much.

I have to reiterate that he soundtrack is pretty damn good. I still prefer the original's tunes, true, but saying as much does nothing to detract from the fact that Zero's is some A-tier retro-style musical accompaniment.

The top-down sections introduce a new water-rushing mechanic; huge tidal waves rush in incrementally, and they'll sweep you up and carry you backwards, into the nearest blocky obstruction, if you don't seek the cover of elevated platforms. To simply get a sense of their implemented gimmick is reason enough to visit these top-down sections.

Oh, and look at that: Falling into gaps doesn't instantly kill you; as any post-NES Zelda is wont to do, the game simply returns you to tile upon which you were standing before you took the plunge and punishes you by deducting a measly single bar of health. Contrarily, the enemy AI functions almost identically (that is, enemies stupidly hug platform edges rather than circumnavigate them), which makes it all too easy to pick them off with diagonal shots. Being that it's 29 years later, you'd think that the enemy AI would have been tweaked to where they could be observed to demonstrate more adaptability and versatility.

Not everything has to remain authentic, you know.

I've never really been a fan of haptic feedback (rumble), but I like how they've implemented it here. It does well to simulate blaster fire and the shock of taking damage, yes, but what I appreciate most is how its reverberations warn me of incoming dangers like tidal waves (whose manifestations I otherwise couldn't predict) and the activity of enemies that are lurking near the screen's margins. The intensity of the vibrations conveys the power of explosions and your proximity to them. It's pretty cool.

And there absolutely is a frog boss waiting for us in the glacial area's depths. However, this version of the mutated beast is fought from the side-scrolling perspective. It retains just about all of its classic maneuvers--series of pouncing jumps, tongue-lashes, and bouncing-projectile attacks--and mixes in a creative new trick: when it slams itself into the ground, debris will fall from the ceiling; in following, if allowed to do so, it'll eat the flies that emerge from the wreckage and temporarily enter into a high-powered, hyperactive state. Still, the battle is largely unchallenging, since you can get right up in its face and wipe it out in seconds by furiously mashing the attack button.

Defeating it earns us a key.

Blaster Master Zero can be moderately challenging at times, yes, but all too often it seems that victory can be achieved without my needing to put in much effort. It's good that they addressed the original game's issue with unfair difficulty, but they might have tilted the scales too far in the other direction here. I mean, I haven't died a single time to this point--even when I've been reckless! Something about that just seems wrong. If it's true that the developers are going to continue to update the game, I'd like for one of their future expansions to include a hard more wherein either (a) gun ammo isn't as readily available or (b) bosses are afforded the protection of invincibility frames. Or maybe a combination of both suggestions.

And immediately after communicating that thought, I almost die at the area's escape point. The culprit is that room the block-shaped locking mechanisms, which has been completely redesigned. Or should I say "un-redesigned"? That is, the silly bastards at Inti Creates brought back the dreaded "death jump," which was a feature of the Japanese original's Area 4. Before it was changed at the behest of Sunsoft's U.S. division, you see, this room was bereft of platforms, and its design demanded that the ridiculously frail Jason take a screen-wide leap of faith and somehow grab onto a short-length floating ladder. As you can imagine, the avid Blaster Master player usually expended all of his or her continues in this room.

Thankfully, however, Zero's designers were nice enough to install a pool of water below and to the left of the ladder, providing me something of a safety net. Still, I failed a whole bunch of times because it's difficult to align Jason with the ladder using either of the shaky movement inputs. Eventually I learned that Jason will more reliably grab the ladder if I press the jump button when I'm within its vicinity (remember when he had manuals to inform us about such things?), but even then I can't help but be filled with feelings of doubt.

Most of these criticisms are merely nitpicks, really. In truth, Blaster Master Zero has been a joy to play. I'm having a whole lot of fun exploring its world and, well, blasting things!

Let's do more of that in the next area!