By Gabriel Jones 17.03.2017
The evil wizard Crocus has hatched a scheme to plunge the kingdom of Blossom into darkness. Who will answer the call for heroism? Certainly not any of the king's royal guard, for they seem better suited at standing and waiting than putting their lives at risk. They can't even handle a rat-filled basement. Indeed, the saviour of the kingdom will be none other than Lily. Armed with sword, shield, and boundless courage, the newest recruit to the Knights of the Rose will become the legendary heroine. If she fails… Wait. She can't fail! There are children hearing this story, for crying out loud!
The action-adventure genre has seen many innovations over the years, but there are still times where the best approach is a simpler one. Enter Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, a game that harkens back to that classic era. As Lily, players will explore five dungeons, meet numerous friends and foes, and discover a wealth of secrets. This is all done in 2D graphics with an overhead perspective. That means no fussing with camera controls, lock-on commands, or first-person aiming. Everything from monster slaying to block pushing is quick and to the point.
Movement is handled in a very kinetic manner. Unlike most heroes, legendary or otherwise, Lily doesn't have to stop to swing her sword. No matter how much slashing she does, she's always pushing forward. This lends a nice touch of mobility to combat. In a way, aggressive players are constantly rewarded because they never really have to slow down. Of course, there will be creatures that can't be rushed, and some patience never hurts, but the constant potential for movement is a brilliant touch. It's quite entertaining to deftly manoeuvre in between monsters while slicing them to ribbons.
Normally, items such as arrows and bombs are in finite supply, and are best saved for faraway targets or cracked walls. This game eschews that tradition. Instead, it encourages players to make frequent use of Lily's impressive arsenal, via a recharging magic meter. This lends an added dimension to encounters, giving the heroine more options when dealing with adversity. The later portions of the game tend to favour extensive item usage, so it helps to uncover crystals that increase the magic meter. That being said, there's nothing stopping risk takers from relying solely on sword and board tactics.
As expected of the genre, there is quite a lot of puzzle solving to be done. Though quite a few puzzles are natural in that they make use of Lily's equipment, others rely on block pushing or panel stepping shenanigans. Some even require a bit of short term memory in order to complete, much like the electronic game Simon. These problem solving rooms get to be repetitive and perhaps even a trifle mind numbing. Trading some of them off for monster-filled arenas would have been ideal. Thankfully, the overabundance of puzzles doesn't hurt the brisk pacing all that much.
Anyone familiar with Castle Pixel's previous title Rex Rocket may recall brutal and unforgiving levels capped with bosses that made the player want to headbutt their monitor. This game isn't nearly as tough, which is both good and bad. In a short time, Lily's backpack will be full to bursting with healing potions and revival butterflies. As long as her eyes are sharp, she won't be hurting for heart capacity upgrades either. The monsters, though capable of throwing around numerous projectiles that fill the screen with danger, they don't do all that much damage. As is the case with similar games, it's up to the player to create a suitable challenge, by avoiding upgrades or keeping item usage to a minimum.
Since this a story being told to grandchildren, there are a few moments where they're liable to chime in and make changes. For example, a village of druids will be attacked by either archers or golems. It's a cute idea, but a little undercooked. The choices don't make much if any difference in how the story plays out. It would have been really interesting if the grandkids could decide that instead of an ice dungeon, Lily would enter a mushroom dungeon, with enemies and traps befitting the environment.
On the whole, the game is a bit lacking when it comes to ambition. Once the five dungeons are conquered, then Lily's quest is complete, barring any and all collectibles she might have missed. While there's rarely a dull moment in this adventure, the end feels somewhat disappointing. To better explain this feeling, let's recall some of the classics of the 8- and 16-bit era. The original Legend of Zelda featured a second quest, presenting unique challenges for the veteran adventurer. Just when it looks like Landstalker is about to end, the hero uncovers a massive labyrinth, much larger than any other in the entire game.
Then, of course, there's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Defeat the wizard Agahnim, save the day. Congratulations are in order, right? Oops. Now Link's in the dark world and his adventure is just beginning. Furthermore, in order to actually complete his quest, now the hero has to travel between worlds. This adds numerous dynamics to what was originally a very traditional quest. In short, even in the early days, the genre was looking for new methods to eschew the formula.
While Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King deserves plenty of praise for being a polished and well-designed adventure, it could've taken more risks. Consider this possibility: After Grandpa tells the story of Lily and her kingdom-saving adventure, he's kidnapped by Crocus. Thus, his grandkid - who is also named Lily - has to rescue him. Imagine exploring the fantasy world and the "real" world, well, maybe that's overdoing it. There are so many factors to account for, and the results could be disastrous. Then why not simply have a sixth dungeon? Its theme could be "city" and Lily would have to fight computers and politicians.
All that said, while some players might wish for more, this game is still a satisfactory adventure. Everything from the controls to the mechanics is spot on. Even the hit box is perfect, and very few action-adventures pay attention to that necessity. The sights and sounds are brimming with charm, and the user-interface is both familiar and comforting. Anyone who spent a lot of time with the classics will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is not the most innovative, nor is it the most challenging action-adventure, but it has plenty of heart. More importantly, it's finely-tuned and constructed in a manner that respects the player. There aren't any cheap hits, let alone cheap deaths, and progress is never halted by a poorly designed puzzle. Almost every aspect is balanced, and there's enough incentive to see and do as much as possible. All in all, this game is a quality throwback.