1993’s Blaster Master 2 still has some good & weird things to offer 30 years later

All I remember of my first blush with Blaster Master 2 is giving it a hard pass in favor of its much more dazzling Genesis contemporaries. How could this game hold up next to the likes of Shinobi 3, Ranger-X, and Gunstar Heroes? I realize now that part of what turned me off was the particularly European sprite work and, had I seen it in motion at the time, the slow pace of its gameplay. Ironically, I happened upon Blaster Master 2 in the collection last week and it stood out to me now for those same reasons I’d discounted it 30 years ago.

Despite being published by Sunsoft, outside of the manual there’s no connection between this game and the original aside from the SOPHIA vehicle, the ability to hop out on foot at will, and some interstitial stages with alternate play styles. For what it’s worth, the manual outlines this convoluted story where the original SOPHIA has been disassembled by some mutants and Jason has to throw together a SOPHIA2 out of spare parts and collect the original parts in order to do… something. In execution you never see these parts or even a cutscene to provide even that tenuous context.

Word is the game was designed to capitalize on the unexpected popularity of the original in North America but seems to have been delayed in development from 1992 to ’93 and may even have jumped from SNES to Genesis. It’s also confirmed that none of the original staff were involved with the sequel and that Sunsoft didn’t even publish Blaster Master 2 in Japan. If you can get past all of that there’s still a fun, if underwhelming, experience to be had here.

SOPHIA is cool and all — a hulking tank of a car that looks like it could trundle over anything — but in actuality it just makes for a bigger hitbox. The ability to hop out and explore most of each level on foot is a welcome change, and as you play Jason will get stronger, pick up a jetpack, and be able to use more of SOPHIA’s sub-weapons by hand. There are even a few puzzles where you’ll have to venture ahead and clear a path that SOPHIA can squeeze through to proceed.

It’s slight, but the interplay between being on foot and keeping SOPHIA nearby is really what kept me playing. I know Sunsoft have revisited the mechanic with the Blaster Master Zero series in years past but I think there’s still a lot of untapped potential in having a pilotable vehicle in a 2D game. Any other instances of this I’m forgetting right now?

// Big Sprites. Boring Boss Fights.
With more on-foot action in the main levels it’s not a surprise that the flashy Big Sprite Mode in this game is a little more reserved but nonetheless impressive. You’ll get a huge up-close look at Jason in his increasingly Master Chief-colored armor only during boss fights. The animation and movement in these scenes is really nice which is great because the bosses themselves are pretty boring. A big maggot, a couple of mindless tanks, a kind of hovercraft/copter thing. At least there’s a big evil face that reminds me of Sinistar and a giant fish that would make Darius proud, but all of their attack patterns are predictable and uninspired. The final boss — a weirdly proportioned and gigantic alien centurion — feels especially out of step with Blaster Master, coming and going with not a single bit of context or setup or climax or meaning. You roll off across a sunset landscape while the credits scroll and an annoyingly plucky tune plays. ~Fin //

// Combat Mazes seemingly from some other game really drag things down
Wait, I almost forgot the oddest and worst part of the game! Mixed into each stage is a unique top-down level where you drive SOPHIA through a series of what I’d call combat mazes. The steering is interesting at first with the carriage automatically making a sort of three-point-turn in order to drive in the direction you’re pointing. But all too quickly it gets in the way of actually navigating these stages and, more importantly, hampers your ability to avoid enemies and incoming fire. Imagine playing something like Smash TV but you have to make your dude back up and turn before you can move in a different direction.

These stages also feel like they were designed by a different team at Software Creations with enemies and even power-ups that look nothing like those found elsewhere in the game. It’s too bad because the rest of the game is more evenly paced making these combat mazes a dreaded encounter and the place that you’ll most likely burn through your lives and continues. //

Blaster Master 2 may not be an earnest or whole hearted follow-up to the original but thirty years later it’s still got something going on that compelled me to see it through. The dynamics of the in-vehicle/on-foot gameplay are still unique today and this entry puts just enough of a spin on things to set it apart from the original and the Zero series that came around later. It isn’t a hidden gem by any means but I think it’s still worth a look both legitimately for its exploration of the gameplay and ironically for just how odd and disconnected it is from the rest of Blaster Master.

Screenshots from Media Pool’s playthrough video on YouTube

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