Fester’s Blaster Master Quest
Anyone my age his probably heard of the game Blaster Master. Released by Sunsoft in 1988, it was an interesting mix of non-linear platforming and top-down shooting, and had one of the most insane premises I’ve ever seen: Jason’s pet frog, Fred, escapes from his tank and hops over to a crate of radioactive… stuff… that for some reason is sitting in the back yard. Fred grows into a behemoth and disappears into a massive and seemingly bottomless hole in the ground. Was it already there? Did Fred dig it? Who the fuck knows, we’re only given still images with no narration.
In any case, Jason hops down the hole after his beloved pet and manages to land without breaking his legs. To his surprise, there’s a big space-tank nestled in this cave beneath his house, complete with pilot’s suit. In lieu of anything else to do at this point, Jason suits up and drives off in search of Fred.
If that’s not the best bad story you’ve ever heard, you haven’t played enough old video games.
Blaster Master makes use of two play modes: On-foot and vehicular. What made this duality so interesting is the fact that the modes don’t match up with the play styles you’d normally guess; it’s actually the tank that does the platforming. That alone makes the game worth playing, in my opinion. Jumping a tank sounds like the sort of crazy shit that’d turn up on the show Ridiculousness.
The game sold fairly well in the United States and was highly praised by critics. However, the same could not be said of the Japanese audience; the game faced low sales upon its initial release, which led to poor attitudes about the game at Sunsoft. It was so disliked within the company that even the game’s lead designer, Yoshiaki Iwata, had no idea that the game was a success overseas. The company considered the game a failure and immediately turned focus onto other projects. And one of those other projects just happened to be Fester’s Quest.
For the uninitiated, Fester’s Quest is a game centered around Uncle Fester from the Addams Family as he attempts to save the world from aliens. Yes, such a game actually exists.
When I was a kid, I heard a lot about this game, but I never actually played it. Considering how often I saw ads for it, I’d always guessed it was a really popular horror game. Hell, just the cover gave me the willies, as I can’t stand spiders and there’s one RIGHT ON HIS FUCKING FACE. (In retrospect, that’s probably a large part of why I never played the game.) Anyway, I’d had the perception that the game was a hit because it seemed like I saw it everywhere at the time, but in reality, it was a spectacular flop. It crashed and burned so hard because it got a ton of hype that it couldn’t live up to — perhaps because, I don’t know, The Addams Family is about spooky macabre stuff and not aliens and laser guns.
If you’re asking yourself who would design a game like that, the answer is simple: No one. Not really, anyway; at best, Fester’s Quest is a re-skin of the walking areas of Blaster Master. There are new elements to help differentiate the two, but at its core, that’s really all it is. Fester’s Quest makes use of the same top-down shooting (complete with gun offset to the right), some of the same bullets and sound effects, the same boss fight sequences, and even some of the same enemies.
The best I can come up with to explain how Fester’s Quest came to be is that Sunsoft was trying to make the best of what they felt was a bad situation, but even that doesn’t completely clarify things. They never even gave Blaster Master a chance to breathe before deciding to flush it and try again; after all, Fester’s Quest came out less than a year after its predecessor. You’d think that if they were going to bother to release it to new regions, they’d have even a mild interest in seeing how it does in those markets.
More than anything, I don’t understand why they chose the Addams Family franchise as a starting point. As far as I can tell from some simple research, it doesn’t seem that there was anything particularly noteworthy going on with the series at the time. The animated TV show was still running, but Fester’s Quest clearly had nothing to do with the cartoon, so I don’t think it’s relevant. There were so many other stories they could’ve worked into Blaster Master‘s stencil that would’ve made a more coherent product. Why The Addams Family of all things? Who looked at that franchise, looked at Blaster Master, and said, “Oh yes, that’s a perfect fit!”
It’s even more mind-boggling when you consider the fact that they had to have gotten licensing permission to use the franchise at all, so obviously someone on the other side thought this was a good idea as well. The creator of the Addams Family series, Charles Addams, died of a sudden heart attack in 1988, so it’s possible that he had personally okay’d the project just before he passed. I honestly hope he was completely in the dark, though, because I’d hate to think that Fester’s Quest of all things was his last project.
In the end, I find the whole situation to be one of those bizarre pieces of video game folklore. It’s common enough for a bad game to have a good sequel, or a good game to have a bad sequel, or a good game to get a bad remake, etc. But for a good game to not only get a bad remake, but to get one that’s completely unrelated to its original game and makes even less contextual sense, while simultaneously banking on an outside franchise that has absolutely nothing to do with the game’s premise? Now that’s just legendary.
Blaster Master and Fester’s Quest are both the property of Sunsoft. Uncle Fester and all other Addams Family characters and related items are the property of… Well, they belonged to Charles Addams before he died, but now I’m not sure who has the rights. Maybe his family or maybe the last studio that made any media about them or something. The point is, it’s not me, so don’t sue me for talking about them.
Posted on September 9, 2013, in Feature Articles, Journalism, Retro Games, Video Games and tagged Blaster Master, Charles Addams, Fester's Quest, Sunsoft, The Addams Family. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.