Developer: Castle Pixel
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing & Platformer
Release Date: 21st of December, 2017 (EU & NA)
Castle Pixel presents A Lily to the Past!
In 1991, an iconic series by the name of The Legend of Zelda, received a massive facelift, when the classic A Link to the Past, released in Japan, before making its debut in the West one year later. Like the games before it, A Link to the Past, threw players into the shoes of a young boy named Link (now sporting pink hair,) and promised a fantastical adventure that other games available at the time, simply couldn’t. However, instead of being a side-scrolling adventure like Zelda II: Link’s Adventure, which came before it, A Link to the Past was more like the first game, thanks to its top-down perspective and general gameplay. But instead of being just a 90’s version of The Legend of Zelda, plenty of new elements were added to the game that would change the series forever.
The Master Sword and alternate worlds may not feature in every Zelda game made since 1991, but if it was not for A Link to the Past, these elements would not be present, which means games like Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, A Link Between Worlds and even the newer Breath of the Wild, would not have come to be in the form we know them and they’re not the only ones! A Link to the Past didn’t just shape future Zelda games, but it went on to inspire many games and one such game, is none other than Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King!
When the Castle Pixel developed Blossom Tales, launched on Steam earlier this year (March 28th), I was immediately drawn to it. It looked very much like some of the true old-school Zelda games I grew up with and I needed to play it badly, so I did. I put Breath of the Wild on pause and invested a whole three day weekend into it and Blossom Tales performed exactly the way I wanted it too and now that it’s launching on the Nintendo Switch as a console exclusive, I got to play and fall in love with it all over again!
Equipped with pixel art graphics that look a little less defined compared to other pixel art games that are available on all platforms and a catchy soundtrack that won’t win awards, but will stick in your mind, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, is a game that heavily draws inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and handles in a very similar fashion. So anyone familiar with the classic Zelda game, would be right to assume that Blossom Tales is also a top-down adventure game with a fantasy setting, because it is! It’s also a game that has a once peaceful land, suddenly facing an unimaginable threat, where the protagonist is one of the most unlikely heroes going, what with it being a young girl named Lily, on the day she becomes a Knight. There’s also bombs, bows, environmental dungeons, swords, shields and even spin attacks by the name of Roundhouse! Still, just because Blossom Tales may have borrowed a little too much from A Link to the Past, it is not a complete clone as there are some differences. Probably nowhere near enough, but the biggest one is certainly worth talking about as this particular feature is Blossom Tales’ most defining one.
Ever hear of a film called The Princess Bride? It’s a romantic fantasy adventure film that screened back in 1987, which was adapted by a book of the same name that released a few years prior. Anyhow, one of the things that happened in the film, is that the actual main events of the film, are simply nothing more than a story that a grandfather (played by Peter Falk,) is reading to his grandson, who is played by Fred Savage. As for how this carries over to Blossom Tales, well, in a similar vein to the film, the story of the Knight Lily, a Sleeping King and an evil Wizard seeking to seize the Blossom Kingdom for himself, is nothing more than a tale a grandpa is reading to his children Lily and Chrys. A bedtime story for them to soak in and ponder as they lie in their beds a little later that night, but this clever touch doesn’t end just there.
You see, the developers build on top of the storytelling aspect by making the story of Blossom Tales an interactive one. While all of the key moments are set in stone, there are instances in the game where players can actually have their say. One example of this is when you are in the Bandit Camp, heading towards the second dungeon and the boss of the bandits confronts you. Both grandchildren, who, like their grandfather, chime in time to time, all throughout Blossom Tales, have a minor disagreement on what the bandit boss should be. One argues it should be a pirate, while the other believes it to be a Ninja of sorts and it is down to you to pick which one.
Personally, I think this feature is great, as the whole story telling aspect would work wonderfully in a Zelda game, but while the interactive side of things was decently implemented and worked, as it helps to personalise the Blossom Tales experience, but it was greatly underused. I would have loved to have seen this feature used more so then it was, but maybe that’s something the developers will consider if they ever choose to return to Blossom Tales and make it a series. Still, that could be a long time away if it happens at all, so let’s get back to the game we do have.
Being a game about a young Knight, looking to revive her King, via the help of three special ingredients, with 5 dungeons to beat and so many side-quests available thanks to various NPC’s dotted all over the Blossom Kingdom, there’s never a dull moment in 12-15 hours that are required to beat Blossom Tales. Yeah, fetch quests are usually boring and Blossom Tales does have its share of them, but most of them, although they actually require you to collect 20 of a particular item, the first time you do it for them, usually they’ll give you a Heart Piece (collect 4 to create a new Heart Container and expand your life force by one heart,) or an Energy gem, which provided you get enough of them, will expand your energy meter.
