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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (351)

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EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Fallout 4 3/5
Tomba! 5/5
Odallus: The Dark Call 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 4/5
Call of Juarez: Bound i... 3/5
Drakkhen 3.5/5
Unravel 3.5/5

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Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King   PC (Steam) 

'Zelda' with a Blue Dress On    3.5/5 stars

Back in 2017 when it was initially released on Steam, I was very excited about “Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King” (“Blossom Tales”), as the early promotional footage I’d seen made the game look very much like an Indie homage to “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” which is still the best ‘Zelda’ game and one of the best pure Action/Adventure games, despite being more than a quarter-century old. Being the diligent wallet-voter that I am, I waited for “Blossom Tales” to go on a Steam sale. And waited… and waited.

Before long, the developer of “Blossom Tales,” an American/Canadian Indie outfit consisting of four people called Castle Pixel, ported their game to the Nintendo Switch and began ranting incoherently about how bad Steam was for Indie developers and how the sales bump from putting “Blossom Tales” on the (then) uncluttered Nintendo Network eShop had saved their business. This noise, of course, disturbed the bats roosting in the rafters, and following hot on the heels of “Blossom Tales’s” Switch port success, literally everyone else started porting their ‘hampered by Steam’ Indie efforts to Nintendo’s platform.

Now, two years later, the Nintendo Network eShop (and the PSN Store and Xbox Store) are nearly as cluttered as Steam, yet the folks at Castle Pixel have cemented their lips firmly upon the backsides of Nintendo fanboys, going out of their way to make it seem like “Blossom Tales” is a Switch game first (which it isn’t). Of course, it takes little imagination and even less rational thought to figure out why “Blossom Tales” and the Nintendo fanbase are a match made in heaven: In “Blossom Tales,” Castle Pixel has ‘created’ a ‘Zelda’ rip-off cut from such whole cloth I’m surprised Nintendo’s lawyers didn’t get involved at some point. As such, it is irresistible bait for those gamers who ‘grew up’ with Nintendo but never really moved on to other things or expanded their horizons. And because the Nintendo fanbase has been largely sheltered from the blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy that has been happening in the digital gaming marketplace, they are far more willing to pay inflated prices and prop-up the videogame economics of yesteryear – All of which are things Castle Pixel obviously likes, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve given “Blossom Tales” a more sizeable discount on the Nintendo network (50%, still nothing to get excited about) than they ever have on Steam (33%), and they refuse to sell their game DRM-free on any platform.

I was content to continue waiting-out and staring-down Castle Pixel, but was thwarted in my endeavor due to the fact that I received “Blossom Tales” as a birthday present in August 2019. Since the friend who bought it for me paid the full $15 price, I felt obligated to play it immediately rather than bury it in my backlog.

Presentation
“Blossom Tales” isn’t as easy on the eyes as most 16-bit games, including the ones it blatantly rips-off. It actually reminds me of a TurboGrafx-16 game, with visuals that are obviously more detailed and color-rich than anything the NES could produce, but lacking in those same areas when compared to SNES titles. Character designs are all somewhat crude and ugly, with something of an ‘Earthbound’ vibe to them, while the main character herself is a sallow, jug-headed, box-shaped girl with a flower in her hair and a frumpy blue dress. Enemy designs are somewhat better than NPCs, though still something of a mixed bag. Bosses are typically rather bland and forgettable as well.

The soundtrack in “Blossom Tales” is the high point of the presentation, with a number of pleasantly catchy tunes for the game’s various regions and dungeons. However, some of these are painfully close to music from actual ‘Zelda’ games, which should have had Nintendo’s lawyers tugging at their chains, especially considering the number of high-profile music copyright hissyfits that have hit the American music industry in recent years. Sound effects in “Blossom Tales” are adequate, but there’s no voiceacting.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with “Blossom Tales.” It’s a clean, bug-free piece of software, as far as I can tell, and includes native Xinput support, and all the other simple things one expects from a modern PC game, but that some developers inexplicably leave out.


Story
“Blossom Tales” is couched in the narrative device of a bedtime story being told by a Grandpa to his two annoying grandchildren, Chrys and Lily. Seemingly making up the story as he goes along, Grandpa launches into the tale of another girl named Lily, whom we join on the day she’s inducted into the royal knights as a cadet. King Orchid and his brother, the court mage Crocus (Have you caught on to the flower naming convention yet?) oversee the ceremony, and Lily is proud to be welcomed into such hallowed ranks.

Her first task: Clear the castle dungeon of rats. What else?

Upon returning to report her success, Lily discovers the castle in disarray, as Crocus has gone rogue and cast a sleeping spell on King Orchid, putting him into a magical, unbreakable slumber, while Crocus himself heads out into the world at large to spread his influence and generally be a naughty boy because his brother got to be King instead of him.

All of the royal knights set out on a mission from the kingdom’s academics to gather three ingredients which can be used to brew a potion that can break any curse. Naturally, our sallow, jug-headed Mary Sue sets out as well, even though nobody has any confidence in her ability to help, since it’s still her first day as a cadet.

As always with Mary Sues, though, Lily turns out to be the only competent knight in the kingdom, gathers the three ingredients, wakes the titular sleeping king (who is only actually asleep for three-fourths of the game), then sets out to hand Crocus his own ass. Which she does. Yay.

