Blaster Master Overdrive
The Earth has fallen to infection from an unknown virus and the world’s wildlife has inexplicably mutated into deadly, horrific monsters. Two brave souls set forth to uncover the source of the virus; Alex, a biologist apparently hailing from the ‘Gordon Freeman School of Science’, and S.O.P.H.I.A., his trusty mount, bearing a strong resemblance to a tank crossed with an ATV. As the search pulls them further beneath the Earth’s surface the peril steadily escalates – for reasons both intended and not.
Blaster Master Overdrive is yet another beloved – yet slightly obscure – retro title to get the revival treatment. Originally appearing on the Nintendo Entertainment System way back in ’88, Overdrive is Sunsoft’s most recent attempt to resurrect the property. Comparable to the recent 2D Castlevania titles or the Metroid franchise, Overdrive falls almost squarely into the astutely named Metroidvania ‘genre.’ What that means is the game is built around a single large level that’s revealed from the start but is mostly inaccessible until certain skills and upgrades are acquired, thus allowing your character to reach previously unreachable areas. Often these abilities are obtained through defeating a boss enemy or reaching the end of a specific area – in Overdrive’s case its bosses.
Getting into Blaster Master Overdrive at first is daunting for a few reasons; the major one being how old the game feels. Given it’s a reimagining of a two decade old game this was somewhat expected, but the transition is made difficult due to the game’s controls. In addition to the normal side-scrolling you’ll do in S.O.P.H.I.A., Alex will have to explore various sub-caves in a top-down view to collect valuable items and fight the various boss enemies. These sections are nearly impossible to physically control comfortably with a sideways WiiMote given Alex’s need to strafe while he shoots, which requires the constant use of the trigger and d-pad simultaneously. Depressing the trigger alone is enough to cause some serious hand cramping, but also trying to constantly hold the microscopic d-pad in a diagonal direction must be someone’s idea of a sick joke.
While you’re fighting the bosses – and the WiiMote! – you may notice they have some of the greatest amounts of stamina found in any boss you’ve ever encountered, ever. Now there’s nothing wrong with epic boss battles as long as they continue to evolve and intrigue but many of Overdrive’s bosses are content to recycle two to three obvious attacks over and over again. Confound that further with the occasional boss itself being recycled and there’s several big lumbering problems going on. Even though most of the boss’ animations are easily read and dodged, many of them feel hard because of the marathon of fighting them, which is just a cheap way of creating a false difficulty. It’s likely you’ll die against them but not because they’re hard, but because they’re boring, leaving you so disinterested you find yourself taking more careless damage than anything else.
Get a Grip!
I found playing Blaster Master Overdrive most comfortable with a Wii Wheel. The extra girth made holding the WiiMote more comfortable and using the trigger acceptable – if not desirable.
Fortunately a lot of Blaster Master takes place behind the wheels of S.O.P.H.I.A.; unfortunately it still doesn’t quite work on a WiiMote. Another controller issue is the A button is used for item switching – it’s also an issue on foot – which forces you to migrate your thumb away from control of your character and in an old-school action game that is a recipe for unnecessary damage. Conceivably, most if not all of Overdrive’s control issues could have been solved with either Game Cube or Classic controller support, but sadly neither is available.
Given these issues, normal navigation through Blaster Master’s caverns takes a while to feel comfortable and even once you’ve reached that point it’s still a long time before it’s actually fun. Before recovering some of S.O.P.H.I.A.’s first upgrades most platforming is both deliberate and tedious. However, once a few have been recovered, S.O.P.H.I.A. will have a wide array of ways to tackle various platforming sections and enemy encounters. These abilities open up the gameplay – and world – in a manner that makes exploration fun, which is exactly what Metroidvania strives for. The problem is that coupled with the awkward controls, Overdrive never makes a very good first impression and you may not want to stick around long enough to see what’s in store.
Despite all of Blaster Master’s apparent missteps it is impossible to deny the quirky appeal the game has. A lot of this can be attributed to the bizarre but charming S.O.P.H.I.A. and to the tried and true Metroidvania formula. Unfortunately, all of Overdrive’s retro appeal is hidden deep beneath the surface – much like that pesky virus. If you feel up to the challenge of mundane bosses, feeling old and giving yourself hand cramps, then by all means, the Earth needs purging.
I’ll stick to my games that are good on and off the surface.