So now now it's Blaster Master's turn at an update for the current generation of gaming. I'm not sure Blaster Master sequels have been as consistent as Bionic Commando's have been. While Bionic Commando got one superb sequel and another that was good but let down by a buggy save system before GRIN wiped their asses with the franchise, Blaster Master sequels have been a bit hit or miss. While I have a lot of memories of Blasting Again, they're disjointed and all over the place; I remember the atrocious voice acting, the Kaiser being a hugeass mofo, how weird the plot got halfway through what with Eve coming back from the dead and all, some funky dating which would mean Jason was an adult instead of a teenager for the first game and that he and Eve got horizontal, like, immediately after they met (unless Elfie was adopted, but that still doesn't address the discrepancy in Jason's age), walking into a room with SOPHIA MA-01 in it and having a nerd rage because the lines on the wheels were lined up*, a redux of the cube boss, "RODDY? RODDY?", realizing where the J7 in "SOPHIA J7" came from (Jay-s(Eve)n), the Kaiser's introductory cutscene almost making me throw up, a boss that played like a rail shooter, a touching cutscene after the credits, and Roddy being a whiny bitch, but much of the actual game eludes me. At first Enemy Below looks like a ROM hack of the first game, what with the graphics being practically copy-pasted from the first game except that Jason manages to look even doofier than he did when he had a head bigger than the rest of his body, but upon playing the game you find out how different it is, what with the keys and optional upgrades and repeating screen mazes and a funky password system and a final area that's so freakishly hard that when I heard somebody speculate you were supposed to lose to the game to fit into Blasting Again's plot about Jason being killed on a botched mission, I thought they were on to something. Everybody knows Boy was a renamed Bomberman game so we'll let that one slide, and while Blaster Master 2 wasn't great its biggest crime was just being really easy, which might sound like saying Yoshi's Story's biggest crime was just sucking horribly, but shut up.
* See, when one wheel's line is straight, the other is supposed to be at a 45-degree angle. Jeez, people, even the folks behind Blaster Master 2 got that one *sort of* right.
Come to think of it, maybe he's related to Kane.
Instead of radioactive mutants or half-machine half-flesh Lightning Beings, we have an alien virus going around, mutating animals and putting humans into comas. Alex has somehow managed to avoid infection, but his family is unconscious, and the mutants have stripped his SOPHIA tank of all but its most basic gear (if that sounds familiar to you, you've read the Blaster Master 2 manual). So, he straps on some makeshift gear and hops into what's left of SOPHIA to do something that isn't explained until the ending. The logical conclusion, Alex being a viral biologist and all, would be that he needs a certain tissue sample to make a cure from, but we'll get to that later.
An homage to the first game along with a taste of what's to come.
The trick to Overdrive seems to be maxing out your weapons and keeping them maxed out for boss battles, which admittedly isn't too daunting when you're there. While the game does become manageable when you take time to power yourself up, I can't help but feel this is cheating. Maxing out your GUN meter was very helpful in the other games, especially against the fifth and sixth bosses and the Plutonium Boss' pet, but it also wasn't mandatory. And while maxed out weapons makes Overdrive manageable, it still doesn't make it particularly good.
The first thing you're likely to hear about Overdrive is that the controls are crap. The tank's kind of slippery, and Alex walks at a snail's pace in the side-scrolling sections and slows down while straffing in the overhead mode for some dumbass reason, but there's really nothing terrible about the core physics of the controls. The problem lies with the Wiimote itself. The layout of the controller isn't conducive for what they're trying to do here. The game doesn't support the Classic Controller, which would have helped immensely. There were plans for a support patch, but it's been months since the game was released and there's still no patch. Victor Ireland - who you may know from the now-defunct Working Designs, but also worked on bringing this game to the states - assures us the game is beatable with the Wiimote. Yeah, it's beatable, but so's that bit in Mario Sunshine where the islanders huck you around and usually into a void. That doesn't mean it should have been released like that.