Other times you might be awarded with an Elissa’s Scroll, (of which there are 20 to get,) but the scrolls are worth getting. They’re the written accounts penned by Elissa, of the things she saw, did and encountered back when she was off on her travels and don’t worry, she’s not dead. Elissa is alive and well and can be found in the chapel in the Blossom Castle and should you find all of her scrolls, she will see you rewarded for your efforts. But, back to the fetch quests, while it is true fulfilling the quests the first time will see you get something good, some quests can be completed more than once, as long as you have the required amount, and see you rewarded with a monetary payment.
Although fetch quests aren’t the only way to go about earning some coin, because while some loose change can be found by cutting down grass, or from pots you’ve smashed deliberately, they can also be recovered from treasure chests that can be found all over, as well as dug from the very earth via a shovel, so you’ll definitely never be potless that’s for sure. Still, we have yet to get to the good stuff, so here it is, starting with the controls. With Lily able to view her world map via the map screen as part of the Inventory menu (+ button,) there’s also a gear screen where players can look at the items and weapons they possess and assign them to the X or B button.
To the dismay of some players, the shield is also an item that falls into this category, so if you were hoping there might be a shoulder button for it, there isn’t. Instead, if you wish to have your shield handy so you can defend yourself, you’ll have to do so knowing you’ll only be free to assign one other item to the other slot, but you can change them at any time you want, but there is a decent reason for this. Because the shield can not be broken and isn’t perfect, every time you use it, costs energy. Energy can be expanded and is consumed from the green bar beneath your hearts and refills automatically over time. Sure it’s not the best reason, but if you’re shielding from a bombardment, you’d get tired too, so shielding costing energy, does make sense and it’s not the only item that makes use of the energy bar either. Just like the shield, the likes of your boomerang, bow and bombs all require energy just to use them, so you’ll never have to worry about running out of them, but during the earlier stages of the game, when the bar is considerably smaller, it is all too easy to throw a couple of bombs and then stand around, waiting for it to refill.
As for the purpose of the A button, since I have yet to mention that, A is used for interacting with NPC’s, using handy teleport pads you’ve previously discovered, dragging objects and most importantly, using your sword. Three button presses result in a little flourish, whereas holding A before releasing, is the way to go, to pull off a spin attack. (Incidentally, tapping A during a spin attack, will cause Lily to leap up into the air and do a handy jump slash.) But if your sword skills are not up to par and you can’t hold your own against the many enemies and Bosses that Blossom Tales has to offer, there are potions that can refill your health, a Resurrection flower that will bring you back from the brink of death and Blossom Spirits. All of the can also be set to B and X and Blossom Spirits are very useful, since they are sworn to aid you upon being released. They won’t take down an entire boss for you, but they’ll help all the same.
With regards to the actual puzzles, level designs and world explorations, this is where Blossom Tales, really under performs. I like the dungeons, I do, but after the first two, the dungeons aren’t really the same as they fail to really bring anything new to the table, as the puzzles they make use of, are the say introduced early on. There are more melody stones, more pathways that require you to walk on each tile just the once and make it to the end and the usual drag and place on the switch. I won’t deny that some instances are actually nicely done, as the puzzle is presented in a slightly different way, but, I would have liked a little more variety instead of more of the same that just gets a more tediously harder the deeper into the rabbit hole you go. It’s one thing to make the later dungeons look a tad unfinished, as the cleverly polished layouts from before are replaced with what we got, but there is at least a clear sense of direction every time, many secret hidey holes and caves all over the Blossom Kingdom. It’s just a shame that a lava temple in a swamp was not more of a fiery swamp temple combination of the two, but really I’m just nit-picking. Blossom Tales does have faults, I won’t deny that, but even with an art style that can be a tad bland at time, music that should have been more than what we got and the general gameplay that is just too much like another game we all know and love, I still think Blossom Tales is a lovingly created piece of work that should be enjoyed for what it is and leave it at that. It’s what I’m going to do anyway!
Despite the fact that Blossom Tales, does try a little too hard to be like something else, when Castle Pixel should have invested a little more time and effort into ensuring Blossom Tales has a voice of its own, it is still a fantastic game none the less. It is an old-school Zelda game, minus Link, the Zelda name and involvement from Nintendo. Sure, you could argue a Zelda-like is nowhere near as good as a true Zelda, but Blossom Tales is such a charming little adventure that some Zelda fans should at least check out, as Blossom Tales is a game that deserves their attention. After all, Blossom Tales might just be the Lily to the Past that takes you back to the time when you saw first-hand a series you know and love, become something so much more! It really is A Link to the Past all over again.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*Review Key Provided by FDG Entertainment