While “Blossom Tales” advertises itself as a 15-hour game, I only spent 12 hours on it to get 100% Achievement completion. In general, the narrative is structured well enough that there are natural breaks to prevent a player from just blowing through in one sitting, but, in general, I found the story to be lacking. There are a few attempts at humor here and there, which aren’t particularly funny, and there isn’t a single thing in the plot that is surprising or original.

Gameplay
“Blossom Tales” is ostensibly an homage to classic 16-bit ‘Legend of Zelda’ games (the likes of “A Link to the Past,” “Link’s Awakening,” and “Minish Cap”)… but it actually takes its mimicry a bit too far, to the point of feeling more like a bootleg rip-off than an homage. And in the few places where the game does deviate from the ‘Zelda’ beaten path, it comes across as annoying more than novel.

Like a proper ‘Zelda’ game, “Blossom Tales” features a player character armed with a sword and shield. Lily can swipe at enemies with the sword or charge it up to perform a circular whirlwind attack (and later gains the ability to shoot beams from the blade when at full health). The “Blossom Tales” twist on sword combat is that Lily performs a three-hit combo when tapping the attack button, ending with a mini-whirlwind. Also, when performing a charged whirlwind attack, hitting the attack button will cause Lily to perform a leaping lunge, which is usually more of a liability than beneficial.

Also like a proper ‘Zelda’ game, there is a large overworld filled with secrets and a handful of dungeons. Upon completing a dungeon (or sidequest), Lily gains access to a new tool or sub-weapon. These include “Link to the Past” mainstays like the shovel, boomerang, bombs, bow, and magic talismans. However, some items, like the Centaur (not Pegasus) Boots feel much less useful than their authentic versions. The “Blossom Tales” twist on items and sub-weapons is that the ones that consume ammo no longer consume ammo. Instead, there’s a ‘Dark Souls’ inspired stamina meter that powers EVERY sub-weapon, including ones that DON’T consume ammo. Yes, it’s nice to never have to worry about running out of bombs… but it’s annoying to find yourself too tired to throw your boomerang in the middle of a room full of enemies. Thankfully the stamina meter doesn’t affect the sword or shield.

Another “Blossom Tales” twist on consumable items affects the way the game deals with potions. In every ‘Zelda’ game with a potion mechanic (except maybe “Break of the Weapons”), the player has been restricted in the number they can carry at once. This balances the difficulty of enemies against a known quantity of healing available to the player. In “Blossom Tales,” the player can carry dozens of each healing item. While this is good for gaming newbies or young kids who are really terrible at games (back in ’92, my original “Link to the Past” save told me I died 150 times over the course of the game), it makes learning boss patterns and avoiding damage pointless, as it’s easier to just tank every hit and chug potions to carry the day. I actually had to have Lily commit suicide in the postgame in order to get the Steam Achievement for dying. In fact, the only reason to avoid damage in “Blossom Tales” is losing the sword beam, since the way the sword is upgraded over the course of the game leaves basic attacks with the SAME power for the entire game, while the whirlwind and beam deal much more damage.

Dungeons? Yes, every proper ‘Zelda’ game has dungeons, but ultimately, “Blossom Tales” doesn’t have very many. There are three ingredients required to brew the curse-breaking potion, thus there are three dungeons in which to find them. The game advertises itself as having five dungeons, but the only other two are Crocus’ fortress and the tutorial rat-killing dungeon, so I’d say ‘five’ is not strictly honest. Out of the four actual dungeons in the game, all of them are fairly long. Interestingly, each of them features a midway teleportal, allowing players to come and go as they please. Each dungeon also features a sub-boss and a final boss. Sadly, the creative dungeons seen in “A Link to the Past” are far and away beyond the quality of dungeon design in “Blossom Tales.” Instead, “Blossom Tales” relies heavily (and I mean HEAVILY) on the use of a handful of puzzle types taken mostly from “Links Awakening” and “Minish Cap,” with sliding blocks that change the color of the floor, sliding blocks that go on switches, toggles that raise and lower posts in the ground, and pillars that must either be turned to create a specific combination, or that emit noises and must be slashed in the same order in a Simon Says manner.

Secrets? Yup, every proper ‘Zelda’ game also has secrets. Most of “Blossom Tales’” secrets are fairly out-in-the-open, but there are a few that I absolutely never would have found without assistance, and that’s because there are no visual cues that anything is amiss. For example, if you see a room full of identical beds, do you go and pull on every bed? No, not unless you see some scratch marks on the floor by one of the beds, indicating that it has been moved. Alas, there are no scratch marks in “Blossom Tales” to indicate an otherwise innocuous object has been moved. Another particularly annoying ‘secret’ is an item shop that is only open between 9AM and 5PM REAL TIME, with no indication of when it’s open in the game, leaving gamers who can only play in the evening after work or school in the lurch.

Overall
While it falls far short of its ‘Legend of Zelda’ aspirations and source material, “Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King” is still a respectable effort for a game made by 4 people. However, with its brief length, mediocre visuals, trite story, and misplaced efforts to reinvent a handful of gameplay mechanics, I can’t help but think of “Blossom Tales” as ultimately forgettable. Heck, I just played through it this past week, and I can’t even remember most of the bosses. It seems to me that “Blossom Tales” didn’t sell particularly well on Steam because it’s not a particularly impressive game, and for no other reason.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 3.5/5

 

 


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