Blaster Master Zero 2

A game by Inti Creates for PC, Switch, and PS4, originally released in 2019.
Blaster Master Zero 2 is the direct sequel to Blaster Master Zero, which itself was a reboot and retelling of the original Blaster Master that also incorporated story elements from the Worlds of Power Blaster Master novella. The original game starred a kid named Jason who had a pet frog named Fred. One day, Fred hops out of his terrarium and runs into the back yard where there's – for no understandable reason – a crate of radioactive material just sitting out in the open.
The frog touches the crate, begins growing in size, and then jumps down a hole that leads to a gigantic subterranean labyrinth. Continuing his pursuit, Jason also jumps down the hole where he encounters a body suit, helmet, and a gigantic tank called SOFIA III. As any reasonable person would do, he puts on the suit, hops in the tank, and heads off into the unknown.

The novelization attempts to make a bit more sense of things in its narrative, adding another character named Eve whom Jason meets on his travels. In the novella, Eve is kidnapped by the game’s final boss and rescued by Jason. The duo goes on to save the world, get married, and have children named Roddy and Elfie, who go on to star in the sequel, Blaster Master: Blasting Again. Eve then becomes part of the narrative in the original game's remake.

In Blaster Master Zero, Jason is a robotics expert who discovers a frog-like creature, which he names Fred. Instead of encountering the backyard crate-o-radioactivity, the creature instead passes through some kind of portal in the ground that leads to the underground structures where humanity was once forced to live (after temporarily destroying the environment and then re-terraforming Earth). Jason finds SOFIA III conveniently parked nearby, and shortly thereafter, he encounters a humanoid alien support droid named Eve, who accompanies him on his mission.

