By Tyler Lubben / December 21st, 2016
Before I start, there’s something I need to say. Indie games copying the Legend of Zelda formula are a dime a dozen these days. Games like Two Brothers and Oceanhorn are a couple key examples, but they’re by no means the only ones. For so basic a formula, many developers seem to have trouble emulating that simple yet incredibly satisfying equation that the Zelda games have used since the NES days. The question that bears answering today is whether or not Castle Pixel’s upcoming title, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, deserves an honored place among those few that catch that lightning in a bottle or if it’s just another to throw on the pile.
“Blossom Tales” is an apt name, as the story is actually told as, well, a story. Two young children visit their grandfather and demand he tell them a story. He launches into the tale of Lily, a young girl who wants to be a knight. The story opens on the day of her knighting ceremony, and she is immediately given a task suitable to her knightly status; killing rats. Through her exterminating trials, however, Lily happens upon a plot to usurp the kingdom’s throne by an evil sorcerer. Lily tries to warn the King, but she is too late. The King is put under a powerful sleep spell by the villain, and Lily is powerless as the sorcerer begins his dastardly plans. So the journey of Lily begins, as she is tasked with finding three mystical objects that can break the spell over the King. It’s an interesting enough premise, though the gameplay is a bit… familiar.
From the first few seconds that players are given control of Lily, the similarities to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are undeniable. From the moment Lily is roused from sleep by her grandmother, it all feels like well-trodden territory. Blossom Tales uses a top-down perspective as players explore the various towns, forests and dungeons the demo has to offer. Lily quickly gets her hands on a sword which allows her to attack enemies and has a nice arc to hit foes to her side, as well. It even features a nice little combo animation for successive hits. Holding the Attack button for a few seconds charges up a spin attack to hit multiple enemies for more damage. Lily also finds some standard action-adventure fare early on, like bombs and a bow. Rather than using the usual “ammo” system, however, whenever using a secondary item, a portion of Lily’s magic meter is used up. This refills itself over time, which is more akin to the mechanics of A Link Between Worlds on 3DS and a welcome inclusion in my opinion.
The thing one must always keep in mind regarding Blossom Tales is that it is essentially being told as a bedtime story. During gameplay, this is translated by the grandkids deciding different factors of the story, showcased in the demo by deciding what types of enemies were invading a small forest village. It’s certainly a novel mechanic, and one I’m interested in seeing what else they do with in the full game. Aside from that, Lily has a couple new moves added to her repertoire. Key among these is a powerful jump attack that is triggered by pushing the Attack button in the middle of a spin attack. This launches Lily forward, followed up by slamming her sword into the ground, dealing big damage to any enemy unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. Lily even enjoys a few precious invincibility frames while performing the jump attack, making it ideal for some of the tougher enemies you’ll end up fighting in the demo’s dungeon.
I think Blossom Tales is running under the assumption that players have been through at least one of the original Zelda games before, because the first main dungeon does not pull any punches. While the layout itself is fairly linear, the puzzles seem like they may be a bit tricky for newcomers, though veterans shouldn’t be tripped up for long. Even entering the dungeon requires players to complete a Simon-like minigame by hitting magical stones in a specific order. The dungeon proper features switches that raise and lower color-coded barriers, a mainstay of the Zelda franchise, but also some new curveballs. Players will need to carefully study the certain walls, as they contain solutions for puzzles which require turning floating blocks to show different designs. Players will also be required to shoot arrows through lit torches to burn vines blocking their path. To my knowledge, this has not been seen outside of the 3D Zelda games, but it’s certainly an interesting mechanic in the 2D realm as well. Do this while dodging ball-and-chain hazards, avoiding collapsing floors and fighting huge groups of enemies, and you have a blueprint for quite a challenging first dungeon. Personally, I love a good challenge and I appreciated that the game dispensed with the hand holding pretty quickly.
While I wasn’t immediately enamored by the game’s art style, the farther I got, the more impressed I was. Honestly, many of the characters in the game (Lily included) seem a bit simplistic in their design. They seem to be too small to make good use of the pixels that make them up. However, larger characters with exaggerated facial features and many of the game’s enemies look much more impressive, not to mention the environments and various animations and effects. In that regard, this is some of the best spritework this side of Rogue Legacy. The music, too, hits all the right cues. From the calm pleasant themes of the starting town to the mysterious tones of the nearby forest to the slightly upbeat but threatening dungeon, it all works just fine (if maybe somewhat too “usual”).
One might assume that when I say Blossom Tales copies the Zelda formula, I’m being derogatory. The truth of the matter is, rather, that I haven’t seen such a brilliant adaptation of this style of gameplay outside of Nintendo since… possibly ever. Blossom Tales hits that perfect sweet spot between action and puzzle solving for which the 2D Zelda games are so famous while adding slight variations to the combat and puzzle mechanics to make for a truly enjoyable experience. My one worry is that, based on the direction the game appears to be headed from the scraps of story I was given, the final product is simply going to be too short. I could be wrong, though, and I hope I am because Blossom Tales really looks like something special, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the full game when it launches next year. If anything, I’m hoping that the plural “Tales” might indicate multiple entries, but I won’t try to assume too much (though my fingers will remain crossed).
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