I’ve always found it unfair to compare games to their inspirations. However, when the similarities are so evident, it’s hard to ignore the correlation between Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King and the classic 2D Legend of Zelda games. While a fun experience from beginning to end, Blossom Tales often seems to lack an identity that would set it apart from others just like it. If you like Zelda, you will more than likely like this game, but is there really enough here to justify your purchase?
FDG Entertainment, the game’s publisher, has graciously provided us with a review copy of Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King.
A tale of treachery
Blossom Tales actually contains quite the striking opening. Rather than the clichéd hero waking from their slumber, only to find out that they are destined for greater things and that they must save a princess, Blossom Tales has you in a living room with a grandpa and his two grandchildren. You see, the story here is presented as exactly that: a story book read to these two kids about a hero known as Lily (whose identity is very close to Link’s) who needs to save her kingdom from a treacherous wizard. Once you arrive in the book itself, the plot is fairly standard. If this was how the whole game played out, this would be a pointless thing to comment on, but the most intriguing feature of this game is the narrator, also known as Grandpa (with various humorous comments from Lily and her brother Chrys thrown into the mix).
Grandpa as the game’s narrator is the most ingenious idea in this game.
The great part about this is the way it alters gameplay in a few locations. At certain points in narration, Grandpa will detail what enemies the fearsome knight Lily will have to take on, but then the children chime in and squabble about what they want the hero to fight. The player is then given a choice of what kind of enemy Lily will then face, and this is such a unique mechanic that I’ve only seen used once before late into Super Paper Mario. Unfortunately, this genius gameplay idea is criminally underutilised, with the amount of times it happens so few that it ends up leaving little of an impression on me. In the future, I’d love to see this built upon and utilized in lots of different ways as I think it could work very well as a core mechanic in a potential future installment.
The story itself is fairly standard nonetheless, with Lily having to defeat Crocus the great wizard in order to awaken the game’s namesake the Sleeping King. To do this, she must acquire three ingredients from around the world, solving the inhabitants’ problems and conquering dangerous dungeons with vile enemies and cunning puzzles. It’s clear to me that the story only really serves the purpose of contextualizing the trials that Lily has to go through in order to reach the game’s climax. However, juxtaposed with the lackluster plot is the superb writing. While I previously mentioned the antics of the storytelling aspect of the game, the NPCs have a lot of fun things to say, and I found myself laughing at many of the jokes found within. There are a bunch of collectable scrolls written from the perspective of a priest-like lady who travelled the land, her scriptures strewed across each and every environment you traverse, and these are always highlights as she is characterized in a very humorous way. References to other series, obviously including The Legend of Zelda, are peppered in conservatively and it never detracts from the experience and I like their subtle addition.
However, the NPCs of the game aren’t all great as there is a fundamental issue with the handling of dialogue, and that is the repetition of it. Rather than the likes of other series where each NPC has their own piece of information to divulge, their own joke to tell, lookalike NPCs have a pool of dialogue which they can say something from and, while it might be something you don’t notice at first, there are points where one NPC and another standing right next to them will say the exact same thing. The text you receive is completely random, which makes it hard to go through every line of dialogue each type of NPC has in store. This is unfortunate considering the fact that I’ve found myself smiling or laughing at their quirky one-liners on more than a few occasions. Blossom Tales does feature unique characters with no other sprites matching their own, and this issue isn’t present in those situations, yet I can’t help but wish each and every NPC had their own thing to say.
Hearkening back to olden times
In the current landscape of gaming, pixel art has become a very popular art style due to how much easier it is to draw and animate. It is especially prominent in the indie game scene, and, while it most definitely isn’t a bad thing (some games really take it to the next level, such as Owlboy which boasts a spectacular graphical experience), it does tend to feel overdone and unimpressive when considered against its alternatives. Blossom Tales looks simplistic, the sprites seem fairly generic, and the environments feel familiar. I wouldn’t take any points off of it for this reason because it certainly doesn’t look bad; it just feels like I’ve tread the exact same grounds many a time before. However, one thing I can compliment is the vivid animations that enhance what is just an uninspired art style. The particle effects that compliment the use of the spin and jump attack are lovely and makes these techniques very satisfying to employ. The dynamic lighting following the explosion of a bomb or a fire arrow drifting through the air add to the ambience of the environments and help to make the player feel more immersed in the experience. Standalone screenshots aren’t really able to do this game the justice it deserves, so I would recommend checking out a trailer to catch a glimpse of what I am talking about. Suffice to say, this game looks amazing in movement, making it even more of a joy to play.
The soundtrack of Blossom Tales is by no means winning any awards for its themes, but, boy, do these songs like to get stuck in your head. The general vibe of the soundtrack is upbeat chiptune melodies which gracefully accompany your joyful adventure across the world’s various regions. While I likely couldn’t hum many of the tunes off of memory, there are some that really resonate with me long after hearing them, the best example of this being the theme of the first dungeon which feels both tribal and technological at the same time, which in my eyes does a good job of reflecting the themes of the temple itself. Each song is thematically appropriate, but there are times where I feel like one song could have transitioned into another sooner than it did. The swamp can be accessed from the game’s main field and the theme that plays in the field continues to persist even when the atmosphere completely shifts away from that of said field. Rain starts to fall, you begin to trudge into the swamp, and, while I understand the desire to have the theme play when you enter the area for real, I think something like the music fading out, leaving you with just the sound of rain would have been far more effective until you reached the swamp proper. It isn’t the biggest gripe ever, but I can’t help but feel detached from the world when moments like this occur.
