It’s never a simple process to pin down a game that started a genre. As soon as you think you find one, you hear whispers of something else that’s ever so slightly similar that came before. The video game industry is built upon iteration. While Super Mario Bros. wasn’t the first platformer, it’s the one that comes to many minds when asked what was. What made Super Mario Bros. different from what came before was its playability, setting standards platformers today are still trying to emulate. The Legend of Zelda wasn’t the first game of its type. Adventure on the Atari 2600 would come more than six years before it. What the original Zelda did was take away some of the abstractness and, like Super Mario Bros., make it more playable. From there, the Zelda series iterated on itself entry after entry (save for some of the series odd ducks) and inspired other developers to take a stab at the formula.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King starts with two children asking their grandfather to tell them a story before they go to bed. The grandfather tries to tell them a story they’ve clearly heard before, a less than subtle nod to Zelda. It might even be an opaque reference to the series covering the same ground time and time again. Most likely that’s just me reading too much into a cute, little joke.
The way the grandfather tells the story is a cute conceit. He and his grandchildren will chime in during parts of the game. You’ll find caves with treasure locked up in them and as Lily overcomes the challenges needed to get them, the grandfather will throw more challenges at you. When you come back after a break, he’ll give you a recap of what you’ve done and where you should be going next. They’re all well written and I found myself backing out to reload to see what he would say after some larger events went down.
Blossom Tales takes inspiration from multiple Zelda games, despite its ribbing of the formula in the introductory sequence. The world has a definite A Link to the Past vibe to it with it being fairly large with distinct areas that transition well from one type to the next. Even going from the bright, lightly forested areas to a foggy swamp blends together nicely, lacking the jarring environment change that plague other games of its ilk.
As you traverse the overworld, you’ll unlock warp points that make jumping from area to area a breeze. Having that option so early on makes completing sidequests, which are all mostly fetch quests requiring you to collect a certain amount of something by killing monsters, feel less mundane. They never take much of your time and you’ll rarely find yourself having to go out of your way to track something down, finding the necessary items largely as you naturally progress. One minor quibble is the lack of a quest log. While there’s a log of the conversations you’ve had, the lack of any indication as to who was looking for what makes the delivery troublesome if you step away for a couple of days.
Combat, which has a Link’s Awakening feel to it, is brisk with some intelligent additions to the Zelda formula. You can use a spin attack by charging up the sword, but instead of just effectively poking the enemy with the sword if they run into after it’s charged, you’ll unleash the spin attack as soon as an enemy runs into it rather than lose the charge. Tap the attack after you release the spin attack and you’ll make a jumping attack that hits hard. And while the tools will all feel familiar as well, they all use a magic meter that recharges on its own, making you strategize their use. Some of the sidequests will also get you improvements to your tools, a spreadshot for your bow and bombs that do more damage with extended range, making their use more appealing. It’s a nice way of rewarding the more mundane fetch quests.
Dungeon design is always tricky. Get too gimmicky and it takes part of the magic away, looking instead for the “trick” rather than something that might feel like an organic solution. Blossom Tales’ dungeons are simple enough with little room for getting lost, instead relying on a more ushered experience, nudging from one room to the next with little room for getting lost. It’s not overt and keeps the pace of the dungeons more in line with the rest of the game. Most of the puzzles are well done, but could use a bit more variety as you’ll find yourself doing the same types with varying degrees of difficulty.
While combat is a snappy affair, the boss fights devolve into battles of attrition. They have discernible patterns, but their pacing leans more on frantic, leaving little room for precision. You’ll find yourself dipping into healing items fairly regularly to get through them. Throwing in bullet hell-level dodging of projectiles or throwing swarms of minor enemies at you while fighting the boss doesn’t make for the best experience, contrasting the combat that otherwise feels like second nature.
Imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King might cause Zelda to blush a bit. While the boss fights aren’t up to the Zelda standards, the rest of the game is a brisk, well-designed experience. Blossom Tales is a loving tribute to its inspiration that does more than enough to stand on its own.