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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 â€œtoo easyâ€ 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 â€œWizard Kingâ€ 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 â€œlist of things to expect when you sit down and play a 2D Zelda[-like]â€... 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 â€œlogâ€ 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 â€œblink away and vanishâ€ 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
Developer: Castle Pixel Publisher: Castle Pixel Platform: PC (Steam) Release Date: August 5, 2014 ESRB: E for Everyone Official Website I first played Rex Rocket while attending PAX East 2014 earlier this year. The presentation is what initially drew me in, but the familiar, yet innovative gameplay is why I eagerly anticipated the game“s release. I knew what was coming when I booted up the game, but even still—Rex Rocket has managed to exceed my expectations. If you have fond memories of classic action games like Mega Man II or Super Metroid, I hope I have your attention. In Earth“s distant future, the player takes control of Captain Rexford or Rexanna Rocket, a former war hero who now makes ends meet by transporting scientists throughout the universe aboard the massive S.S. Montana. The game begins as the crew gets ready for another routine mission that happens to involve dangerous cargo—Terra-Oozlings. These mean, green creatures are capable of possession and all sorts of other nasty things. And while the crew is in cryo-sleep, the dangerous cargo breaks free. The scientists, soldiers and major characters you meet at the game“s beginning are nowhere to be found when Rex wakes up. And when it comes to the ship“s AI, L.A.U.R.E.N., Rex is given the advice to...well...run away. Of course, the point of Rex Rocket isn't really to run away...it“s to gun down almost everything that moves, especially if it“s green and slimy. The player must find and rescue the ship“s crew, stop that pesky AI, and take back control of the S.S. Montana. Since it“s an action game inspired by the classics, folks may think the â€œback of the box plotâ€ is all there is in terms of story. I“m happy to report that there“s more than meets the eye. First and foremost, the game is very humorous. Random NPCs will make quips about â€œspace burgers in paradiseâ€ or use a line or two from Star Trek. Main characters will get themselves out of harm“s way thanks to the versatile nature of a paper-clip. The script oftentimes left me with a smile on my face. It“s always nice to see a game that“s not afraid to have a sense of humor. Those looking for more complex back-stories and plot-points: Rex Rocket has 90 Info Nodes scattered throughout the ship that detail everything from the stories surrounding major characters, to explaining various weapons and monsters, to even Rex“s pet fish! The game“s presentation is overall very impressive. The Lego-like charm to each human character is certainly endearing, and the designers give equal attention to detail when it comes to each robot, monster or boss character as well. Part of what will make Rex Rocket stand out from its contemporaries are the things that populate the game. Classics like Mega Man became memorable because of things like character and enemy design, as well as world-building. Despite having a much smaller team behind it, Rex Rocket“s world has the potential (thanks to its humor and design) to be as memorable as any of the classics. And all the while, as you take in everything on the S.S. Montana, a phenomenal soundtrack always sets the mood appropriately. Saskrotch, the game's composer, has put together over thirty unique chiptune arrangements that channel the talents of Manami Matsumae, with an edgier tempo at times. What "edge" sets the arrangements apart from Matsumae, or even modern chiptune aficionados? Rex Rocket“s Infinite Ammo song is officially titled â€œMEET ME SOME-F*#%@N“-WHEREâ€. The game“s composer seems just as in-tune with the game as the developers. Did I mention the game was â€œMega Man hardâ€? Castle Pixel wasn't just inspired by Mega Man II; they probably mastered it. And they“ve taken every bit of player-grooming, sometimes-maddeningly-difficult level or boss design from the past...and brought it to the modern age. There were times where I cursed like a sailor. There were times where I got almost to the end of a platforming section that made me scoot to the edge of my chair, only to fall into a slime pit to my death when my right thumb slipped off my Game Pad because it was already sweating so much from all the circus tricks I“d pulled to get to that point. I probably have neighbors who can confirm the loud scream that came from my apartment way too early in the morning when I finally smashed the Commando-Bot boss once and for all. Rex Rocket isn't afraid to take up the gauntlet that Capcom dropped when they stopped making Mega Man games for a while. This game is everything that made â€œold schoolâ€ work—fundamentally and philosophically. The game is so hard that your â€œMega Manâ€ skills will improve as a whole by the time your journey is over. Rex starts out pretty fragile, and with minimal jumping skills. But as you defeat bosses, you“re rewarded in ways that increase your flexibility and reach (as well as your overall firepower). Health and ammo extensions can be found throughout the ship, and are often cleverly hidden. The level design moves at a steady pace right alongside you, often accounting for the various upgrades you receive. Did you find the jet-pack? The next section of the ship you explore is going to feature platforming that requires the use of double-jumping. Heck, the entire rest of the game is going to account for your new sense of reach. Indeed, there is a heavy sense of exploration at the heart of Rex Rocket. The game functions like an early Mega Man title, but instead of boxed-in levels with a Robot Master at the end, the S.S. Montana is an open space to explore, with many areas open right from the start. Each major portion of the ship is fundamentally its own level. But...there are so many side areas. Finding the more powerful weapons are going to keep Achievement Hunters occupied for quite a while, offering extended replay value. I certainly did run into a handful of problems with the game. First and foremost: the player will probably use the standard pistol issued at the beginning of the game the most. There are many weapons in Rex Rocket, but until you get the grenades towards the game“s half-way point, most of these weapons seem ancillary at best. They pack an extra punch when it comes to boss fights, but they rarely felt useful otherwise. Some of the super-hard-to-obtain weapons include a BOOMerang (that goes through walls) and an actual Grenade Launcher...but why couldn't all the game“s weapons be as unique as those, instead of a simple spread-gun or a more rapid-firing pistol? I rarely used my â€œAmmoâ€ meter outside of boss fights, which is truly unfortunate. Also: Rex Rocket uses a Lives system, and that is its biggest flaw, in my opinion. The S.S. Montana features fairly-placed Restoration Points—spots you“re kicked back to when you die (and you will die a lot if you start out as unskilled as I was). I never had any qualms with where the Restoration Points were while playing through the game. It“s where the Hyper Tubes are that I took major issue with. When you run out of lives, you get a Game Over and are sent back to the starting point of the ship, near the cryotubes where you woke up. You reach the middle and later portions of the ship by way of these Hyper Tubes. I encountered only eight throughout my journey, which meant having to retrace my steps during some of the most difficult portions of the game. Imagine having to go through one or two Robot Masters“ levels again in Mega Man II every time you got a Game Over. The length between Hyper Tubes was never truly obscene, but being kicked back to the beginning (over and over again, at times) got vexing at times. I think â€œlivesâ€ should have been abolished in favor of something else—much like the recent Shovel Knight and other contemporaries managed to do. It certainly wouldn't make the game any less difficult; it would just remove the hindrance of needing to retrace your steps. Despite those flaws, at the end of the day Rex Rocket offered some of the most fun I“ve had in the genre after my 10-15 hour journey was complete. Castle Pixel has created a truly unique experience that feels as though they“ve married Super Metroid and Mega Man, and raised the slimy Lego-like cross-bred product to the modern age. Pros: + The perfect combination of your favorite action games + Outstanding soundtrack, charming graphics/presentation + Plenty of things to collect, and added replay value Cons: - Weapons, while plentiful, don't offer enough variety - The "Lives" system feels unnecessary (or at least unfair) at times. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Rex Rocket isn't just a game inspired by the classics--it has the potential to become a classic itself, with little holding it back. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a Steam Key provided by the publisher.