Blaster Master: Enemy Below is a rather interesting title, to say nothing of overlooked.
Released for the Game Boy Color in 2000, one can be forgiven for thinking that the game is a port of 1988’s Blaster Master for the Nintendo Entertainment System; at a glance, the two are virtually indistinguishable.
But the truth of the matter is that Enemy Below is actually a sequel to the classic NES game, and retains the look, sound, and gameplay of its predecessor well before games such as Mega Man 9 or Konami’s 16-bit-like ReBirth series made it the cool thing to do.
While the Japanese and North American plots for the original game drastically differed, this title follows the events of the latter, with Jason recruited to battle a creature created by a group of scientists, a creature they cannot control.
After a wordless intro sets things up, you’re placed in control of the powerful all-terrain battle tank known as S.O.P.H.I.A. And unlike most games, this is where the bulk of the platforming and exploration takes place as you venture through a world not entirely unlike those found in Metroid. Generally speaking, these are widely regarded as “the fun parts.”
The exploration generally provide a means to an end, similar in a way to traversing the overworld to find the labyrinths and dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. Unlike those titles, however, the game completely changes.
While the vehicle-based portions will allow you to leave S.O.P.H.I.A. to look around in some areas that the tank cannot access, Jason is completely on his own when he goes into these catacombs. Jumping is out and grenade-use is in as the perspective shifts to a top-down perspective and you search the maze-like caverns for items, keys, and bosses while fending off their denizens.
And make no mistake about it; these segments tend to be quite a bit more difficult than cruising around topside. You can only move in the four cardinal directions, with no diagonal movement allowed, and your gun has a much shorter range here than in the side-scrolling portions.
As a result, moving around and fighting enemies can be rather hard. You can get power-ups for your gun along the way, but unfortunately, taking damage from anything– be it sharp spikes on the floor or an enemy/projectile, you’ll lose the power-up.
What makes this even worse is how randomly enemies will appear in portions, making them unpredictable and giving them a definite edge. As a result, the power-ups feel almost worthless, as you’re likely to lose it to the rapid stream of lasers coming from that one ugly monster who wasn’t there just moments before.
Those who persevere, however, are well rewarded. Completing these areas means getting new add-ons for S.O.P.H.I.A., including weapons and gear which make it a real all-terrain vehicle, which of course means more blasting and more exploring. But even so, we feel that a little bit of concession towards player movement and consistent enemy placement would not have dampened the difficulty too much, and would have felt a little more fair.
Basically, Blaster Master: Enemy Below is the type of sequel designed with people who loved the original in mind, and endeavors to give them more of what they want. The overall package feels very much like you could call it Blaster Master 2 (if that one weren’t already taken) or Blaster Master Plus, and that includes everything that comes with the original game– both good and bad.
Again, the game is tough– you might want to have an FAQ on hand if you want to improve your chances, but at least this game differs from the original by allowing you to save your game, which is further bolstered by the save state feature of the Virtual Console.
If you loved the original Blaster Master and it left you hungry for more, then odds are you’ll enjoy this one, too. Likewise, if you found it too difficult– save abilities notwithstanding– then you probably won’t find this one to be any easier. This is definitely a game for the hardcore and/or oldschool gamer, as it doesn’t hold your hand at any point (there’s not even a map screen), and it’s up to you to figure it all out.
Blaster Master: Enemy Below was released for the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console through the Nintendo eShop on December 15th, and is priced at $4.99. A review copy was provided to us by Nintendo of Canada.