Blasto: Pulling the Trigger on an Old Hero
[Editor’s Note: Blasto celebrates its 20th anniversary today! As such, we had retro writer extraordinaire Stephen Wilds take a look back at the game.]
They say never meet your heroes, and Captain Blasto is a potent example of that. It has been twenty years and yet, he hasn’t grown up at all. Looking like a mound of muscles who forgets the gym has leg day, this dim-witted blowhard fancies himself a Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers type when he’s a lot closer to Zapp Brannigan from Futurama or Duck Dodgers. I can’t say he isn’t a hero though, since no one else is out here doing anything about extraterrestrial threats. Someone has to step up, because Bosc has escaped from the 5th dimension and took over Uranus—because of course he did. Left unchecked though, he is not only going to destroy Earth, but have his minions kidnap all of the Space Babes as well, which we just cannot let stand. It sounds like a cool adventure with some classic themes, right?
“And remember, Uranus is on the line!”
I played it first at a friend’s house for a bit, but seeing the commercial convinced me to go out and rent it from Blockbuster to get some more time in. Take a look at the commercial below and tell me you wouldn’t have done the same:
Other than an enticing setup for fans of something a little goofy and fun, the game starts off with a cool visual style. Although it feels unfinished in some parts, and the audio was solid with a few subtle but energetic tracks and some appropriate sound effects for someone in space with a blaster. The real draw though, and a big part of why the game became so anticipated, was the involvement of Phil Hartman. The comedian had made quite the name for himself appearing on shows like News Radio—a personal favorite of mine—SNL, and several voices on the Simpsons to cover the big stuff, so his name being attached to the lead role was significant. His performance gave Blasto life, and players a few memorable quotes out of the bunch, but watching footage of him in the sound studio showed that he was all in on the role. Many know that this was his last big project before his death, as the game debuted weeks before he was murdered. It’s sad, and I honestly wish his swansong was able to hit a better note.
It was a 1998 release, not only published, but also developed by Sony. An ambitious title that seemed meaningful to them, one that had to be delayed—perhaps due to losing key team members—in an attempt to fit everything in the creators wanted, and still came out lacking polish in some areas.
“The team and I really tried to put a lot of new and interesting ideas into that game,” said Lead Programmer Dylan Cuthbert. “But in the end, the schedule was just too harsh for us all, and we burnt ourselves out, resulting in something that definitely had potential, but ultimately failed to hit the mark.”
For as much shooting as the player does in Blasto, the mark had been missed, but its potential hadn’t gone unnoticed, as a sequel was already being discussed and would have likely happened, were it not for Harman’s untimely death, which most likely made the franchise’s future as a whole unappealing to Sony after its mixed reception. It is a shame, because a lot of effort had been put in and the project tried hard to capture a desirable style, where a sequel could have improved on many of the mistakes the original made.
“I’m a laser-toten’ love magnet!”
Blasto is a standard third-person action shooter, with inconsistent platforming, annoying puzzles, and lackluster power-ups for the Blast-O-Matic signature weapon, making it an easily forgettable title in the gameplay department (and maybe overall). It’s an experience that gets tough quickly, made harder by a few unfair obstacles and shaky jumps that suffer from extreme clipping. The controls are stiff with analog movements that feel too jerky, making simple movements and actions more challenging, and the quick sidestep functions are dangerous, as trying to dodge caused me to leap to my death off of a platform more than a few times. Enemies are plentiful and guaranteed to land a few shots, but their spawn patterns are set, so a player who has been through the game enough can memorize and overcome, but that doesn’t mean it makes things easy, especially when the weapon upgrades aren’t helpful and some of the environments lend getting hit. This all results in what feels like banging my head against a wall to beat a few stages and a lack of desire to push forward.
I suppose the wackiness and vulgarity was what kept me going for a while. The game almost survives off of its quotes and random lines, like in the intro when Bosc mentions something about raping Earth’s cattle. It is incredibly fun to blow the heads off of these aliens, relishing in a silly violence. The raunchy nature was there, and the creators were embracing it behind the scenes, as a nude photo of a Japanese model was used for a placeholder during development, in that section where you can view the babes (Babe O’ Rama), which might explain the slight touch of misogyny that rears its head, perhaps to fit the motif. I don’t know, that part is pretty bad.
“Ladies, there’s no need to be like that. If you just pass me my pants, I’ll be on my way.”
Stepping back for a moment though, this is a game best remembered, not re-experienced. The flash and sizzle hit right, but the meat of the experience needed more time to cook. I do wonder if this self-proclaimed protector of the galaxy could have been more. If tragedy hadn’t struck, would the fans have held on? My previous comments may seem a bit harsh, but they are to make sure we aren’t hanging this just on Hartman. There were some good ideas here, a drive, but the finished product wasn’t stable and the years have shed even more light onto that. I’m not sure what is in store for Captain Blasto, if he has any sort of future, but for now I think it’s best we just let the legend rest.