Zelda is a franchise with a hell of a lot of sway. The Zelda branding being on a title alone likely adds a sizable amount to it’s sales figures. In the past, this meant that Zelda titles could fulfill different requirements for Nintendo as needed. Two main types of Zelda emerged as a result of this, each based on a different need for Nintendo. For their home consoles, the epic, upscale 3D Zelda titles. And for their handhelds, the classic styled 2D Zelda, taking after beloved titles like A Link to the Past.
Until the Switch, this strategy worked out remarkably for them, allowing them to keep both styles of Zelda alive. And then Breath of the Wild hit. The BIGGEST, most epic 3D Zelda yet. On a system that you could take anywhere and everywhere. With Zelda and Nintendo’s consoles evolving, what does that mean for the classic Zelda formulas? Are we doomed to never see titles like Link’s Awakening or Minish Cap ever again? Whether Nintendo will continue that legacy, we’ll have to wait and see, but for now? It seems that the classic Zelda torch may lie in the hands of indie devs like Castle Pixel. And if Blossom Tales is an indicator of the genre’s future, I’m more than happy to let them hold that torch.
No Punches Pulled: This is a 2D Zelda You’re in For
Blossom Tales doesn’t waste it’s time trying to convince you something that it’s not. Right off the bat, the game tells you exactly what to expect. The game is immediately framed as a story told by a grandfather to his squealing grandchildren. The first story good ol’ gramps offers to tell? “Oh, the classic tale of the elf boy in the land of H-” He’s cut off by his noted grandchildren, who’ve heard that one so many times before. They want something new! It’s far from a subtle tip of the hat. Blossom Tales instead completely doffs their cap, shows it to everyone in the room, and then pulls a rabbit out. Some might find it a bit pretentious or self-important, but I thought it was a cute reminder that Blossom Tales isn’t here to trick you. You both know why you’re here.
With his story of elves and H-lands nixed, Grandpa instead launches into another story, one that seems less familiar to his progeny – the tale of Lily and the Blossom Kingdom. This tale begins with Lily who awakes from oversleeping by her Grandmother. Gran gives Lily a quick wakeup and reminds her that today is the day she is going to be knighted as a recruit for the Kingdom of Blossom. And she’s already late! As you scurry up towards the castle, you can start to get a good feeling for the game’s environment and NPCs. Don’t dally though! Can’t miss a knighting.
A Wizard’s War
When you arrive at the castle to be knighted, you’re greeted by King Orchid, Ruler of Blossom, the head of the guards, and by Crocus, King Orchid’s Wario-faced brother. Yeah, you can probably guess where this is headed. You’re officially knighted by King Orchid, and Crocus gives a hesitant “blessing” to the other Knights in attendance. Now officially a knight, your first official royal order is… to clean the sewers of rats. Not exactly glamorous, the life of a knight. But these sewers serve as a nice introduction to the game’s mechanics, and act as a sort of tutorial dungeon, complete with a pretty simple boss, which in turn, earns you your first dungeon item.
A discovery in the dungeon leads you to find out that Crocus has an evil plan that he’s about to set into motion. Unfortunately, by the time you make it back to the castle, Crocus has already made his move. He curses the king with an unending slumber, and after gloating a bit about his evil armies, teleports away to take control of the land. Despite being warned about the dangerous quest by other guards, Lily sets out on her own to gather the sacred ingredients to a tonic that will awaken the king from his sleep.
Dungeons, Items, Bosses, and More
Once you’ve set out on the quest to save the king from his slumber, the rest of the game opens up to you. The castle gates allow you to explore beyond their bounds, and Lily can finally freely explore the Kingdom of Blossom. Well, as best she can. Without all the game’s items, there will be quite a few areas you can’t yet reach. From this point, though, most veterans know the plan: find the next dungeon, grab it’s item to beat it, then use that item to traverse more of the overworld to find the next dungeon. It’s an entertaining gameplay loop, and has you always excited to discover what that next item could be.
Blossom Tales features quite a few of the Zelda staples, like bombs and boomerangs, but it also has plenty of it’s own twists to add. I won’t spoil them for you here though, they’re better encountered yourself. Regardless, puzzles and bosses abound in the game’s dungeons, just waiting for you to crack their secrets. These puzzles are for the most part well thought out and fun. Only once or twice did I find myself stuck, more due to my own ignorance rather than the game itself. The dungeons are all nicely paced, and each has a unique theme and feel to it. Bosses are a blast for those who love the classics. Some of their item weaknesses might be a bit on the nose, but they’re undeniably fun.
The overworld may not be quite as densely packed as the dungeons, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. Sidequests, collections, and NPCs fill most of the world, each with something to say or do. As a whole, these touches really come together to make Blossom feel more alive.
A Love Letter, Through and Through
During this review you might’ve thought this game is a classic Zelda ripoff. In my opinion, there’s a clear distinction between a ripoff and a loving homage, and Blossom Tales is the second, without a doubt. The game is chock-full of love for it’s inspirations, from references to it’s characters and situations to the catchy music having a few familiar notes. Blossom Tales is altogether a fantastic game that never forgets those that inspired it. And I love it all the more for that.
In fact, it’s the sections where Blossom Tales tries to stand apart where I have my biggest problems. Specifically, I’m referring to the bedtime story style of storytelling. Grandpa spinning the kids a tale late at night makes for a nice introduction, but when they end up commentating over the rest of the game? The children reacting with “Ooooh’s” and “Aaaah’s” anytime Grandpa make mention of anything ruins what could otherwise be “Ooooh” moments for the player, not the NPC children. They use this idea to introduce some fun concepts, such as some story points being choices made on the spot. There’s potential for a cool idea, but these moments are more often than not just “what enemy type is attacking”.
Overall, Blossom Tales is a fantastic game that I cannot recommend enough as a year-end closer. The industry has started this year with big and impressive titles such as Breath of the Wild and what better way to end it, then, than with the perfect title to remind us all why we fell in love with Zelda to begin with.