Unfortunately, the simplistic writing doesn’t do much to expand the relationship between Jason and Eve who remain together in the sequel. As it turns out, Eve has been infected by a parasite (Parasite Eve?) during their battle with the Mutant Core at the end of the previous game, and the only way to save her is to get her back to her home world before the parasite overtakes her. Jason and Eve’s story never gets past his need to find a remedy for her, despite the fact that they have apparently been together for several months. However, they do encounter a few other characters along the way who provide some additional insight into the Blaster Master universe, and these ancillary character interactions ultimately become the focal point of the narrative.
As it turns out, there are multiple SOPHIA units placed around the galaxy by the inhabitants of a planet called Sophia (Eve’s home world). These free tanks sit waiting for skilled “Metal Attacker” pilots to find them and use them for the good of the galaxy, which explains why Jason encounters SOPHIA III sitting at the bottom of a hole in the first game. Each MA unit has its own support droid, and apparently each MA pilot also has an animal companion, just as Jason has Fred. While the MA pilots are generally friendly, you do find yourself in battle against them on more than one occasion. Each pilot also asks that you perform a certain task, and doing so is a requirement for reaching the true final stage and ending.
As the story goes, Jason, Eve, and Fred are operating aboard the newly-built G-SOPHIA, which is short for EARTH MA-001 GAIA-SOPHIA. The tank has similar abilities to SOPHIA III in that it can shoot (up to three projectiles onscreen at once) to the left or right, at 45 degree angles, or straight upward, with the player able to lock his aim at an angle and move freely. G-SOPHIA can also dive and hover, and the player encounters new primary and secondary weapons throughout the game, some of which are designed as environmental exploration tools. The tank has a lot of inertia, so it takes a second to get up to speed, stop, or turn around, and it has high floaty jumps.
The G-SOPHIA is so named for its GAIA System. SOPHIA has a secondary energy meter that is drained whenever the player uses any secondary weapons or abilities. However, by falling from a great height, the tank absorbs some of the energy from the impact and converts it into energy for this secondary meter, rather than having the meter refill on its own or relying solely on pickups (though there are also that restore this meter). Furthermore, if the player runs the meter completely down, SOFIA goes into recovery mode, during which time the tank cannot hover or use secondary weapons, and its primary weapon damage is substantially reduced.
Ultimately, there is no gameplay advantage in employing such an energy recovery method in lieu of simply having the meter recharge on its own over time - as is standard in most games of this type - or even having this method of energy replenishment be offered as a supplement to a standard slow recharge. In fact, this exact slow recharge method is employed in the game’s final area, giving the player the ability to manually recharge the tank's energy or wait for it to slowly refill on its own.
Given that gameplay takes place largely horizontally, the player doesn’t encounter an abundance of opportunities to fall from great heights to restore energy. When the secondary meter is depleted, it’s possible to refill it faster by falling, but the fall has to be greater than SOPHIA’s jump height, and the hover capability is disabled during the recharge… and like most games, falling down in many areas is not advantageous to the player.
As a result, the player can expect to deplete the secondary meter with some regularity, after which, he’ll need to sit around waiting for it to fill up again before moving on with the game, which dampens the pace of the experience. By exploring thoroughly, the player is able to find multiple permanent energy and health extensions, eventually allowing him to double both meters. With a longer meter, the player runs out of energy less frequently, but when he does, it just takes that much longer to recharge, which doesn’t offer much of an advantage outside of boss encounters.
It wouldn’t be Blaster Master game if Jason couldn’t hop out of the tank and run around on his own. On foot, Jason is extremely fragile, but his health is fully restored by reentering the tank. Jason carries a weak weapon, can’t sustain much damage, and will die if he falls much farther than his maximum jump height. He can also duck to enter small openings and he can climb ladders. It’s also possible to air-grab ladders, but the player must press UP with the proper timing; he can’t simply hold UP and JUMP, which makes the maneuver risky since a falls will most likely kill him.
Jason’s real strengths lie in entering top-down dungeon areas where he can make full use of his abilities, including a weapon that can be powered up with eight possible projectile types, and multiple unlockable grenade types. In the original Blaster Master, cycling up your 8-level weapon essentially just gave you stronger versions of the same projectiles. However, in the Blaster Master Zero series, each weapon upgrade offers entirely new abilities, so the player may opt to cycle through these to take advantage of their individual strengths. Many projectiles also get weaker the more the player fires, so it’s best to line up targets and then let the weapon cool down for a moment before engaging again.
The gun levels break down as follows:
  1. G-Blaster – the default simple projectile weapon
  2. Stinger – projectiles that pass through walls and stick to enemies to deal continuous damage
  3. Splasher – a wide but weak spray of bullets with a short range
  4. Seeker – projectiles that move in a wave and then hone in on any enemy they touch
  5. Absorber – a shield that blocks enemy projectiles and causes contact damage
  6. Whip – a strong but very short range weapon that can deflect bullets
  7. Ex-Charge – a weapon that can be charged to unleash a large powerful projectile
  8. Wide Blaster – long range powerful shots that penetrate objects and enemies
The player begins the game with a standard grenade that he can toss to deal heavy damage or occasionally break through destructible walls, but exploration leads to multiple additional grenade types, such as proximity mines and grenades that explode into balls of energy that deal continuous damage. In a nice touch, there are two quick-access control slots, and the player can assign any projectile or grenade type to these slots, which lets him access these weapons on the fly as the situation demands. For instance, the player might use the Wide Blaster as his primary weapon but have the Absorber assigned to one of the quick-access slots so he can use it in a pinch.
The player can also use quick-access slots while piloting SOPHIA, allowing him to quickly fire off different primary or secondary weapons. This is particularly handy when the player earns secondary environmental navigation abilities, such as a drill that lets him cut through certain blocks, or a spring that lets him hop up into the air. The player may opt to equip homing missiles to the standard button but have the drill assigned to a quick-access slot so he can use it without the need to enter a menu to swap his equipment.
Once Jason gets enough powerups for his gun, he’s a force to be reckoned with, but as in previous entries in the series, taking damage knocks the weapon down one level. This can be doubly punishing as the player’s offensive can abilities change in a split second during chaotic moments, sometimes more than once if he sustains multiple hits. Fortunately, there’s a powerup that prevents Jason’s weapon from being downgraded so long as he doesn’t sustain two hits in quick succession, making it easier to hold onto your favorite mutant-blaster.
