A cult classic for nearly 15 years, the NES Blaster Master spawned successful sequels on both the Sega Genesis and Nintendo Game Boy systems. Despite this fact, insatiable gamers wanted more. After years of receiving written and vocal requests, Sunsoft has finally released the next chapter in the series, Blaster Master: Blasting Again for the PlayStation. Taking place 20 years in the future, Blaster Master: Blasting Again follows the exploits of Jason's children, Roddy and Elfie. For several years, large-scale ocean current disruptions and other geological abnormalities have rocked regions throughout the world. Suspecting that the true cause of these disturbances might be the reawakening of Jason's old nemesis, the Plutonium Boss, Roddy and Ellfie take their modified SOPHIA tank deep underground. Soon, their suspicions are confirmed - the half-flesh, half-machine mutants are back.
Similar to its NES precursor, Blaster Master: Blasting Again contains eight levels of tank-based dungeon exploration and platform jumping. Although the game now has a 3D viewpoint, the same strategies birthed in the original Blaster Master still apply. Some areas require Roddy to leave the tank in order to acquire items and unlock gates, while other locations require backtracking to acquire a power boost, usually in the form of a jump or hover item. In addition to the game's stock of default power-ups, such as weapon boosts, shields, and climbing items, the new SOPHIA tank can earn a variety of different tank modes as the game progresses. The blue tank offers better offensive capabilities in comparison to the green tank's defensive boost, while the forklift tank offers a mixture of both, complete with a mega-smashing EMP cannon. As you progress, newer power-ups and tank modifications are assimilated into your arsenal, further increasing the number of areas you can gain access to, which creates a happily vicious cycle of exploration and improvement.
In terms of gameplay, Blaster Master: Blasting Again is a treat, albeit with a few flaws. You'll need to learn new strategies for climbing rock formations and navigating underwater passages, all while dealing with endless hordes of constantly respawning enemies. Sunsoft was wise to stick with Blaster Master's original formula, requiring you to backtrack and revisit prior levels in search of new power-ups and bosses. In doing so, you acclimate yourself to Blasting Again's huge 3D world without finding yourself disoriented or frustrated. Considering that the game requires you to search high and low, left and right, and under and around objects for new passages and rooms, this is a major plus. Still, as hinted previously, all is not rosy in Blaster Master land. At times, the game's camera does a poor job of providing the best angle for the situation, especially when you need to perform a series of precision jumps or snag a hidden power-up. Furthermore, the game's nine boss characters, while large and in charge, lack a certain degree of strategy. Shoot them more times than they shoot you, and you'll not have any problems. Taken within the big picture, though, while these complaints are notable, they do little to tarnish the overall experience. The game's dual-tank and human modes of play, coupled with well-thought-out maze exploration, make Blaster Master: Blasting Again a fun ride.
While the hands-on experience of Blaster Master: Blasting Again is one of reserved joy, unfortunately the same cannot be said for its visuals. In 1996, it might have been true that maintaining a decent frame rate had to come at the expense of texture quality and model diversity, but this is not 1996, and such is no longer the case. Blaster Master: Blasting Again scoffs at the progress PlayStation titles have made in recent years, returning gamers to a time when ugly textures, simplistic looking enemies, and muddy visuals ruled the day. Admittedly, the SOPHIA tank models are nicely detailed, but that, even when coupled with a few impressive explosions, just isn't enough to imbue the game with a sufficient visual "wow" factor. In contrast to its lagging visuals, though, the game's audio rocks the house. Musically speaking, a mixture of catchy studio renditions of old NES tunes and haunting orchestral dirges are the order of the day, while sound effects run the gamut from loud to louder to earth-shatteringly jarring. The fact that every single one of the SOPHIA's tank modes has a different set of weapons sound effects shows the care and effort that went into Blaster Master: Blasting Again's audio. Sunsoft's sound engineers deserve a pat on the back - while the game isn't a visual tour de force, it certainly sounds like one.
Although not without its flaws, Blaster Master's first foray into the 3D realm emerges a successful one. The gameplay may be slightly watered down and the visuals unspectacular, but the unmistakable feel that is Blaster Master still remains. So bosses aren't overly complex and the character models lack a certain je ne sais quoi - there's still a lot of fun to be had exploring dungeons, blowing things up, and hopping around like a madman. If you enjoyed previous titles such as Battletanx or Ghost in the Shell but found yourself left wanting more, Blaster Master: Blasting Again should be right up your alley.