The act of taking inspiration from any retro era release is always a gamble. Many of those games, from Super Mario to Final Fantasy, were brief sparks of pure genius built from primitive programming. Few attempting to create their own modern day versions seem to truly understand what made them classics in the first place, but thankfully Castle Pixel is one of those few exceptions to this rule. In fact, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, might be the first with the right to truly call itself a true Zelda successor.
The story is one of the strongest parts for all its apparent simplicity. While it features a grandparent telling his children of an old fable, the game uses this as more than a mere backdrop. At many points the story will pause to correct itself Princess Bride style, or even let the player choose how certain events unfold, or what bosses you fight. It never becomes truly intrusive, but the ongoing narrative adds a level of engagement atop of the classic charm of its SNES era stylings.
Even without the quirky story aspects however, this would still be a success based upon its solid presentation and mechanics. With a beautiful score and some of the best pixel art of late short of Owlboy, the world feels truly alive here. There’s a real sense of vigour and energy to every environment, and the freedom offered to explore the world - even if you’re barred from large chunks of it at the start - only enhances this sense of engagement. The solid physics makes hack n’ slash fights a joy to behold, and while many early puzzles are deceptively simplistic, it quickly ramps up the difficulty shortly after the first dungeon.
If there is one point to truly criticise, it’s that Blossom Tales often takes things a step too far in terms of its inspirations. While it has plenty of its own ideas, many enemies and bosses take so many cues from Zelda that they can seem like re-skins more than their own creations. Many items, mechanics and weapons also fall into this same trap, which can easily break your sense of immersion. It’s certainly not enough to call this game lazily made, but seeing what is clearly a Zora emerging from a river can give you pause.
Despite a few choice problems, there is no denying that this is a truly fantastic experience. Anyone with a few coins to spare after payday looking for an engaging, exciting and inventive indie title should definitely grab this ASAP. Even after a month which featured smash hits like Breath of the Wild and Torment: Tides of Numenera, this still managed to stand out from the crowd.
BLOSSOM TALES: THE SLEEPING KING / DEVELOPER: CASTLE PIXEL / PUBLISHER: FDG ENTERTAINMENT / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW