Power Blazer
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Famicom
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publisher:
    • Taito
  • Released:
    • JP 04/20/1990
Score: 70%

This review was published on 12/08/2016.

Power Blazer is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Natsume and published by Taito Corporation for the Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on April 20, 1990. The game was then heavily modified, renamed to Power Blade, and released in North America in March 1991 and Europe on January 23, 1992. Modifications include changing the main character to an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike, altering the story, fine-tuning many core mechanics, and completely overhauling all of the stages. Some things were kept mostly unmodified, like the music, bosses, enemies, and some background tiles. However, the modifications are heavy and numerous enough to basically make each version a completely different game. As a result of that, this review will only be covering the original version, Power Blazer. I've already written a separate review for Power Blade, so you can check it out if you want more details about that version. Of the two versions, Power Blade is the clear winner, but Power Blazer still isn't awful. It isn't great, either, though.

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Two things this game excels at are the graphics and music. There are a fair amount of environments here, like military bases with tanks that shoot bullets at you, cities with sewer systems you can explore, rocket bases, indoor jungles with aggressive plant life, and more. The backgrounds and foregrounds for most of these environments are very nice looking, especially for the Famicom. By far the best example of this is the background to the indoor jungle, which has some neat animations in the form of grass and trees swaying in the wind. Another background with impressive animations is the one with rotating gears, which was likely inspired by Castlevania. On the subject of Castlevania, the soundtrack is no slouch either, as it was done by Kinuyo Yamashita, who's known for composing the music for the original NES Castlevania. If you haven't heard, Castlevania has one of the best soundtracks of all time. Power Blazer's music isn't quite on the same level, but it's not too far off, either.

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In Power Blazer, you control a robotic midget that bears a striking resemblance to Mega Man named Steve Treiber. To control this little guy, you press left or right on the d-pad to walk in those directions, down to duck, and up to climb ladders. Oddly, climbing ladders and entering doors is finicky, because the game is really particular about where you need to stand to for any of that to register. This problem was later fixed in Power Blade. You can jump with a press of the A button, but the height leaves a lot to be desired. Again, this was remedied in Power Blade, as you can jump much higher in that version. Pressing the B button throws a boomerang, which is Steve's primary weapon. Unlike Power Blade, the boomerang can only be thrown forward, so it's less flexible. It's also less powerful. Due to all of that, the controls to Power Blazer are a bit stiff, making them a step down from Power Blade. Having said that, the game still controls well enough for what it is.

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The game displays various important information at the top of the screen, such as your life bar, current lives, and power meter. That last one deserves some explanation. Basically, the length of the power meter determines the distance your boomerang will travel when thrown. The catch is that the meter empties every time you toss the boomerang, and it'll take a second or two to refill. You can still throw the boomerang when the meter isn't full, but it won't travel as far. It's possible to increase the power meter's maximum size, and therefore the boomerang's maximum throwing distance, via collecting specific power-ups. There's also a power-up to increase the damage output of the boomerang and make it go through enemies. Additionally, you're able to collect bombs and life refill items that can be switched to by pressing the start button and used with the select button, but you're limited to carrying up to four of each. Most of this is the same in Power Blade, except that game has more power-ups.

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Like Mega Man, there's a stage select screen, though unlike Mega Man, it doesn't really matter what order you do them in. Anyway, unlike Power Blade, the stages in this game are totally linear, so you'll never get lost. The stage design is very reminiscent of Mega Man, with you walking in a single direction and ripping through any robots until you come across a ladder, which then takes you to another section. Further ripping off Mega Man, there are even disappearing and reappearing blocks. On that note, this game also has lots of platforming. It is a platformer, after all, so that shouldn't come as a surprise. The platforming is pretty generic, but it's usually good enough to get the job done. Usually being the keyword here.

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While the stages are decent for the most part, there are a few questionable sections. For example, there's a long stretch in the sewers with robot fish that jump out and shoot at you, which was probably ripped off from Castlevania. Unlike anything from Castlevania, this section sucks, because it's just one giant corridor with the same repetitive design from beginning to end, and it goes on for far too long. Another odd design choice is during the tower level; if you fall off the bridge at the top, you'll end up in a large area with no way out, so you'll be forced to commit suicide on the spikes to continue. There's an extra life down there, as if the developers wanted to make up for their grievous sin. This is just plain bad design, the kind you wouldn't expect to see from a game released so late into the Famicom's existence. By that point in time, developers should've known better.

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On top of that, the game is really hard for the wrong reasons. For one, enemies are really fast and will jump right up to your face, and your character is simply too slow to do anything about it. Further adding to the frustration is the fact that most enemies require multiple hits to kill, but it takes forever for your power meter to refill, so you'll usually get hit a bunch of times before you have a chance to kill your aggressor. This also really slows down the pacing of the game, as you have to stop in your tracks to deal with every individual enemy you come across. These problems can be slightly alleviated with power-ups, but it's still quite irritating. Your pathetic jumping distance also leads to many frustrating pixel perfect jumps. The passwords and infinite continues help out with the game's insane difficulty, but it's still annoying. Making a game hard is fine, but it shouldn't come at the expense of good design.

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Bosses aren't super great, either. One boss is a giant beehive that constantly releases robotic bees at you, which barely counts as a boss since it's basically just a swarm of normal enemies. Another mediocre boss is a robot that teleports around the room and shoots a spread of bullets at you in a highly predictable, easily avoidable pattern. Speaking of patterns, there's a boss that literally does nothing more than fly back and forth while throwing lightning bolts at you, one at a time. Yes, that's all it does. The bosses are extremely primitive even by the standards of the early 1990s. Some bosses do receive minor improvements in Power Blade, but that provides no solace for anyone that elects to play Power Blazer.

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This game has some serious ups and downs. It's very derivative of Mega Man, suffers from some control issues, some of the stage design is questionable, the bosses are mostly bad, and it's incredibly frustrating. On the bright side, the graphics are good, the music is fantastic, throwing a boomerang around is fun, and the stages aren't all bad. Despite its shortcomings, Power Blazer is still an okay title for the Famicom. It's certainly got the foundation for a great game, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. If you're only going to go with a single version, then definitely pick Power Blade over Power Blazer. The only reason to play Power Blazer is if you've already completed Power Blade and found yourself curious about the original. You know what they say, though: curiosity killed the cat.

Word Count: 1,419

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