Blaster Master: Overdrive Review

The downloadable game market is enjoying a sort of retro revival. Beloved old-school titles are receiving retro-tinged updates that induce nostalgic feelings when we simply hear their names. Mega Man 9, Space Invaders Extreme, and the recently announced Sonic the Hedgehog 4 are all gracing the the downloadable arena in some way. If you ask me, I’m all for this trend; being able to play an 8-bit Mega Man game again or blast aliens in Galaga Legions is something that I don’t want to see go away at all. Games like these remind us why we became gamers in the first place, and it’s always great to be reminded.

I wish I could feel the same way about Blaster Master: Overdrive. Blaster Master was the one series that blew me away when I played it on the NES as a kid. “You mean I can get out of my tank and shoot more aliens? Sign me up!” As the sequels and spin-offs trickled out, though, the series lost its grip on the Metroid-type gameplay it featured. Sunsoft has realized Blaster Master’s fall from grace and has brought us this retro revival on WiiWare. Blaster Master: Overdrive is a return to form, placing you back in your tank, S.O.P.H.I.A., to blast mutants and save Earth in a 2D side-scrolling/top-down adventure. All the parts that make Blaster Master great are here: open environment, exploration, and upgrades. What brings the experience down, though, are poor controls, generic environments, and a maddening difficulty.

Overdrive plays remarkably similarly to the original NES game. You’ll traverse 8 areas that all make up one giant map to explore. Like Metroid and Castlevania, you’ll only be able to access certain areas after gaining upgrades for your tank, such as grappling hooks and hover pads. The game never gives you any sense of direction and just lets you explore, only alerting you when you enter a new area. It was a refreshing feeling, not knowing where to go, only armed with my map and how risky I was feeling. It also amplified the need and reward for gaining upgrades. Instead of being held by the hand to your next upgrade, you can come across these tools with a sense of discovery and eagerness. The top-down segments are also a return to form, as you blast aliens and grab similar upgrades for your character, such as health and weapon tokens. You’ll find a good number of the bosses here, too, which usually just task you with blasting them, Contra-style.


An important component of games like this — ones that require twitch reflexes and an precision — the controls are so bad that I had to fight my Wii Remote more than the nasty bugs I aimed to defeat. The game is played by holding the Wii Remote NES-style, and this is probably the worst choice the game could have made. There are just not enough buttons on the standard Wii Remote to support the amount of things you’ll be doing. In order to keep your cannon or character facing one direction while shooting, you have to press the B button. This usually means using your middle finger, and it’s very uncomfortable to reach under the remote as often as the game requires. Control issues don’t end here, though. You push the A button to switch weapons, which makes you have to free up a thumb from the D-pad or firing your weapon to switch to another weapon in the heat of battle. Jumping is also glitchy. I would press the jump button and perform a short hop 2 out of 3 times. This is only supposed to happen when you tap the button, not hold it down. I tried three other Wii Remotes to see if it was a error with my controller, but it happened each time. It was incredibly frustrating to have to press jump 4 or 5 times to get up one ledge or make a jump across fire or spikes and fall right in because it didn’t read my input right.

Environments and difficulty don’t fare any better. Each area is a generic carbon copy of the previous one. Area 4 looks like Area 1 except it’s blue and has a different background. In a game like this where exploration is key, you don’t want to explore generic environments that look like the one you just came from. Color is mostly absent from the world as well, with usually only 3 or 4 colors being used in each area. Difficulty is tied to the level design because enemies are placed in areas where you just can’t shoot them, but they can damage you. The hit detection is off as well, and your bullets will travel over enemies’ heads, with no way to aim down to shoot them. You have to wait until they attack or travel to a different elevation and aim up. Enemies are abundant and clog up areas, forcing you to take damage just to progress. Bosses also soak up damage and it becomes a battle of attrition. I was in disbelief sometimes at the sheer number of enemies that were present in some areas or how many bullets I was pumping into a boss before it went down. It was overwhelming and just not fun.

Perhaps the only thing keeping me playing was the music. Each area features a remixed and remastered tune from the original Blaster Master. It was great to hear new versions of these scores and I would sometimes leave the game idle as I listened to them in each new area.

Blaster Master: Overdrive trys to achieve old-school exploration and shooting, but lacks the polish and attention to achieve it. It wisely goes back to the original formula that made the series beloved, but doesn’t do it justice. If Sunsoft could revamp the controls, mix up the level design, and breath some life into Blaster Master’s world, maybe we could see the game that Blaster Master always deserved. As of now though, Overdrive is not that game.


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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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