But the bigger problem I had was the boring as hell environments. Remember how levels progressed in the first game? You started out in a forest, went to a medieval castle, then a mechanical base, then a sewer, a lake with sunken ruins, a frozen mechanical base, the fires of hell, and finished up in what looked like a giant alien's intestinal tract? And remember how even within an Area, the backgrounds changes practically every other room? So the mechanical base also had construction zones, what I always thought looked like a giant library, and the dark hallway of colored lights? Overdrive is a little more... er, consistent.
Area 1 is a gray cave.
Area 2 is a gray cave with a different texture.
Area 3 is a flooded brown cave.
Area 4 is a blueish-gray cave riddled with bloom. Leave it to modern gaming to figure out how to get bloom in a cave.
Area 5 is a lava cave with a godawful remix of the original Area 7 theme for the background music.
Area 6 is an ice cave, and Alex gets the bloom this time.
Area 7 is a dry brown cave.
Area 8 is a yellow cave with an ugly purple haze in the dungeons.
You may have also noticed the overhead dungeons are the same hazy cave with different palettes, except that Area 5's dungeons have pools of lava everywhere, making it the only dungeon with any kind of environmental hazard. And if you think driving around eight similar looking caves and walking through another eight is bad, if you want to stand any chance against the bosses, you have to go through more overhead dungeons than the bosses' looking for items to increase your health meter. Like, practically all of them. Most of the time you'll get a Life Up or two. Cool. Sometimes there's only Gun powerups. Fine if the dungeon is small and you can get to them without getting hit, but annoying if you blast your way through hordes of enemies just to find fewer Gun powers than you spent getting there. But every so often I'd go through a dungeon that as far as I could tell didn't yield jack, and I can't begin to tell you how aggravating that was. I haven't played the game myself, but I'm told even Cave Story has more variety than this.
Also, because I don't want to post any more screenshots of freaking caves and you probably don't want to see them, the rest of the screenshots in this review are going to be from boss battles and the ending, so spoiler alert.
The third dimension is for losers.
Overdrive does make some changes to the formula, but none of them are particularly ingenious or ground-breaking. Hover no longer gives you lift, it just slows your fall. The Wall climbing ability takes on a new, kind of retarded look, though not as retarded as it looked in Blasting Again (but then it's lot easier to forget about how bad it looked in Blasting Again, because you only had to use it one time in the whole game). The most commonly use tank upgrade is a grappling hook that not only gave me Bionic Commando: Rearmed vibes, but is cumbersome to use when enemies like to hang out on the platforms you're trying to grapple to, and you have to swap out the turret for the cable. Also, I can't believe it took me as long as it did to realize SOPHIA doesn't have any secondary weapons. I don't mean the grappling hook and the drill, I mean the homing missiles and electricity. But the most irritating "innovation" is that you can't pause in the dungeons. You can freeze the game by pressing the Home button to bring up the Wii menu, but there's no actual in-game pause. The hell? Say what you want about Blaster Master 2's overhead tank levels or Enemy Below's repeating screen mazes, at least those games had some sweet ideas to bring to the table, like giving Jason a jetpack, and letting you turn the Wall function on an off (much as I love Blaster Master, even I won't deny Wall2 sends the tank controls to hell). Overdrive can't even keep track of what it's doing, a point best illustrated with all those spiked floors in Area 8 which are moot because back in Area 6 you got a tank upgrade that lets you drive on spikes.
While we're on the subject, let's look at Alex's armor. Just like the over-the-top Bionic Commando makeover that I've made fun of before, the Blaster Master armor was given a "modern" look that's more ridiculous than avant garde. He looks like a rejected Prototype concept with his goofy mask and giant shoulder plates that probably don't do anything but weigh him down, and some gray thing disc with poles coming out of it on his back that probably doesn't do anything but make sitting in SOPHIA a pain. Okay, yeah, I can think of dumber things he could be wearing, but at least they'd be intentionally hilarious.
I realize that won't make a lick of sense to anyone who hasn't read the Worlds of Power novel, and even those who have are probably scratching their heads in bewilderment, but I don't care. It makes me laugh.
