Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Blossom Tales Review

After modding my Joycon earlier this month, I found myself looking for something brief, 2D, and action-oriented to break in my newly installed D-pad. Since the indie Zelda-like game, Blossom Tales, had recently been getting a lot of buzz on Twitter, I decided to pick it up on the eShop. Here are my thoughts on this little retro-style adventure now that I’ve finished the campaign:
  • Right off the bat, Blossom Tales makes it very clear that it’s inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, especially A Link to the Past. Anyone with prior 2D Zelda experience will immediately be familiar with the move set, items, structure, and overall visual language of Blossom Tales.
  • If you’re gonna copy A Link to the Past, one of the most revered video games of all time, you better get it right. To studio Castle Pixel’s credit, they got it right. Blossom Tales legitimately feels like a Zelda game and I occasionally had to remind myself that it wasn’t one.
  • When exploring the overworld in Blossom Tales, I kept finding myself getting sidetracked. I’d be on the way to the next quest objective, only to find myself asking “I wonder what’s over there?”. Thirty minutes and several heart pieces later, I would suddenly remember that I was on a quest to save the kingdom and get back on the path. This is a sign of good Zelda design.
  • The dungeons in Blossom Tales are a little more straight-forward than A Link to the Past dungeons, more like NES or Gameboy Zelda dungeons. Each of the game’s four dungeons are a single-story maze of rooms and halls with enemies to fight, switches to flip, and puzzles to solve but the progression is mostly linear. I never got lost or stuck in a Blossom Tales dungeon, so the challenge mostly came from individual puzzles and enemies or navigating precarious platforms rather than the overall structure of a dungeon.
  • There are only three or four basic types of puzzles in Blossom Tales and the player is introduced to all of them fairly early in the game. The puzzles scale well in difficulty as the game progresses but I think they would feel too repetitive if the game was much longer.
  • Blossom Tales’ bosses depart from the Zelda formula in that they rely less on puzzle-solving and more on avoiding a bullet hell-style barrage of attacks. As someone who enjoys bullet hell games and has been finding the Zelda’s “expose the weakness” format to be a little stale, this was a welcome change.
  • Regarding combat, the game starts off moderately difficult, probably a step above the 2D Zelda games. However, as the adventure progresses there are ample opportunities get heart pieces, healing items, and weapon upgrades that can take the edge off. In my case, I may have gone overboard with scouring the map for upgrades and ended up making the endgame easier that it was supposed to be.
  • I had a few minor nits to pick with the game’s user interface. While you can remap the controls, the game forces you to map the “accept” and “sword” commands to the same button. In A Link to the Past, the “sword” command shares a button with “cancel”. Since Blossom Tales is otherwise so closely mirrors Zelda, it took me a while to get used to this difference. It also would’ve been nice if the game’s inventory screen provided a description of what each item does (it gets explained once when you get the item, and that’s it). I forgot what several of the non-Zelda-based items did and underutilized them as a result.
  • With so many aspects of the game that emulate Zelda, Blossom Tales uses its writing to set itself apart from its inspiration. The game begins with a grandfather telling a story of knights and magic to his grandchildren; the player plays through this story as its told. As a result, the grandfather’s narration and the interjections of his grandkids (in the form of text boxes) both provide the player with direction as well amusing commentary. In addition to the frame story, NPC’s also sometimes say surprising and humorous things. I really appreciated this little bit of extra personality.
  • For Blossom Tale’s music, they went for a Gameboyish sound that fits well with the game’s mood even though the sound is more retro than the game looks. However, like most modern chiptune soundtracks the audio features embellishments beyond what classic sound hardware could output.
  • While at first glance, the graphics might look pretty similar to a retro Zelda game, Blossom Tales uses a wider color pallet and modern effects (lighting, particles, etc) to give it a little extra pop. While some of the character sprites look almost too geometric for my taste, I really like how vibrant the world looks. Little features like butterflies and flowers are a nice touch.
The bottom line: If you’ve been craving a new 2D Zelda game, you owe it to yourself to check out Blossom Tales. It may not hit the lofty heights of its inspiration, but it certainly does an admirable job. Studio Castle Pixel has shown that they know how to make a quality action-adventure game and I'm hoping to see something more ambitious and original from them in the future.
Completion Time: 11 hours, 6 minutes (main campaign and most collectables)
Note: In addition to the Nintendo Switch version that I played, Blossom Tales is also available for Windows.

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