July 16, 2022

BLASTER'S UNIVERSE

BLASTER’S UNIVERSE
(CBS, September 4-November 27, 1999)
 
Nelvana, Hong Guang Animation, CBS Productions, Knowledge Adventure

 

 

MAIN CAST:
Jonathan Wilson – Max Blaster
Maryke Hendrikse – GC
Juan Chioran – MEL
 
 
            Educator Jan Davidson always sought to get her students more involved in the learning process. When the personal computer came around in the 1970s, she decided it would be a useful tool for that methodology since it required people to actively use one. However, by that time, there were no software offerings to fit her needs. So, she decided to create her own. With the help of a contracted programmer, her first game was Speed Reader designed to help kids learn how to read quicker. Then came Math Blaster and the vocabulary game Word Attack. Shortly after, she and her husband, Bob, created their own publishing company, Davidson & Associates, Inc., to continue to develop computer games and turn PCs into a valuable educational tool.

The original Math Blaster.


            Their most popular software line was the Blaster series, known as the Blaster Learning System, developed out of the original Math Blaster game. The game initially featured a stick figure man in a circus-like setting having to be maneuvered over the cannon under the correct answer to the problem, in which he would then fall into and be shot out of. A seal bouncing a ball served as a timer, with the added challenge of the man having to keep a balloon from landing on a nail on the other side of the screen. A revision was made in 1987 called Math Blaster Plus!, which replaced the non-descript player character with a little alien in a green space suit (although it was purple in the actual game) called the Blasternaut and the cannons with rocket ships, space stations they could blast off to, and a countdown timer. The second revision in 1990, New Math Blaster Plus!, changed things up entirely with better graphics, animations and four separate mini-games. In Plus!, the player needed to solve problems correctly to build his ship, power a tractor beam to pull in space trash that would then be recycled into fuel, and then using an anti-gravity pad to zip up to one of the waiting space stations to stop the alien invasion that now represents the timer. A bonus level was included that allowed the player to control Blasternaut on his jetpack to collect some items for points. This formula would become the standard for the Blaster series of games featuring the Blasterpals. Two spin-offs, Alge-Blaster Plus! and Math Blaster Mystery, were released in 1989.

Victory screen from the home console version of Episode I, featuring Blasternaut, Spot, G.C. and the trash alien.


            In 1993, the original game was revised again as Math Blaster Episode I: In Search of Spot, this time introducing Blasternaut’s (Mark Sawyer) companion, an alien robot named Spot (also Sawyer using a Brooklyn accent), and boss/best friend, Galactic Commander aka G.C. (voiced by Laura Boedeker, the three known collectively as the Blasterpals), the leader of the Galactic Patrol to which Blasternaut belonged. The major difference in the game was the addition of the narrative to rescue spot from an evil trash alien (also Sawyer), as well as a platforming segment that required Blasternaut to have a particular number to continue onward (changed by positive or negative numbers that appeared as water droplets). 1994’s Episode II: Secret of the Lost City was geared towards an older age group and featured the characters in 3-D models during cutscenes for the first time. Math Blaster Jr. in 1996, made for pre-schoolers, returned to a purely sprite-based design and depicted Blasternaut, G.C. and Spot as kids. The Blasterpals would expand beyond basic math into Reading Blaster, Spelling Blaster and Science Blaster, sometimes facing off against appropriately-themed foes. Davidson also dabbled with other characters in other Blaster entries, including little green monster Rave, round alien Cosmic MC, and human girl Andi, but the Blasterpals were the most prominent throughout the line.

Spot, Blasternaut and G.C. learning they're about to be replaced.


            The Blaster Learning System was a major success, pulling in millions of dollars for Davidson & Associates. Naturally, the company used that to grow itself by purchasing software firms and studios (at one point they owned what would become Blizzard Entertainment), becoming publicly traded on the stock market, and creating their own distributor in partnership with Mattel. In 1996, CUC International bought Davidson & Associates and eventually combined it with another acquisition, former competitor Knowledge Adventure (now JumpStart Games, Inc.), under which all future Blaster games would be released. Along with that change came another: the decision to revise the Blaster characters.

G.C. and Blaster admiring their new creation, MEL.


            Taking a cue from the various Junior games in the series, the Blasterpals were reduced to childhood age. C.G. (Jennifer Hale) kept the purple hair she eventually wound up with through design revisions, but her skin was changed from green to lavender and her suit to orange. Blasternaut became a human boy named Max Blaster (Dee Bradley Baker) from a futuristic planet Earth. While he retained his green space suit (which now gave him enhanced strength and the ability to fly), he was given a clear bubble helmet. Spot was replaced by a robotic dog the pair built named MEL (Mechanically Enhanced Lapdog, voiced by Michael Gough). From 1999-2006, the new Blasterpals would adorn all of the future Blaster packaging and star in several games of their own; however, the original Blasterpals would remain included in future re-releases of previous games.

Blaster and G.C. doing some futuristic skateboarding on Earth.


