Review: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Introduction

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King had been on my radar for a little while. It had the appearance of a sort of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past clone, which was quite fine by me, but also a nice looking art style that differentiated itself from the Zelda series. Originally released back in March 2017 by developers Castle Pixel, LLC and published by FDG Entertainment, I ended up getting my shot last month when the game was on one of the Nintendo Switches now seemingly signature indie sales.

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Blossom Tales is a story being told to two children by their grandfather.

Story

Blossom Tales begins with two young girls and their grandfather. It’s bedtime, and they want to hear a story before heading off to sleep. The ensuing game is created by and narrated by the grandfather throughout the duration.

This gets comical and interesting during the game and becomes a game mechanic in of itself. At times, you would enter a room with a chest that has no opposition, just for one of the young girls to chime in and complain. The result is that the grandfather changes the ‘story’ on the spot and gives us as the player a different situation to work through. It worked for this type of game, you just need to roll with it and not take it seriously.

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One of a handful of references to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Once you get into the game, you’ll notice some distinct similarities to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The house that you begin the game in is almost exactly like the beginning house of A Link to the Past. The first task you’re asked to complete is to head to the castle at the center of the kingdom (familiar again). There, you must prove yourself by going into the basement and killing a bunch of rats (get it yet?) and once you succeed, you find that the courts wizard has gone rogue and wants to destroy the kingdom (now we are just hitting things over the head). I’m being overly ridiculous, but this must have been intentional.

The king is put to sleep and you are tasked with fetching the three sacred ingredients to awaken said king and save the day.

Gameplay

The gameplay is very similar again to the Legend of Zelda series. One button is mapped to your basic sword attack, while the other two are open to two sub-weapons of your choice. The main difference that I felt from the Zelda series, is that you are a bit more mobile and sporadic with attacking.

By hitting the sword attack button three times, you go into this combo of slash – slash – spin attack. With that, you can keep pressing forward to have forward momentum. At times, this felt great and intuitive. Other times I felt that restrain was needed which broke the flow of battle. For example, if I walked forward towards an enemy to hit them with this combo, I would land the first attack, miss the second because I was now too close, get hit which bounces you backward, then entirely miss the swing attack. You have to sort of attack, pause, attack again, move forward and land the spin attack. It’s fine, but like I said, the flow never really felt satisfying here.

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Hmm, to break the entire room of pots, or not to break the entire room of pots?

Another stand out mechanic with Blossom Tales is that your sub-weapons are attached to your energy bar. Every time you use a bomb for example, it reduces the energy bar instead of traditionally needing a bomb to use one. Same with your bow and arrow, and everything else. The energy bar recharges after time so you’re never out of ammo of any of your sub-weapons for a long period of time. You just may need to again, restrain yourself and use them strategically.

Staying on sub-weapons, they got a bit wonky for me. The bow and arrow requires you to hold down the button for a split second before being able to fire. Makes sense given what the weapon is, but I felt that registering inputs here was hit or miss. You’re in the frantic heat of battle and it felt like more a burden to use at times.

Bombs and picking up and throwing items in general was a big one for me here. If you aren’t moving, you can drop a bomb where you’re standing. If you’re holding a directional button while trying to drop a bomb, you throw it. The problem ties into what I was saying about the bow and arrow and inputs maybe not registering.

There were dozens of times where I felt like I was holding a directional button to throw a bomb, and I just didn’t. Instead, you drop it, and if you hit the bomb button again, you pick it up again, but you must reset the directional button to then throw it. So you get into this comical loop of fighting this big bad guy and you’re just sitting in the corner picking bombs up and putting them back down repeatedly.

Slight spoilers on items you receive, but the second dungeon’s main item is the boomerang. It acts as you would expect; it goes out and comes back. There are sections in the second dungeon where you need to throw the boomerang to hit switches, pretty standard. The problem is when you hit a switch that triggers a door to be unlocked, the camera stops and pans to that door to show you what you’ve done. The boomerang however, doesn’t stop. While your little cut-scene is playing, the boomerang is heading back towards the switch you just hit, which then locks the door again. It’s really frustrating, and I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t just program switches in that case to just stay activated.

Other Points

Puzzle Variety: Variety of puzzles always seems like a sore point for me when it comes to indie games lately. I recently reviewed a turn based RPG called Shadows of Adam which was fantastic as a whole, but the puzzles turned me off every time I encountered them. There were a handful of mechanics that were repeated over, and over and over again which led to boring gameplay. I feel the same here with Blossom Tales.