The ice and lava dungeons are about what you’d expect, with ice puzzles and slippery physics coating the former and plenty of lava drenching the latter.
Thematically, the world within Blossom Tales is… conventional, to say the very least. Your forest, lava, and ice level are all in tact, with the likes of the sewers and and the swamp thrown in there too for good measure. However, with the right amount of care and consideration, these standard templates could blossom (pardon the pun) into something more interesting, but unfortunately this is never done. The ice and lava dungeons are about what you’d expect, with ice puzzles and slippery physics coating the former and plenty of lava drenching the latter. The lava dungeon is notably disappointing as it is known as the Boiling Caverns and is preceded by the swamp area, so my expectations going in were that of some sort of fiery swamp dungeon with boiling water and steam-based mechanics going in. But what was there instead was your typical lava dungeon with very little to set it apart from others alike it. Perhaps I built up my expectations too high, but I can’t help but find it peculiar to wander through a bandit-filled swamp into a lava dungeon with nothing to link these two areas thematically. On the contrary, the first dungeon’s blending of ancient architecture and magical technology set the standard for what was to come, but nothing really reached this standard that had been set right off the bat.
The Legend of Zelda experience
I bet you’re asking yourself one very important question: how does the game play? Well, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a lot like the Zelda games of old. You have a sword which can be swung in four directions, although, if you press the sword button three times in a row, you do a spin attack finished, which is a nice addition. Then you have your classic spin attack and, my personal favourite move, the jump attack. This brutal move can be performed directly after a spin attack by pressing attack immediately afterward; Lily leaps into the air and can be controlled quite well while up there, slamming down with her sword to deal more damage than a regular swing, with the added bonus of invincibility frames, which alleviate the fact you’ll often be flying right into your enemies! It’s actually a little broken, but it is so much fun to perform so I find myself often spamming it over and over to obliterate my foes.
In traditional Zelda fashion, you also have an assortment of items at your disposal which can be mapped to two buttons, but I do have a qualm with that. I understand the developer’s wish to emulate The Legend of Zelda games as much as possible, but reinstating archaic design choices such as this are frustrating. The real issue isn’t the two slots, it’s that the shield takes up one of these two slots, which is my justification for never using my shield in 2D Zelda games such as Link’s Awakening or the Oracle games. Mechanics like this were fixed in the wonderful A Link Between Worlds, where the shield got its own button and therefore got an increase in how useful a tool it actually was. Oh, and speaking of buttons, I’m an avid PC gamer and am used to the ability to customize button layouts in my games. I played through Blossom Tales on an Xbox One controller and found that “A” being the sword button was rather obtuse and annoying to get used to, so custom button mapping would be greatly appreciated.
The items themselves are, and I realize I’ve used this word many times already, very standard. You’ve got a bow, boomerang, a sword dash thingy, fire magic… nothing I haven’t seen so many times before. While I admit that each one controls just fine with no noticeable problems, it’s very underwhelming to see such a uniform selection of items to play with. Saying this, there is one lovely little thing that wasn’t brought back from past games, and that is the consumable items of old, such as bombs and arrows having to be found in pots and grass. Instead is the ALBW approach of giving you a stamina meter which drains when using items but regenerates all by itself, giving you unlimited usage of items within the restrictions of your stamina meter. On top of this, items can be upgraded by bringing certain materials to certain people around the world (though it never tells you where you can upgrade your bow, bombs, etc.), which improve on them with things like the bow getting triple arrows and the bombs getting larger explosions. And no, I mean that the monsters you defeat drop items specific to them rather than the 100 Maiamais you had to collect in ALBW to upgrade your items.
A puzzling quandary
The world of Blossom Tales is rather vast, and it’s full of secrets and puzzles to figure out along the way to get heart pieces and stamina upgrades. I’m happy to report that said puzzles are very much enjoyable and, most importantly, quite challenging… at least initially. Puzzles range from pushing blocks, memorizing the order in which you heard certain blocks and hitting them in said order, and spinning blocks to match patterns on walls. These are great and fun and… then they keep showing up everywhere, the same set of puzzles reoccurring over and over until I got tired of it all. Then there’s this awkward thing during the block-pushing puzzles where, if you touch the boundaries of the puzzle, the puzzle resets, which is very frustrating and easy to do. Once again I hearken back to Blossom Tales’ first dungeon, which was full of immaculate puzzles, challenge rooms, and clever mechanics involving fire arrows which were then mixed together to create even tougher obstacles to overcome. Top this off with a great boss and I had an incredible time, but after this dungeon it felt like the developer had run out of ideas for new puzzles, and I couldn’t help but feel the monotony of doing the same things over and over with very little new additions to the formula. This is to say that level design is a noticeably weak point of Blossom Tales, an aspect of Zelda that has become a staple over the years, and I hate to see the game stumble over this hurdle so clumsily.
I had an incredible time with the first dungeon, but the game never lives up to that again.
I enjoyed Blossom Tales for a lot of what it did, and, while I can say that I came out with a positive experience, I cannot say that the repetition of doing a small amount of things over and over didn’t get to me, souring my overall experience of the game. I want to recommend this game to fans of the Zelda series as a lighthearted romp through the kingdom of Blossom, but if you’re looking for something with a little more substance and depth for the price you’re paying, then I’d suggest taking a look somewhere else.
|Score||Similarity to other Zeldas|
|6.5/10||A Link to the Past – ▲▲▲△△
Link’s Awakening – ▲▲▲▲△
A Link Between Worlds – ▲▲▲△△