When compared to Blaster Master Zero’s focus on gameplay, there’s a bit more emphasis on the story here, with each new sector of the stars serving as its own chapter. The storytelling here isn’t exactly stellar, but it’s a step up from the usual retro platformer fare. The story touches on some heavy themes, but only on a superficial level, and it’s a welcome addition to the narrative. As the story progresses, the world-building gradually reveals the scope of the much larger universe in which this adventure is set, setting the stage for many possible sequels if Inti Creates chooses that route.
After a brief hiatus, both the story and gameplay pick up where the original left off, with new challenges, gameplay tweaks, and additions that keep things fresh while also ratcheting things up a notch. This time around, Blaster Master Zero 2 takes things to the next level by introducing a quasi-open world that places greater emphasis on player choice. A wormhole separates the world into ‘areas’, each of which has a’main’ world and a slew of smaller, side worlds.
Side-scrolling run ‘n’ gun sections resembling Mega Man’s run ‘n’ gun sections await you once you land on one of the planets or ships you’ve chosen. At times the tank won’t go where it needs to and Jason will have to go it alone in platforming sections that usually revolve around climbing ladders and activating switches that can open new paths forward. These side-scrolling sections really help to convey Jason’s raw power and Sophia’s relative invulnerability by highlighting the disparity between Jason and the tank. Even from a seemingly low height, enemies can easily kill Jason, so getting back into the tank feels like an enormous relief when you’re surrounded by an unstoppable death machine.
While side-scrolling isn’t the only mode of play in Blaster Master Zero 2, a large portion is spent in Jason-only areas that switch to a top-down cover-based shooter mode for about 40% of gameplay. Compared to the original, there are numerous improvements to be found in these sections, most notably Jason’s flashy counterattack, which rewards risky play. A reticle appears above the heads of enemies when they attack, and by pressing the ‘X’ button during this time period, Jason will leap out of harm’s way and fire a powerful retaliatory shot. As a result, shootouts feel a little more skill-based, while also allowing for a much higher level of difficulty to be achieved while still being considered ‘fair’.
This is good because the dungeon layouts feature interesting puzzles and lock-and-key situations that require a little more sleuthing. Even though these dungeons aren’t as challenging as the classic Zelda dungeons, we appreciated the fact that the rewards at the end of each one were often well worth the effort it took to get there.
This game has a wide variety of environments and gameplay mechanics to keep things interesting, whether you’re playing as Jason, Sophia, or any other character in the game. There are a number of dimensional rifts that divide one planet into two, resulting in a desert wasteland on one side and a frozen tundra on the other; not only must you avoid touching any of these rifts, which will kill you instantly, tank or not, but navigating the two vastly different terrain types can prove to be an interesting challenge. There’s another planet where bamboo has taken over and is actively obstructing progress in some places. This creates an interesting maze-like environment that necessitates a great deal of trial-and-error exploration. In Blaster Master Zero 2, it’s a credit to the game’s design that it’s able to keep the tank and on-foot sections fresh with new gameplay every few hours of play.
Blaster Master Zero 2 does an excellent job of rewarding the player for going off the beaten path while also encouraging the player to frequently return to old areas, making exploration an integral part of the gameplay. When you leave your current planet, you’ll come across small maps that unlock new planetoids on the world map, which you’ll find if you return. As mini-dungeons for Jason and Sophia, these extra planetoids usually provide a small but focused set of challenges that usually end in you getting a health or SP upgrade or, more rarely (and more rarely) a new special weapon for one of them to make combat sections a little spicier.
With this new map system, you can explore in any order you like, and the benefits of deviating from the main story are almost always worth it. You aren’t required to visit any of these side areas unless you want to, but doing so can provide a satisfying diversion. In addition, there is a real sense of progression in gradually increasing your survivability and arsenal; many of the pickups along the way prove to be functional in more ways than one would expect, often subtly changing the gameplay.
It’s a surprise and delight to see how well Blaster Master Zero 2 presents itself; it manages to keep the retro charm of the NES original while adding some subtle tweaks to it. Unlike its predecessor, which was limited by the limitations of a console that was more than a decade old, this one isn’t. The worlds in this game are much more detailed and full of small details, and the pixel art, particularly when it comes to boss battles, is absolutely stunning. Nearly the entire level is taken up by a memorable boss, whose attacks and appearance are both bombastic and colorful, stealing the show as you expertly navigate the environment.
It’s hard to think of many other retro-style games on the eShop that demonstrate a stronger grasp of the art direction, even if this doesn’t necessarily push the boundaries of pixel art. The chiptune soundtrack could be described in the same way, though the music tends to be more forgettable. Aside from the main theme, this soundtrack lacks a distinct identity; it’s a generic chiptune track that doesn’t stand out as much as its predecessor.
At its core, Blaster Master Zero 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way, while also laying the groundwork for what could become the company’s flagship series. We strongly encourage you to get this game as soon as you can because of its tight platforming action, memorable boss battles, plenty of extra side content, and beautiful pixel art. From start to finish, Blaster Master Zero 2 is one of the best and most enjoyable retro gaming experiences ever, cementing Inti Creates’ reputation as one of the best retro developers in the industry.