Sunsoft’s Blaster Master was a second-tier NES favorite, a peer of games like Kid Icarus, not remembered for establishing enduring mechanics, but more for its eccentricities and playground ubiquity. Blaster Master: Overdrive, Sunsoft’s first original title in the United States in a decade, isn’t the most slavish franchise resurrection out there. It does, however, retain enough of its ancestor’s failures to ruin it as a modern game.
You pilot a jumping tank named SOPHIA, moving from left to right and back, exploring a series of interconnected caves. Along the way, you’ll come across small doorways that necessitate leaving the safety of your tank. The perspective then shifts to overhead as you walk through another series of caves, shooting enemies with three types of weapon, collecting health and gun upgrades as you go. Some caves hide bosses, screen-fillers that move in tight patterns and give up tank accessories, allowing you to explore new areas. Overdrive is structurally identical to the original, but features a handful of welcome modernizations. First, you’re given a map, making it at least less daunting to find your way around. Second, save points are found in the overhead cave sections, easing the bitter pill of the game’s difficulty.
Only slightly, though. Overdrive is exceedingly difficult, and unlike classic revivals like Bionic Commando Rearmed, it’s hard because of fundamentally broken design, not precision-engineered challenges. Gun upgrades gained in overhead sequences are lost after you take any damage—another feature held over from the original—but they aren’t distributed through the game with any consistency. The tank sequences fare better, but are still broken. You need to be too close to the right or left of the screen to make it scroll forward, which obscures enemies or hazards until it’s too late to physically avoid them. This makes many of the game’s trickiest jumps into issues of luck instead of skill.
Overdrive’s presentation, like its play, is a mixed bag. SOPHIA is colorful and animates well, but the game’s enemies, a hodgepodge of Starship Troopers rejects and weird robots, are ugly and forgettable. Later environments thrive, but most of the game is unbearably drab; real caves are a lot more exciting than these barren hallways. Even the story, never the most essential feature of a two-dimensional action game, is lacking. Piloting a feminine tank to find your pet frog in a lost subterranean world was a lot more interesting than evil mutants stealing your technology. There’s an important lesson in Overdrive: Just because something was fun in the past doesn’t make it classic.