            To promote the new Blaster era, Nelvana was commissioned to produce an animated series starring the characters developed by Jamie Tatham and Dale Schott. Set in the year 2222, Blaster (Jonathan Wilson) was best friends with G.C. (Maryke Hendrikse), a princess from the planet Omega who teleported to Earth via the ring she wore daily to attend Earth school as she loved learning—in stark contrast to the more free-spirited Blaster. When she held her ring towards Blaster’s watch, it allowed Blaster to go to teleport with her and gain his green spacesuit. While other aliens were aware of Earthlings, it seemed as if Earth was unaware of aliens as G.C. tried to pass herself as an ordinary Earth girl. Together, they built MEL (Juan Chioran) who often aided them in their studies and adventures when not maintaining his cover as a common dog. And those adventures often saw them going up against villains (some directly from the games) who threaten the universe with their educational-themed crimes: the history-loving (and altering) Major History; the word-stealing Illitera; the mathematical fiend Number Cruncher; and mad scientist Dr. Dabble. Because the series was produced in Canada, a Canadian voice cast had to be used instead of the games’ already established cast. To combat these foes, the Blasterpals had to rely on their brains and various things they had learned, cementing the educational message of the show.

Illitera up to no good.


            Blaster’s Universe debuted on CBS on September 4, 1999, as part of the programming block CBS Kidshow that was programmed by Nelvana. It was written by Schott along with Hugh Duffy, Ben Joseph, Dave Dias, Kim Thompson and Ken Ross, with Duffy serving as story editor. Miki Baumgarten, PhD was retained as the educational consultant to ensure it met the educational requirements expected of children’s television at the time. Ray Parker and Tom Szczesniak composed the series’ music, while Grayson Matthews for Tantrum Productions did the theme. Hong Guang Animation (now Brilliant Pictures) handled the animation duties.

MEL, Blaster and G.C. learning they're about to be replaced.


            Blaster’s Universe only ran for a single season, airing on Teletoon in early 2000 shortly after its CBS run concluded. Reruns were sparse and home media non-existent. In 2013, Russian-dubbed episodes found their way to YouTube followed by several of the English versions. For a time, Bell Media offered the entire series for viewing in Canada with a paid subscription on their website.

The current Math Blaster, Blaster Prime.


            In 2006, the Blaster series got another revamp with yet another new Blasternaut. This time it was Blaster Prime (Scott Allen Katz), the newest member of the long-forgotten Blaster Corps and the only living being who remembers math in the universe. With the aid of an AI program named AIMEE (Karen Strassman), Prime was on a mission to restore math and free the galaxy from the powerful Cyclotron X (Kevin Delaney), a math-teaching program that became sentient. The new 2.5-D platforming series began with Master the Basics before jumping over to Nintendo DS with 2008’s In the Prime Adventure. Since 2013, the Blaster series has been relegated to mobile devices and a via a subscription on the official Math Blaster website. As for the Davidsons, after they left their company in the late 90s, they started up the Davidson Institute for Talent Development; a nonprofit that ensures the nation’s most gifted and talented kids are supported and nurtured so that they can develop their talents and make a positive difference.
 
 
EPISODE GUIDE:
“You’re History” (9/4/99) – Major History intends to rewrite history with himself as a central figure, forcing Blaster and G.C. to use history against him.
 
“A Bridge Too Weak” (9/11/99) – Nothing is as it seems as the Number Cruncher plans to spoil G.C.’s father’s ceremony to open a new bridge.
 
“Misplaced Weekend” (9/18/99) – Only Blaster seems to realize the weekend completely disappeared, and he intends to find out why.
 
“A Spot of Trouble” (9/25/99) – MEL’s dog act suddenly becomes real, bringing him to the attention of Omegan Dog Catcher Von Shtoopenscooper.
 
“Uncool Copycat” (10/2/99) – Artist Deja Vu decides to make life-sized copies of everything, but when he copies the Blasterpals and the Commander it almost leads to an intergalactic war.
 
“Mind Over Manners” (10/9/99) – Illitera eliminates politeness across the universe, which could end up leading to war unless the Blasterpals can get her to return it.
 
“Body Electric” (10/16/99) – Illitera decides to get revenge on a childhood of losing spelling bees to the Commander by shrinking down and manipulating him from the inside.
 
“Hero Today, Gone Tomorrow” (10/23/99) – When it comes to a choice between cleaning his room and chasing a pirate ship, Blaster chooses the ship.
 
“Sound Advice” (10/30/99) – G.C. can’t wait to see her favorite musician in concert, but The Maestro may have other plans.
 
“Math Schmath” (11/6/99) – Blaster and G.C. are tasked with tutoring their bully in math just as the Number Cruncher issues a challenge for the fate of the galaxy.
 
“Nowhere to Hide” (11/13/99) – When Blaster accidentally breaks a statue in the Omegan library, he decides to hide it and avoid trouble only to find that it’s been stolen.
 
“Gym Nausium” (11/20/99) – Blaster and G.C. get conscripted into a high stakes boat race, but their recent bout of laziness leaves them in little shape to compete.
 
“Buggin’ Out” (11/27/99) – Blaster’s fear of bugs is challenged when the Exterminator appears and threatens to re-release the dreaded Y2K bug.

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