The player can fire in eight directions and lock his aim while he moves freely. Weapon powerups appear frequently, so skilled players will be able to keep their weapons charged up, and players are free to leave and re-enter areas if they want to farm for pickups. There’s a new counter maneuver where the player can lock onto an enemy that’s about to attack and unleash a counterattack to stun it, or multiple counterattacks to destroy it, and there are multiple counter moves to unlock as well. Grenades are in limited supply but are similarly common pickups, so players may use them freely… although sometimes it’s best to hold onto a few in case there’s a boss at the end of the level.
In the original Blaster Master, every boss was fought within the top-down dungeon sections, but in the Blaster Master Zero series, the the player encounters some bosses while piloting SOPHIA, which adds a bit of variety. Dungeon bosses are fairly straightforward, with the player usually locked in a small arena and aiming for weak points while dodging boss movements, support enemies, and projectiles. Tank boss levels are a bit more exciting as they take place in larger areas, and the player needs to make use of his primary and secondary abilities while being mindful of his energy usage and jumping to avoid attacks or navigate platforms.
The tank-based boss in the second area deserves particular attention. This boss, named Gathervira “The Mountain of Chaos” is literally a living mountain. You attempt to climb the mountain’s platforms while it stomps around the environment to cause damage; meanwhile, your MA pilot friend fires projectiles from the foreground to help you take it down. Your goal is to climb the mountain and blast the blue crystal at the top, while the boss occasionally fires lasers from its chests or tosses rocks that fall down from above. Once you do enough damage to the crystal, the mountain stops moving, and four doors along the middle open up.
You must park SOPHIA in front of one of the open doors, hop out of the tank, and then enter the door as Jason, where you take on one or more floating heads that are actually part of the boss itself. This is a protracted battle, as you need to weaken the crystal each time before you can enter one of the four doors. Each on-foot battle is a small boss encounter unto itself… and if you fail at any point, you have to start the whole thing over from the beginning. It’s a harrowing experience, made even more so by its presence so early in the game. In any other action-platformer, this setpiece encounter could easily serve as a final boss... and you do end up facing the boss again late in the game as part of a series of short boss rushes.
The game takes place across a series of planets and planetoids, rather than a single large interconnected map as is traditional for the series, and each planet has its own unique enemy types and environmental challenges. There are a few returning favorite enemies from the original game, including the one that zoom along in a straight line when they see you, slow-moving bomb droppers, and little patrolling bots in the overhead areas. There’s even a cool variation on the purple slug enemy, which is now a gigantic foe that is capable of lobbing projectiles, and some of them have shields.
There’s a decent range of enemies in the sidescrolling sections, requiring that you occasionally switch up your tactics to deal with their defenses or dodge projectiles, with enemies moving along the ground, swimming through the water, and hovering in the air. Enemy variety in the overhead sections is much lower, on the other hand, with just a few enemy types and variants, and the layouts are fairly simple as well. There are a few patrolling enemies, a lot of stationary projectile-firing enemies, and the occasional fast mover to deal with, but the player doesn’t need to change up his tactics much to bring them down. It is best to deal with enemies quickly, however, as most enemies close in on your position, and projectile-firing foes can attack from far off the edge of the screen.
When exploring planets, the player occasionally finds maps to nearby planetoids (planetoid maps are sometimes found on other planetoids too), which then become visible on the overworld map. Planetoids represent bite-sized challenges that are a refreshing change of pace from the more sprawling planetary levels. Here, the player may face short sidescrolling or overhead sections, usually with only one or two objectives, and the occasional boss encounter. Fully exploring each area allows the player to find maps to new planetoids, permanent life and energy extensions, new primary and secondary weapons for SOPHIA, and new grenades and counter maneuvers for Jason. Overall progress is gated by keys that open portals between sectors, with each sector generally containing one large planet level and multiple planetoids.
The game includes an in-level map system, which fills out as you explore sidescrolling and overhead sections, and the player can also find maps that mark key locations. Since each planet or planetoid is self-contained, a lot of areas can be completed without referring to the map, but players looking to find everything will want to see which sections remain unexplored. Teleportation plays a small role in the game, with the player able to teleport Jason back to SOPHIA as long as he is close enough, and there are a couple of spots where Jason explores outside the safety of SOPHIA and can teleport the tank to his location. Also, every time Jason finishes an overhead level, Fred hops down and opens up a portal that warps him back to the entrance.
The Blaster Master series is known for using SOPHIA’s upgrades to more fully explore the environment, per metroidvania tradition. However, SOPHIA begins the game with the dive and hover modes, which removes two of the usual exploration-based upgrades. The player does earn the aforementioned drill and spring upgrades, as well as a dash and a wall jump, but disappointingly, the series trademark wall and ceiling climbing upgrades are nowhere to be found.
Environmental exploration is hampered somewhat by the fact that level designs don’t do a great job of walling off the edges of any given area. There are loads of places where a tunnel leads to the edge of the screen, but it’s not possible to pass through the edge and onto the next screen, and there is no visual distinction between passable and impassable screen edges. There's also a fair number of invisible walls and ceilings that simply prevent you from moving forward rather than organically impeding your progress, thus removing some of the immersion from the experience, especially when exploration is a key focus of gameplay.
Aesthetically, the game offers vibrant colors, detailed sprites, a few cool setpieces, cutesy enemy designs, and some menacing bosses, which definitely falls in line thematically with the original games, just with a significant graphical upgrade. While exploration within the individual planets is still a key focus, the game is now built more around completing one level and moving onto the next rather than freely exploring, as is traditional in the series and in the metroidvania genre as a whole.
Moving between planets is a dull experience with the player scrolling around a small area to select the main level, a few planetoids, and warps to other areas, and these warps aren’t arranged in any kind of logical order, needlessly hampering navigation. The dialogue between Jason and Eve is uninteresting, but there are several supplementary characters that add to the experience. Even Roddy and Elfie are mentioned, but they are apparently not Jason and Eve’s children in this game, since Eve is a support droid (as is Elfie), and Jason and Eve have only known each other for a few months. Copen from Luminous Avenger iX and Empress from Dragon Marked for Death are available as DLC characters, each offering their own unique attacks and movement abilities from their respective games.

Blaster Master Zero 2 was developed by Japanese studio Inti Creates, as a follow-up to the original Blaster Master Zero, and was produced under license from Sunsoft. The company is the developer behind a number of latter day entries in the Mega Man series, including the Mega Man Zero series, Mega Man 9, Mega Man 10, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man ZX Advent. The company is also known for the Azure Striker Gunvolt, Mighty Gunvolt, and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon series.