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  1. Jonathan Higgins

    Review: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

    Developer: Castle Pixel, FDG Entertainment Publisher: FDG Entertainment Platform: PC/Steam Release Date: March 28th, 2017 ESRB: Not rated (E recommended) Castle Pixel really impressed me with Rex Rocket in 2014. They seemed to know exactly what fans of classic action games like Mega Man and Super Metroid would look for, and they delivered on most counts — from perceived difficulty level... to an altogether charming set-piece, with characters and an ambiance presented in a way that seemed geared towards a more mature crowd. In the same year that gave us Shovel Knight... I also look back on Rex“s venture fondly. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King offers these folks“ take on an entirely different genre. Instead of running and gunning like Mega Man, it seems like their primary inspiration here was A Link to the Past. And, ultimately... while I still feel the experience delivered overall... it genuinely surprised me how much the tone and intended audience differed from one game to the next. The game begins with a grandfather sitting down with his two grandchildren to tell the story. The opening scene alone should explain what you“re getting into here: it“s a fairy tale that“s being told as you play. Meaning — you“re going to see a fair bit of authorial intrusion. And that“s often employed in clever ways, like the children picking whether or not you fight a group of bandits or bowmen at one point during the tale (the player ultimately makes the choice), or deciding one of the puzzles you solved was “too easy” so it needed to be a pinch more difficult & done again. When you find a weapon in a treasure chest, the grandfather is the otherwise omniscient voice in Zelda games that explains its uses. Outside of that — and I believe, in part, due to the game“s intended audience— the story is very basic. The kingdom of Blossom is peaceful, until a king“s wicked wizard brother reaches his breaking point and puts the poor guy to sleep. It“s up to Lily — a hero who shares the same name as the granddaughter who“s hearing the tale — to gather up three ingredients to break the spell, then mash the “Wizard King” and save the day. It“s whimsical and charming, certainly entertaining enough to push most players along...but it might feel one-dimensional, to those who aren“t young or young-at-heart. To shift the focus onto something uniformly positive: if you have a “list of things to expect when you sit down and play a 2D Zelda[-like]”... I can confidently say your needs will be met with Blossom Tales. From bombs and bows, to a world map that you chart on your own, to a wide variety of overworld locations & dungeons that have Lily forging all the elements, to even a sword that eventually shoots beams when you“re at full health... it“s all here. Environments are lush and colorful. Bones have a satisfying crunch when they“re blasted apart. It may be a different tone from Rex Rocket overall, but the artistry is consistent & should exceed expectations. The soundtrack has a few stand-out moments as well — I really liked the final overworld piece in particular. It“s all catchy, and it offers some unique melodies as well as ones that lift thematically from A Link to the Past. The dressing is often just as important as the mechanics, in Zelda-likes, and I feel like all their efforts to make Lily“s world stand out will leave most folks with a consistent smile on their face. Movement, menus, and all the bells and whistles on the inside and out are consistent as well. I would“ve preferred for Lily to be a little more animated as a character overall — for instance, she does things like tap her foot if you idle for too long, and you see her skeleton if she“s electrocuted... but she maintains the same blank face regardless of the actions she“s performing. But her actions are varied enough! When wielding your sword, you can perform the expected spin-attack... as well as a vertical jump-slice that sends you crashing down on the foe in front of you for massive damage in the same stroke. The weapons you obtain can be upgraded with collectibles you gather from defeated enemies, putting a greater emphasis on combat. Exploration is rewarded too... with plenty of heart-pieces and means to fill up your magic meter (there“s no limit to the amount of bombs or arrows you carry...it“s all tied to that magic meter). Side-quests are mostly tied to the enemy collectibles you find, but there are some other surprises littered throughout. Currency is ample too, with no restrictions on the ole wallet, and plenty of things to buy. Fast-travelling is made possible early-on, and the warp points are ample and where you“d expect. There“s even a “log” in the list of menu options, where you can pull up text you“ve previously read during the same play session. Some things I feel a little less positive about: puzzles aren“t as varied as they could be. Rather than employ a certain type of puzzle, and leave it unique to a specific dungeon or part of the world map... you“ll see lots of the same types of puzzles throughout the entire game. Hope you“re a fan those puzzles where you touch every tile in a set space when moving from a specific start & end point. There are lots of variations of that same formula! Same goes for rushing across a room as platforms fall when you walk on them. Thankfully, the game controls well enough to not leave you feeling frustrated when precision movement like that is required. One particular programming bit I“m both hot and cold on: the game is modern enough to never let your currency or collectibles “blink away and vanish” like older games would... but it insists on dropping you back at the start of a room when you fall down a hole... even a particularly long room, with a lot of potential pitfalls. I know most modern 2D Zelda adventures drop you on the last piece of solid ground you touched rather than at the start of the room — there were a bunch of times I wish this game did the same. I“m still conflicted as to whether or not I prefer the grizzled, tough-as-nails fare of Rex Rocket, or Blossom Tales“ relative ease that“s extremely friendly to newcomers of the genre, and ultimately feels targeted towards the completely opposite end of the gaming spectrum. But the fact that these two titles from the same developers are so wildly different from each other leaves me impressed with Castle Pixel“s versatility, and happy I spent time with it overall. Their endeavors this time around are hardly revolutionary. But what I played was good, clean fun with no glaring flaws... and it“ll keep me coming back to grab every last collectible, too. You really can“t go wrong with Blossom Tales if you“re looking for a reasonably priced, short & sweet alternative to your favorite 2D Legend of Zelda. Pros + Tons of things to do and collect. All the various currencies are ample, never limited, and offer their just rewards for the effort it takes to seek them out. + Art direction is consistent and charming. + Much like Rex Rocket, this endeavor feels like it satisfies all or most standards set by the games that inspired it. Cons - The same types of puzles are scattered throughout all the dungeons and caves. While the environments offered plenty of variety, the problem-solving didn't. - For as much as some parts of the game-design feel modern, other aspects feel more dated. I can't decide if this was done purposefully, to keep the game grounded in the past, or not. Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is all kinds of fun, with no glaring flaws. It makes a good alternative to your favorite top-down Legend of Zelda game. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher