With no hype or marketing behind the game, this WiiWare sequel to the NES classic was launched quite literally out of nowhere. Similar to Castlevania Rebirth, the new WiiWare Contra, and the continued story of Final Fantasy IV, my hopes for another great revival of a classic series filled my soul as I laid eyes on the Overdrive SOPHIA logo for the first time. Unfortunately, it hurts a lot more when you are let down by something that has a lot of hope and excitement built around it.
Like the original NES great, Overdrive has two main gameplay modes: side scrolling platforming in the jumping tank, and overhead, on-foot maze like stages. Now with a built-in map function, traversing the game is made easier in comparison to the original, but still suffers greatly from lack of save points, high difficulty, and slower pacing. This Metroid-vania style of gameplay is welcomed by most gamers but isn’t as streamlined in Overdrive.
The ultimate goal of the game is to defeat all the game’s bosses. The player is awarded a new part for your tank with each boss that is defeated, opening a path to the next section of the game. Backtracking is a necessity and can often be more tedious than it needs to be thanks to the non-detailed map. At best, the map just displays a general idea of where you are; it does not tell you where you are specifically located within that section. This makes traveling more difficult than it needs to be.
Since this game will set you back $10, a “high priced” WiiWare title, it is a shame that more care wasn’t released with the final product. The game is only available in 4:3 aspect ratio with no option for widescreen so you better get used to seeing black bars on the edges of the screen. Secondly, there is no classic controller, nunchuk, or GC controller support. Holding the Wii remote sideways is definitely not ideal because it makes switching weapons a pain (must take thumb off d-pad to hit A) and strafing is difficult and awkward by stretching your finger to hit the B trigger button. Luckily, there is no gimmicky controller shaking.
Besides the technical limitations, the gameplay has also not evolved. When in the overhead sections of the game, the player will rarely come across an upgrade to increase a weapon by one level. However, each time you take damage you will lose one level of your weapon’s power. This requires an unforgiving level perfection and will only cause frustration for the player. There were some parts of the game where I would navigate the overhead maze, upgrade my gun, but lose that upgrade exiting the overhead screen rendering my entire trip pointless. Also, when traveling as the human in the side scrolling stages, you only have access to one gun which also makes leveling up your gun pointless. Yes, most of the time in the side scrolling stages will be spent in the tank, but there are definitely times when you need to hop out and take out a bad guy or two before you can reach an entrance. This style of gameplay wasn’t really acceptable even back in the NES era, so this gun upgrading system definitely stands out as one of the game’s major nuisances. It would have been much more user friendly to integrate permanent weapon upgrades instead of constantly cursing each time you clumsily take a bullet. Isn’t it bad enough you are now one step closer to the game over screen?
Boss battles are also a total mess. Not only do they take way too many hits to destroy, they also move and act in unexciting patterns. One of the earlier bosses is this crab-like creature, which guards its weakpoint (its face) with its claws. However, I could not damage him because my Level 5 blaster’s bullets were too big to bypass the small clearance zone between the creature’s claws. I actually had to take damage to decrease the level of my gun in order to hit the boss. Why am I being punished for having my gun upgraded to maximum strength? This is just sloppy game design.
Most of the game’s level design is dull and the screen even has some scrolling issues. Because there is no way to manually scroll the screen, the player will be forced to make plenty jumps of faith into the unknown. The music is ok at best; the main Blaster Master theme is still quite groovy but can become repetitive after it loops for the millionth time. The game’s graphics would have been suitable for an early SNES release but all colors and sprites look muted and dull. And when traveling the overhead stages, the main character’s simple walk animation doesn’t even loop properly. Even experiencing game over is a huge pain the in the ass as the game boots the player back to the main menu, forcing the player to reload the last save instead of simply asking to retry.
Being a fan of the original NES Blaster Master, I really wanted to like this new sequel but the game’s many crater-sized flaws hold it back from being a great follow up. Overdrive is a perfect example of the importance of updating classic gameplay techniques. Game design has evolved so much since the late 80’s and early 90’s that game aspects that were acceptable years ago might not work in today’s gaming age. You are better off spending half as many Nintendo Points and downloading the original for Virtual Console.
Not As Good As: the original
Also Try: Blaster Master – Enemy Below (GBC)
Coolest Part About this Game: jumping in a tank
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