And We're Here Because...?
Blaster Master 2
There's something missing in sequel Blaster Master 2. We discussed that Blaster Master might not have been a big seller but it did gain a wealth of cultural cachet; any sequel to that game would have to try and at least approach the magic of the original to try and do right by the series. But after the 1988 adventure game out, Sunsoft seemed at a loss as to what to do with the series. A planned SNES port fell through, so they passed the reins for the first sequel off to Software Creations (who made a bunch of ports of other company's games as well as bargain-bin liscensed titles) while the later Game Boy title in the series was just a reskin of an unrelated game. Blaster Master had magic; its first sequels did not.
It's not that Blaster Master 2 is necessarily a bad game -- among the kinds of game released for he Sega Genesis it fares decently even if it was never going to top anyone's "Best of" charts -- it's just that as a sequel to the NES original it suffers in comparison. The bones are there but Software Creations clearly didn't understand the true magic of the original game so they cranked something out that, despite it's upgraded graphics, feels like a copy-of-a-copy of the original title.
The first level doesn't really show the flaws of the game and might have even fooled fans into thinking this was a fine-form title for the series. Jason, having been forced to rebuild his tank, Sophia, after it was struck by lightning, heads deep into the Earth after a new group of aliens who are using the blasted off parts from Sophia to dig to the core and destroy the Earth. This requires Jason, of course, to travel around through a series of areas, both in his tank and on foot, blasting through enemies, collecting power-ups, and fighting bosses. The first level is both a great representation of how the game would play out, putting Jason on a fairly linear path to fight a sub-boss and then an actual boss all before driving his tank to the end of the level and blasting through a top-down tank arena, all before reaching the next zone. This first level, though, does highlight the flaws that the game wouldn't really be able to shake.
The first big issue is that this game is broken up into actual levels, and those levels are very formulaic. As noted, Jason has to fight two bosses in the first level before reaching a tank section and moving on to level two. He then does this again in level two, and three, and four, and so on until he takes on the boss of level eight. There's no real variety to the stage, nothing that breaks up the monotony of Jason's tasks. Each stage is very rigid in how it's built and you know exactly what Jason has to do each time.
This structure does defeat one of the biggest hallmarks of the original title: it's not a Metroidvania. While each of the levels are fairly large areas that Jason can explore in, essentially, any direction, once he's done in a zone there's no going back. Where the first game had you traversing back and forth across your starting zone to look for new areas to explore, this game lays everything out for you in linear bits and pieces; you're never going to see a platform and wonder when the game will let you get there as it's going to happen within a few minutes or not at all.
The game also changes up the perspectives of the game, although I don't think this is quite as big an issue. As noted above, Jason can drive around in the tank and move around on foot, which is the same as before. In certain rooms Jason will also appear as a zoomed in version of himself but, unlike the original game, these are done as side-scrolling run-n-gun boss fights, not top-down dungeons. The top-down perspective is saved for the end-of-stage tank battle arenas. While the running and gunning is decent fun, I do think the tank sections are too hard, annoyingly paced, and overly long. These sections of the game are a drag on the pacing and ruing the flow of the game. It's not smooth like it was in the original title, moving back and forth from top-down to side-scrolling.
Jason and his tank, meanwhile, feel much weaker this time around. He has more gadgets and gear to collect but most of them are of limited usefulness at best. The only upgrades that actually matter are the hover attachment for the tank and, later, the jet-pack for Jason (both of which more or less function the same way). Upgrades that added new weapons, new functionality, or did more to make the tank maneuverable would have helped this title, but there's no good replacement (or even something to fill the void) of the tank's previous underwater upgrade, or its wall clinging abilities, and that leaves the platforming feeling much more shallow this time around.
Meanwhile much of the life and personality of the first game is missing here. Where in the original game the tank would move and flex as it rolled around, looking and acting like a real character, it's a static vehicle here without that necessary spark of life. Jason has also lost his cutesy style, looking more like what you'd expect of a character on Sega's brand, but it lacks that fun zest that made him stand out on the NES. And that doesn't even get into the music which is far inferior to just about everything in the original game's soundtrack.
The one bright spot on this package is that the graphics themselves are pretty good, crisp and clean with a lot of bright colors. I just wish they were in service of a game that had more ideas of what to do with this fresh coat of paint. By the third stage you've seen just about every obstacle, every puzzle, every creative idea the team had, with five more stages to go. The game feels very bland, very repetitive, and not becoming of the proper successor to the NES classic. There's just something missing from this game, that spark that would make it a proper sequel.
Thing is, if it had any other name attached to it I think the game would be viewed better. It's not a good game but it's also not a bad one, and with a different name the game could have been considered "Sega's answer to Blaster Master" not it's pale imitation. The name, though, makes certain promises that the game itself can't match. With a different title this would have been a fine, if still fairly generic feeling, run-n-gun shooter with some marginal tank arena sections. Marginal isn't good enough, though, for Blaster Master.
It's crazy, too, because this game was designed specifically to be a Blaster Master sequel, unlike the next game in the series Blaster Master 2 wasn't a reskin of some other game in Japan; hell, it didn't even get released in Japan, instead having been specifically designed for North America. For a game that the company obviously wanted to make to capitalize on fan sentiment in the U.S. you'd think they would have put more care into this title. Instead we got a fairly sloppy sequel, all things considered, that was largely forgotten almost as soon as it was released.