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Most of the game heavily features three puzzle types; memorizing ‘sound stone’ patterns where you hit the stones in the correct order, your standard moving blocks onto specific tiles and then walking puzzles where you can only walk on specific tiles once, but need to walk on them all.

World Map: The world map in Blossom Tales is very compartmentalized. The map is broken down to that same sort of grid system that you are used to from top-down view Zelda games. Unlike many of those games, you are really barred from progressing to other areas of the map besides those involving the next objective. This really limited exploration and it became more boring than fun. The joy of exploring the map in a game like A Link to the Past was finding something that you couldn’t get to, then trying later to piece together a strategy with new items that you’ve received. There’s a little bit of that in Blossom Tales, but strangely, the game felt very linear despite having this open world map.

One other point regarding the world map is that there are some really oddly placed enemies when transitioning from screen to screen. There were at least four or five times where I transitioned to the next screen and immediately was hit by an enemy, bouncing me back to the previous screen. I felt that there could have been a little more strategy involved in how these enemies were placed on each screen.

Enemy Composition: This brings me to the next point I want to talk about, enemy composition. Around the first temple, I started notice a bit of tedium setting in. One thing I really appreciate about The Legend of Zelda series, is that enemy placement always felt intentional and thought out. There were some situations in the original game where you have 10 Iron Knuckles, but situations like that felt few and far between and acted as sort of skill checks in dungeons five and eight. In Blossom Tales, you just get hammered by 10+ enemies room, after room, after room.

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One example of a cluster of enemies being thrown at you.

There’s one room in particular that you need to shoot your arrows to light torches. In the same room, there are around ten quick enemies floating around that bounce off walls like that DVD logo on the school TV carts. They stop arrows dead in their paths, so while it should only take a few seconds and a few arrows to complete the puzzle, you smack enemies instead which prolongs the situation. Situations like this aren’t fun or challenging, they just feel like they are there to inflate the game time.

This continues throughout the entire game.

My favorite area ended up being the last quadrant that you’re allowed to traverse. The combination of setting and music honestly gave me these weird Shadow of the Colossus vibes as you approach the final colossus. But even as I write this, I sort of want to talk myself out of calling it my favorite because outside of that tone and feeling, it’s yet another area that just throws every enemy the game can handle at you. Each of the six main screens in this zone have dozens of enemies.

Waypoints: A welcome addition for me were the waypoints. There are various locations throughout the world that have teleportation tiles that you can use to traverse from place to place as you discover them. Cool. The extra bit that I enjoyed was that each of the dungeons also include teleportation tiles. One after the mid-boss, and another right before the main boss. This makes things easier to take down in bite sized pieces instead of needing to invest an hour to tackle one dungeon.

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One of the waypoints that you’ll find in Blossom Tales.

Temple Linearity: I spoke a bit earlier about how the world map even feels linear. The temple’s don’t fair much better. Even though you may weave around temple’s room to room, there is typically just one path for you to go down. At times, there may be one large room with four sub rooms, but you are still just moving in a straight line and progressing forward. There’s never a sense of trying to figure out the space you’re occupying. You don’t receive keys to find the locked door. You get a key in a room to unlock the next room, and that’s that.

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An example of the linearity you should expect in Blossom Tales.

Ledge Wars: Blossom Tales is really obsessed with knocking you off ledges in every imaginable way, to the point to where it got comical. There are around a dozen rooms that are set up in the same way; player walks through a room or along a pathway, avoid objects and enemies, avoid floor falling behind you and if you’re knocked off you start over. I’m going to leave a gallery of some that I captured during my playthrough once I noticed what was happening.

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Final Thoughts

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King was really hit or miss for me. There’s really a barrage of game mechanics that didn’t sit well with me. Things like bombs and arrows felt wonky, there were repeated puzzles, there’s world map and temple linearity, enemy density can be ridiculous and misplaced as well as the ‘ledge rooms.’

However, I did enjoy the integration if the grandfather and children into the story. Having rooms change in front of you based on the narrative of one of the children was fun, and I would like to see more games with that sort of mechanic. I also felt that the sprite work is great and while I wish the world map was handled differently, it does look colorful and varied.

I don’t know if I can say I really enjoyed the experience. It’s around a ten hour game, maybe a bit more if you want to collect 100% of the collectibles. The thing is that it does hit some nostalgia notes of A Link to the Past, but when I think about it, I would rather just go play A Link to the Past instead.

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