FEATURE: The Epic Game Competition 1: Blaster

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note: the epic game competition was held on May 2nd, 2009. The contestants were Wanda and Willy Elektrix. Three games were decided on in advance from the Midway Arcade Treasures 1 & 2 discs for GameCube. The stipulation was that they had to be games that neither Wanda nor Willy had played, so they were likely going to be crappy games. These crappy, old games were played on a 6′ screen with a projector. It was epic.

WANDA: Blaster Master was the first game we played. Willy was brave and tried this before, but it… it’s hard to look at. It’s comparable to StarFox (you play from inside the cockpit of a plane and stuff moves towards you that you have to shoot), except imagine everything is bright green, yellow, and red. Also, visually confusing because it was made in, like, 1982. It scored major points with me for being all vector graphics, but that didn’t make it any easier to see. Playing it on a big screen did, though.

The other thing you should know about Blaster is that it’s the sequel to Robotron: 2084. A direct sequel. Like, the Robotrons wiped out all of humanity, and that’s where the game starts. If it wasn’t immediately obvious, we are big fans of that game. Blaster is nothing like Robotron, and in fact the only common ground between them is the color scheme (so now you get the idea of how hard this was to play) and some of the enemies. Master Minds get their own waves, and the big robots (apparently called G.R.U.N.T.s) are in the first wave and its permutations.

This game was nearly impossible to play on our 18″ CRT TV circa 1980, but playing it on the big screen helped. I still had a headache after ten rounds, but Willy and I actually got into it quite a bit after we spent the first round or two figuring out the game mechanics. There’s some pretty trippy stuff involved, including waves where you have to rescue “Space Men”, random astronauts floating out by themselves in space. The Saucerland waves, Vampire waves, Planetoid Waves, Cat World, and Master Mind waves all take place in space, Time Tunnel takes place in some sort of gridded tunnel, and Robot Grid looks like a really primitive Star Fox level with huge robots, which is pretty awesome once you get used to it. The waves alternate, where each type of wave will likely show up 2-3 times, the waves in space are mostly wave after wave of enemy, though the Planetoid waves also have you shooting and avoiding asteroids.

You have a life bar, which is sort of novel for an arcade game, but you also cannot continue once you loose all your lives. There are certain places that recharge your health, and once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to get an extra man or two, either. There are 20 waves total, with the last wave being called “Paradise” (the second to last wave, “Armageddon,” also piques my curiousity). The game will loop back to wave 10 after you finish.

So how did I fare in the competition? Willy spanked me soundly at this game, though I did make it past the halfway point, all the way to the third Robot Grid wave, #12. My goal was to get to the awesome Master Mind wave at #11, so I did accomplish that. I routinely failed at one of the two vampire waves though, as I could not get the motion down for them the way Willy could.

Another good thing: Cat World. Cat World consisted of enemies that looked like manta rays with cat heads. It’s the type of thing you can imagine an 8-year-old discussing with his friends: “Woah, this arcade has Blaster! Have you gotten to the Cat World?” Also, a lot of the sound effects are recycled from Robotron, so expect some flashbacks to that game while you play. I had no problem with that.

Blaster: Practically unplayable. But if you have the patience, sit down and figure it out, because it’s a really awesome game. The bigger the screen you play it on, the better.

WILLY: Wanda already told you the best stuff. The robot grid waves, mastermind waves, and rescuing spacemen in the time tunnel waves are all awesome, and cat world just blew my mind. Contrary to her opinion, I think the graphics in this game are quite slick actually. The 3D effect is way ahead of its time and the giant robots really give you a nice sense of their scale and look appropriately huge. One thing separating Blaster from many similar arcade games of the period is that you can actually win. After clearing the last two waves called Armageddon and Paradise (foreshadowing for Smash TV maybe), presumably you get to see an true ending. In that way, it seems pretty modern.

Story-wise, it’s a nice follow-up to Robotron. Set in 2085, the last human family was been killed and Earth has been completely destroyed. You cruise around in space blasting the robot invasion force as they head toward other worlds. Lots of the classic enemies are back: grunts (although now they are hundreds of feet tall), hulks, and of course, the diabolic masterminds which are still so fun to kill. Plus, there are lots of cool new ones: cat monsters (which we’ve already mentioned), giant devil robots, gas masked deep space mutants, and a ship that looks exactly like a TIE Fighter.

Wanda’s right, there is a bit of a learning curve, mostly just figuring out where your hit box is. But after a couple games, you’ll get the basics nailed down and it is pretty compelling.

Scores (top three from each contestant, ranked in order):
324,430 – Willy Elektrix
294,616 – Willy Elektrix
272,490 – Willy Elektrix
259,750 – Wanda Elektrix
187,050 – Wanda Elektrix
176,790 – Wanda Elektrix

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