Inti Creates has a very stable track record of consistent, high quality retro-style 2D action games. They have been at it before the genre was considered retro, and for them its always been business as usual. Inti Creates don’t make games in the style of retro titles; they make games that are genuinely retro.
From the Mega Man X-like Azure Striker Gunvolt games, to the classicvania Curse of the Moon spin-offs of Bloodstained; Inti Creates can always be counted on for authentic old school thrills and tight action. With Blaster Master Zero they sought to revive the Sunsoft 8-bit classic with their anime-infused spin on it, and after two entries its become a full-on trilogy on Nintendo Switch.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is the climax of Jason Frudnick’s story; beginning almost immediately where the second game concluded. What began as a humble story of a boy and his frog; snowballed into a galactic struggle between mutants, aliens, and the the destruction of the fabric of reality itself.
With his trusty robot girlfriend succumbing to corruption, Jason will find himself making unlikely allies in his most desperate adventure yet.
Blaster Master Zero 3
Developer: Inti Creates
Publisher: Inti Creates
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: July 29th, 2021
Price: $14.99 USD
Blaster Master Zero 3 is the kind of sequel that assumes the player has played the prior entries. The structure often makes the experience feel like a third entry, and more like a third act to a much bigger story. For a Metroidvania, there is an abundance of text and story that is established through out and almost none of it is clumsy exposition.
Characters show up with very little introduction, and anyone who didn’t play the first two will feel like a child wandering into the middle of movie. There is a lot of terminology and jargon that have meaning, but only to those who put the time to play all of the games. There is no patronizing in Blaster Master Zero 3, and anyone interested in playing it really should play the first two before purchasing this.
Impressively, certain plot points involving the rips and breakdown of dimensions are set up as early as the first game. Blaster Master Zero 3 will have have players ducking for cover as all the loose ends start flying, and pay-offs come rushing in as the narrative unfolds at a brisk pace. There is never a dull moment, and every line of dialogue pushes things forward.
Blaster Master games are distinct Metroidvanias with two main modules of play. The main 2D platforming where players primarily control a highly mobile tank that has hefty physics and has run and gun gameplay. The secondary module is overhead dungeon exploration and combat.
This has been a tradition since the first game on the NES, and Inti Creates does add flair mostly to the overhead dungeon sequences. These were the parts that were always the least fun in most Blaster Master games, and while the developers definitely improved these parts, they are still the least fun moments in the game.
Jason’s mechanics while in dungeons don’t have the same level of polish as controlling the SOPHIA tank. He moves too slow, his dodge consumes too much stamina, and the hit-detection is unreliable in some instances. The dungeons can be tedious to play and visually boring to look at; often made up of very basic rooms with hard angles.
Inti Creates does try their best to make these worthwhile. Jason still has his counter attack ability introduced in Blaster Master Zero 2, and most of the weapons he acquired are present. Switch puzzles are now a reoccurring element in dungeons, and can only be activated by using the corresponding weapon associated with the respective color.
Driving the SOPHIA may be more traditional gameplay for a Metroidvania, but it’s always the most consistent on delivering satisfying gameplay. Platforms are varied, and threats can come at any side of the screen. Jason is also able to exit his tank, which makes him very vulnerable but also functions like a morphball for those hard to reach places.
Blaster Master Zero 3, like its predecessors, only has the overhead dungeon sequences because the first Blaster Master had them. These were sequences that helped make the NES game feel like it had more value to it, and do legitimately added some variety. The Zero games have the best SOPHIA gameplay the series has seen, and ultimately didn’t need the dungeons that overstay their welcome.
Blaster Master Zero 3 by far is the most egregious with how often Jason has to leave the SOPHIA and go explore a dungeon. Not only are they very frequent, but they also are much longer than the series has seen before. Jason gets so many weapons, but only a few of them are reliable, and the others are just for hitting switches and then quickly back to the wave beam or later whip.
The new gameplay element in this sequel is the dimension hopping Jason will have to endure. The execution of this concept amounts to having to navigate a randomly generated dungeon: a regurgitation of the weakest part of Blaster Master Zero 3. Enemies in these rifts are also extra annoying; having more HP, and the only reason why anyone would stomach these is to get back to the SOPHIA.
The awesome wave of relief that washes over upon exiting a dungeon or dimensional space is fleeting, because it also means that there will inevitably be another that will become necessary. The dungeons are definitely not deal-breakers, because the tank gameplay is good enough to carry the experience, but it never stops being a disappointment when they show up.
When in the G-SOPHIA SV, it feels as if it can do anything. It’s able to wall-jump like Ryu Hayabusa, change into a spider mode, and can hover. It’s extremely mobile for such a heavy vehicle, and it’s never far away thanks to Fred the mutant frog who can always be counted on to teleport Jason back to his ride.
It used to be that the dungeons were the smaller aspect of Blaster Master, but in Zero 3, they take up a much larger part of the experience. This might be due to the designers wanting to make Jason have more of a presence in his own story, and for him not to be overshadowed by his tank.
The tanks versus dungeon gameplay may be an arguable case; nobody will deny that Blaster Master Zero 3 has really impressive pixel art. Inti Creates strives for a style that resembles the limitations of the 8-bit console era, but renders many more colors than possible on hardware designed in the 80s.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is full of detailed imagery of big anime style cut-ins and portraits. Cinematic camera angles with animation make dialogue scenes visually striking and leave an impression. There is even a bit of fan-service drawn up by Inti Creates’ top men, who’s craft can make harsh and jagged pixels look incredibly soft and supple.
Tiny details like the wheels on SOPHIA that have animation that make them feel like they have volume were not possible on the NES, or the flurry of homing missiles that target individual threats. The only thing mission from Blaster Master Zero 3‘s suite of artistic excellence is scanline filters to simulate the impression of a phosphorus glow.
The excellent music has also been very consistent with the prior entries. This is a reboot of a Sunsoft game, so great care was put into copying their signature sound. Samples of long strings of blips and shrills harmonize into a very convincing chiptune of the kinds of music heard in most Sunsoft games like Journey to Sillius or Fester’s Quest.
Blaster Master Zero 3 is a worthy climax for the series. Its got replay value thanks to the many difficult optional dungeons, and there is a true ending to earn. It’s not the best Blaster Master Zero game (that honor goes to Blaster Master Zero 2), but it’s still a fine modest, retro style 2D action game.
It remains to be seen if Inti Creates will implement any DLC playable characters for Blaster Master Zero 3. Prior entries would eventually offer different characters from Inti Creates’ own catalog, along with third party favorites like Shovel Knight or Shantae.
For once, it would be appreciated if the developers could let this one be, and move on to something new, or a hypothetical Curse of the Moon 3. The Blaster Master Zero trilogy is a solid reboot of what can be loosely described as a franchise. It is one of the few cases where the reboot is better than the source material its based upon.
Blaster Master Zero 3 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Inti Creates. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.