After defeating the Plutonium Boss and its plantlike minions, Jason, hero of the first Blaster Master, figured it was time to relax. Unbeknownst to Jason, however, a scientific organization unearthed the remnants of his former foe and began to conduct genetic experiments on what remained of the Plutonium Boss. Now, the new and improved Plutonium Boss has escaped, taking refuge in a new subterranean underworld from which it intends to wage an all-out war against humankind. Thus, in Sunsoft's Blaster Master Enemy Below, Jason and his tank, SOPHIA, are called to action once again, this time on the Game Boy Color.
At first glance, Blaster Master Enemy Below looks as if it is a direct copy of the NES original. You jump with A, fire SOPHIA's cannon with B, toggle weapon selection via the start button, and leave the tank by pressing select. As you progress through the game, you obtain a number of weapons power-ups, such as homing missiles, high jumps, and hypercannon bursts. A POW meter keeps track of your remaining life points, while an HOV meter lets you know when it is safe to use the tank's hover function. As it stands, the power-ups, background visuals, and character sprites in Blaster Master Enemy Below all initially appear as if they were lifted straight out of the NES original. However, once you progress about halfway into the first cavern, you begin to realize things are a wee bit different than before. All eight areas, while loosely based on the NES dungeons, are simply not the same. The layout is reminiscent, and constant back and forth travel is still a major factor, but Blaster Master Enemy Below is an original design. With the addition of a password save feature and new weapons - such as the GUN2 Scattergun - Blaster Master Enemy Below seeks to deliver a refreshing twist on a revered classic.
Blaster Master Enemy Below's attempt at originality yields a burning question, though: Does the game equal, exceed, or lag behind the original NES release in terms of gameplay and quality? In terms of gameplay, it is as if you were playing the same game. Speed, movement, jump timing, and shot timing are all exactly as they were in the NES original - quick, responsive, and bordering on perfection. The redesigned areas aren't just ruined shells of their former counterparts, either. Just as in the original, each level calls for a precision mixture of jumping, outside-the-tank exploration, and a fair amount of backtracking. Early areas require power-ups gathered later in the game to reach, while a bevy of optional secrets lie in wait for the devout gamer who must, as is popular nowadays, catch them all. Bosses, too, have been redesigned. The Cannibal Flower at the end of the first area not only requires more strategy to beat, but it's also much more ugly than the brain creature from the NES Blaster Master. About the only flaw to be found with Blaster Master Enemy Below's gameplay experience is that, despite a password save, it is harder than sin to beat. With excellent platformer gameplay and quirky character mechanics, however, it's quite a ride.
In addition to gameplay, when you get into a discussion about quality, a few other factors need to be considered. Is the game fun? Does it look nice? Is the sound actually worth turning up your GBC speaker for? Coincidentally enough, Blaster Master Enemy Below delivers a "yes" to all three. Thanks to the new password feature and an added emphasis on outside-the-tank exploration, the game keeps you occupied without becoming overly tedious. Sure, the game is more difficult than your average platformer, but at least it's not a three-hour hair-puller like its predecessor. Visually, it's almost hard to believe Sunsoft managed to pull this off on the GBC. The original NES background tiles have been refined and smoothed, giving the game much more of a 3D look than its predecessor, with zero hint of slowdown or sprite flicker. The top-down catacomb visuals, despite lacking in terms of geological detail, have been given an almost Zelda-like appearance, with character sprite animation juiced way up. Couple this with an adequate array of non-tinny sound effects and a mixture of original and remixed background tunes, and Blaster Master Enemy Below's presentation makes it hard to believe it comes from such an under-regarded publisher as Sunsoft. If this is its idea of an upswing, bring it on.