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!

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