I guess I don't have a whole lot to say on the soundtrack. It's mostly forgettable remixes of the original game's music, something that isn't helped by Alex's gunshots being louder than the music and drowning it out. But as I said earlier, the Area 5/former Area 7 theme is really irritating. Well, I guess the second half of the song is just loud, but man alive, the first half sucks; it doesn't even sound like anything. The Area 3/former Area 5 theme starts off alright, but doesn't go anywhere. Everything else is just "hey, remember this song?"
The single best moment in the game.
However, if you don't take the time to upgrade all your weapons, the bosses can actually be the worst part of the game because they will take forever and a day to kill. At Lv.1 the straight gun and homing shot are horribly weak, and the grenade takes a few seconds to ready itself when you switch to it, and you usually lose your chance to attack the boss in that time. Or you have to switch back to the straight shot to take out the chronies it summons because the grenade is too slow and awkward to use on them. Let's also not forget that the button to switch weapons is A, which is not in a place either thumb can access without abandoning their posts at the D-pad or fire button. I guess I can understand that they wanted to keep the control scheme the same for SOPHIA and Alex, but they could have also assigned the canon to Button 1 and the Grenades to Button 2 (does this setup sound familiar to anyone else?) and dropped the homing shot, because even when fully powered, the homing shot is only worth a damn at one point in the whole game (against the aforementioned clone fight), and every other time it's just a backup for when you've lost the straight canon's power, or to take hits while going through the boss' dungeon, the latter of which you're really not going to need with a maxed out canon and grenade and a little caution.
This probably would have made a better final final boss.
As interesting as the other bosses may be, the final boss is lame. I don't mean the golem on treads, which was alright, I mean the final boss. For starters it looks stupid. It's some tumor that looks vaguely like the brain boss from the first game just sitting in a hole. Seriously, the tumor itself doesn't do anything. When the fight first started, I ran up to it, starting popping caps in its ass (wherever its ass is), it didn't react, and for a second I wondered "Wait, is this it?" Then monster spawners appear, and I found out it took classes from the Thy Flesh Consumed School of Design Theory, meaning the designers' approach to challenge was to cram as many enemies as they thought the processor could handle onto the screen. And as an extra kick in the shins, you're arbitrarily poisoned for this fight, which the game gives you no real notification of (yeah, the life meter is flashing, but who the hell noticed or knew what it meant?), leaving you to figure it out for yourself when one of your attempts ends with you suddenly dropping dead when nothing hit you. Still, it only takes a few attempts to get the gist of it and a smart bomb for the scorpion wave for it to become totally piss easy, and the game gives you a break by recharging your health after the golem-tank thing, and having the enemies frequently drop health refils and gun powerups.
Did anyone else read that as "Daddy, darling" at first?
Yet I can't say I really hate this game, either. It's still not a very good game, but it's also not as bad as I made it out to be in that MOREC. Maybe I spewed out all the bile I had built up in that misinformed MOREC. Maybe it's because it wasn't nearly as painful when I took the time to power up my weaponry. Or maybe it's for the same reason the 2009 Bionic Commando didn't truly piss me off until Super Joe went evil for no reason other than developer deadlines. It's not like Overdrive took the original game and bastardized it like Rearmed or the "Super Joe is EEEVIL, dammit!" plot twist did with Bionic Commando, so while it maybe be Frankenstein mish-mash of things from every other Blaster Master game with boring scenery, it does its own thing. What it does isn't very good, but it lives and lets live and leaves its bretheren alone. For a tortured Blaster Master-related metaphor, it's kind of like how as frustrating as it was for me that Jason never really appeared in Blasting Again when there was a perfect opportunity for a family reunion after Roddy toasted the Kaiser, part of me is glad he never talked because the voice acting in that game was so bad that if he had shown up and talked he probably would have sounded like the Ruby-Spears Protoman or something, and that would have infuriated me. Maybe I'll have some bile stored up by the time that Contra: Hard Corps prequel hits the Xbox Live Arcade, so until then, here's something I drew for shits and giggles, and maybe to explain what was going on with the frog suit.