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If you have a Nintendo Switch, chances are you also have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The new Zelda is a massive, phenomenal game that you can and should play for dozens of hours. But eventually, you’re going to want to play something new on your Nintendo console/handheld hybrid. Switch Games That Aren’t Zelda is a new column highlighting cool, smaller Switch games to check out once you’ve saved Hyrule.
One of the best surprises of the Wii’s downloadable game service WiiWare was Mega Man 9. Eventually released on other platforms, Mega Man 9 was a direct sequel to the classic NES Mega Man games that looked and played like a game from that era. It was a new 8-bit game produced in 2008, and it was fantastic. The developers at Inti Creates, who previously worked on Mega Man Zero, followed up Mega Man 9 with the solid but less exciting Mega Man 10 and the regrettable Mighty No. 9. Now, they’ve turned their retro revival talents to another classic NES shooter. Blaster Master Zero is a great Nintendo Switch Game That Isn’t Zelda.
The original 1988 Blaster Master is an extremely weird game. Yes, you master the act of blasting, but there’s so much more. Each of the game’s areas is a little nonlinear world to explore that opens up as you gain new abilities like wall-climbing and hover-jumping. But instead of playing as Samus or Alucard, these mini Metroidvanias have you controlling a sick tank called Sophia the 3rd from a 2D sidescrolling perspective.
Interspersed throughout these areas are dungeons where you must hop out of your tank and shoot enemies on-foot from a top-down perspective. These dungeons typically reward you with maps or new weapons. Gameplay is roughly split between these two sections. You occasionally must leave the tank outside of dungeons, too, but you’re incredibly vulnerable.
Oh, and your goal is to rescue your pet frog who fell into a separate dimension full of dangerous mutants.
Blaster Master Zero ($10) is essentially an enhanced remake, so all of these elements are intact, which is good because they hold up pretty well. The nine areas, from forest to cities to ocean depths, are still fun to poke around in and slowly feel out. The graphics are more stylish but still decidedly pixelated on both the 720p Switch screen as well as the 3DS, where the game is also available. The bosses are similar, including the other Mother Brain, although you can no longer use the infinite grenade trick.
The game also retains the weapon upgrade system. You start with a basic gun, but as you collect power-ups, your blaster can do new and improved things like shoot fire and lightning and all-powerful wave beams. The only catch is taking hits lowers your weapon level. Most folks seem to prefer the exploration-heavy sidescrolling Sophia sections to these dungeon bits, but once I started really taking advantage of weapon upgrades, I enjoyed both playstyles and the cadence of switching between them.
Like the best retro games, Blaster Master Zero plays like your memories of the original instead of the inevitably disappointing reality of the original. It looks better. The music sounds better. The weapons and environments and enemies are new and better. It feels better thanks to the uncanny pairing of old-school visuals and new-school HD rumble tech (as well as recently added Pro Controller support). And modern conveniences like infinite lives and checkpoints make the overall experience far less frustrating.
Just temper your expectations if you’re expecting a full-on sequel since the bones of both games are really not that different. But Blaster Master has good bones, and they definitely aren’t Zelda.
Check back next week for another Switch Game That Isn’t Zelda.
Want to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about the Nintendo Switch.