Indie Game of the Week 175: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

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Finally, a game emerges to answer the age-old question of "what if Zelda was a girl?". Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is about as straightforward a Legend of Zelda clone as you could conceivably make, though without necessarily feeling all that stale or uninspired. This is opposed to games like Ittle Dew or The Binding of Isaac, which repurposed the iconic top-down dungeoneering format of the original The Legend of Zelda to create something familiar but given over to its own unusual directive: Ittle Dew wanted to be a puzzle-focused Zelda game that minimized its other facets, while Isaac concentrated on the combat and built itself a procgen run-based frame to go around it. A few more (Oceanhorn, Treasure Adventure World) have even tried to adhere to the blueprint of The Wind Waker, with its more ambitious 3D exploration, cel-shaded visuals, and ocean sailing mechanics. I guess what I'm saying is, it sounds like just aping the original Zelda or the improved but still archetypal A Link to the Past wholesale sounds like the most obvious idea in the world for an Indie game, but there's actually very few Indies that have gone that fundamental with their imitations.

Yet, even closely following in those footsteps as it does, Blossom Tales ain't half bad. It controls well, it offers a pretty decent challenge (healing items seem way too plentiful, but then that's always been the case for Zelda too if you're patient enough to keep running around for potion refills and new fairies to bottle up), it has cute graphics and an even cuter framing story of an old man reading his grandkids a bedtime story - the commentary from the grandfather and kids will occasionally interrupt the game's narrative, Princess Bride style - and despite feeling like I've seen all its tricks and puzzles many times before, I can't say I'm not enjoying my time with it.

Both kids offer suggestions for the enemies currently attacking this camp of druids. The player eventually decides which one is right.
Both kids offer suggestions for the enemies currently attacking this camp of druids. The player eventually decides which one is right.

Blossom Tales has you control Lily, the newest yet already the most competent recruit of the Royal Knights of the Rose. Everything is flower-themed in this kingdom, including the special treasures you're eventually sent out to procure to awaken the titular sleepy monarch from his enchanted coma, and I'm getting the sense that this a game designed for younger girls without talking down to them or underestimating their video game skills; though the inclusion of a young boy as one of the children, who is just as enthralled with the story as his sister, also suggests that this is an adventure anyone can enjoy. An example of how it creates this tone: the central Rose Kingdom is absolutely filled with colorful butterflies that flutter around each screen, giving the place a tranquil vibe that gives no hint to the tumultuous events to come. Until Lily acquires her sword at the castle's knighting ceremony, these butterflies are peaceably left to their own devices. After she gets her sword, she can mow down as many as she wants; they'll drop the same cash and health refills any enemy or patch of grass might, so it's not like the game discourages you at any point. Likewise, though Lily is introduced as the bastion of purity and grace, she can immediately start robbing people's houses of their useful treasures and Grampa will be quick to amend that to his telling of the story. It's hardly the most subversive example of this genre, even if you're just sticking to the core Zelda games, but it's quick to turn Grampa's idealistic romantic fairytale into a world regulated by some kid-ordained pragmatism.

A standard A Link to the Past trap room, but a tricky one when you're so early in and only have three hearts to work with. Blossom Tales isn't exceptionally tough, but it doesn't pull its punches either.
A standard A Link to the Past trap room, but a tricky one when you're so early in and only have three hearts to work with. Blossom Tales isn't exceptionally tough, but it doesn't pull its punches either.

I'm about two dungeons in and all I can say so far is that there's some impressive meat to this, even if said meat isn't always filling. There's a half-dozen collectible side-quests going on, always some new upgrade or tchotchke to buy, lots of hidden caves and holes to find or treasures to dig up, and the dungeons are remarkably long (though at the moment they all exist on the one plane, rather than the multiple floors of most Zeldas) and filled with plenty of tough traps and encounters to overcome. It also adopts A Link Between Worlds's intelligent feature of an energy bar that slowly regenerates on its own and governs weapons that usually require their own inventory stocks like bombs and bow/arrows, encouraging you to use these items liberally while fighting and exploring without also letting you spam them like crazy. It just feels like a solidly made game in this specific format, if not one that has a deep supply of innovation of its own to draw upon. I'm curious to see where it goes and to keep following that loop of finding heart pieces and fighting bosses and so on, though I hold out little hope that it'll find a way to surprise me. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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