PrintE-mail Written by Callum Shephard

It takes a rare talent to truly stand out with a classically inspired video game, especially today. While you might get the odd Echoes of Aetheria, a simple glance at Steam Greenlight shows a disturbing number of half-finished games shoved out by the truckload, each attempting to lazily cash in on nostalgia with minimal effort. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is not one of those games. In fact, if anything, this could be a new standard to hold 16-bit inspired releases against.

Taking its cues more from Zelda than anywhere else in the gameplay and visuals department, the game follows the story of Lily. As recent recruit into the Knights of the Rose, she is tasked with defending the kingdom against the staggering number of monsters, rogues and threats to their way of life. Unfortunately, she is no sooner knighted than the King's trusted advisor, the wizard Crocus, makes a coup. Secretly controlling a variety of monsters, he puts the ruler into a deep sleep before heading off to lead his army. It is left to Lily and the other (less than competent) knights to try and break the curse.

Now, this is all well and good. It's a solid story, very traditional and something which would hardly be out of place as a premise for a Zelda game. That said, there's a few fun twists to this one, as Castle Pixel opted to take The Princess Bride route when it came to an unreliable narrator. The gameplay is actually a tale within a tale, with an old man telling a story to his two grandchildren (one of who is naturally named Lily) and each of them occasionally interjecting bits into the tale. This could have easily been used as trappings to try and make the story simply seem a little more original, but Castle Pixel pushed to make it a core part of the game.

You have everything from scenes abruptly changing thanks to the request of the children, or running comments by each of them, moments of them poking fun at the flaws within the plot, and even choices within the tale. Moments arise where the player is given the choice of deciding just what kind of monsters populate the region thanks to the story's direction, and there are even a few fun bits where the villains fall into a few exaggerated old tropes. You know the kind, the sort of ones which the Evil Overlord List was designed to counter, with incriminating notes being left about outlining Crocus' entire plan and all but yelling "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" upon putting the king to sleep. The sort of thing no one could get away with outside a children's tale actively poking fun at these sorts of things.

The narrative adds a bit more flavour to the game, definitely helping it stand out without ever overplaying these elements, and it even parodies a nice reminder of your objectives when you log into the game. Even without this though, you'll often run into fun moments such as a constantly recurring merchant turning up in the most unlikely of places, a curious archaeologist, and small things like a man with a coloured jar collection. If you have any experience with Zelda game at all, you'll know what to do with that last one.

However, while the story elements give this game serious life, even without them Blossom Tales proves to be an exceptionally good variation of a classic Zelda title. While a few of its mechanics are admittedly a little too close to mimicry, the game nails the balance between combat, puzzles and dungeoneering. The puzzles themselves rely heavily upon fast reflexes and planning, often with Lily dodging around spinning giant maces or arrow traps. While there's no instant-death failure when facing any of these, the surprisingly rare drop-rate of health items means you'll always be on edge when facing them down.

When the game does move onto a slower paced and generally far more brain-teasing and arduous series of challenges, many of them will often be put down to memory puzzles or basic logical challenges. These can be basic things from trying to pick out where you should use your shiny new item next from a few very basic hints, to some rather obtuse challenges involving times triggers. That last one, particularly right before facing the first real dungeon boss in Golem Villaige, can be quite infuriating at times, but it shouldn't keep you held up for too long as a rule.

The combat itself is fairly inventive, and there's no shortage of enemies for you to bump into. Leaving the walled city you call home for the first time will soon have you bumping into giant hopping mushrooms, homicidal dive-bombing birds and rock spitting squids. Not long after that though, you'll run into evil golem faces, giant gnomes which can invert your controls, druids capable of summoning tornadoes and nightmarish trees. The sheer variety of new monsters you can bump into seemingly out of nowhere seriously helps to give the game a sense of constant momentum, and that there is a new experience around every corner. Even if a few of them are close copies of famed Zelda foes, the way Blossom Kings positions and presents them overcomes the obvious issues there.

However, there are a few definite problems which need to be tweaked before the game's release. Chief among these is the precision of your sword strikes and movement. While the game's animations are top-notch for an indie title and even offer a surprising amount of background elements moving about to help the world feel alive, aiming can be a nightmare at times. You'll likely die more than once just trying to slash a rat with your sword and running into it, or failing to calculate the reach of your attack. It's a difficult thing to fully nail and the limited reach of your strikes can be off-putting at first, but this even extends to weapons such as bombs.

Blossom Kings also retains a few irritating flaws which are born of its inspiration, but it seems to have failed to improve upon. For starters, the menu option only permits two items to be equipped at a time besides your sword, and given how indispensably your shield is, you'll likely be pausing to switch back and forth between various essential bits rather than just hitting the right key. It's admittedly an interface which has been made with controllers in mind, but as you pick up more items it does tend to slow things down. It doesn't kill the game, of course, but it does drag things out over time.

Finally, the big one which will likely infuriate many people is the limited navigation, especially around the starting town. As it's divided up into several minor areas, racing about from one end of town to the next trying to find the right store or person can be a serious test of your patience, especially when you can circle about half the place and still not find where you need to go. A few better signs or indications would be an easy solution, and it does admittedly only hurt a few key areas, as the dungeons and wider world are far more easy to make your way through.

Keep in mind that this is a detailed look at an early preview of Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King rather than a full review, but from the first few hours alone this definitely looks like it will be a solid hit. If you're after an experience on par with A Link to the Past or you're overly jaded by some of the more notable 16-bit failings of the past few years, definitely keep an eye out for this one.

Expect to see Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King released some time in early 2017.


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