In the first year of the Switch’s life, it was relatively common to see massive indie success stories from developers who managed to get their game on the eShop before the veritable torrent of new game releases — many of them excellent — flooded the store on a weekly basis. One of these titles was Blossom Tales, a cute action game that wasn’t even remotely shy about how heavily it was cribbing from the playbook of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. After the enormous and unexpected success of Blossom Tales saved the development team from having to shut down, work began on Blossom Tales 2, and we’re happy to report that this sophomore effort is every bit as enjoyable as the original — although it’s also just as derivative.
Here the narrative once again takes place as a ‘story within a story’, as an elderly man tells his two eager grandchildren a tale that features both of them as characters, with Lily, a brave warrior, living with her obnoxious brother in a fantasy land. The two start out participating in all sorts of fun at a nearby fair, but a petty sibling squabble causes Lily to wish that the evil Minotaur King would come and take her brother somewhere far away. Somehow, this causes the real Minotaur King to show up and do just that, which kicks off her quest across the land to reclaim her brother and defeat the evil king.
It’s not an incredibly deep narrative, but it plays well with the premise of being a story told by a campfire and echoes with elements of Labyrinth and The Princess Bride. At many points, the children will bicker over particular details of the plot, which eventually presents the player with a choice between two options that affect the outcome. For example, when you’re given the token ‘magical instrument’ item, the children bicker over what kind of instrument it actually is, and we opted for the accordion. We appreciated these moments, as they aren’t used excessively, but occur often enough that they keep you from forgetting that none of the events on screen are actually ‘real’.
Gameplay is similar to the classic top-down Legend of Zelda games, and by “similar” we mean “almost indistinguishable”. Whereas the original release seemed to take more from A Link to the Past, this release feels like it’s more in line with Link’s Awakening, right down to the confusing owl who occasionally visits to point you in the right direction. You start out with three hearts and travel an expansive overworld literate with enemies, secrets, and obstacles that you overcome with a slowly growing inventory of useful items. Every now and then, you’ll find yourself in a dungeon filled with puzzles and enemies that are usually ‘solved’ by finding the dungeon’s item, and you eventually clear the dungeon by winning a boss fight which grants you an additional heart and advances the plot a little further.
Much like its predecessor, the largest drawback to Blossom Tales 2 is that it isn’t very original in its gameplay design. Minit was clearly inspired by Link’s Awakening, but it was all built around a 60-second life for your character. Crosscode borrowed plenty from Zelda puzzle design while still blending in many elements of ’90s JRPGs. Swords of Ditto was a roguelike where the whole overworld would reset and randomize. The point being, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from Nintendo’s legendary series—there’s a reason it’s so acclaimed—but most games simply pick and choose elements that serve a grander vision based on a more unique idea. Blossom Tales 2 is more content to copy 2D Zelda wholesale, but the execution isn’t as good.
On the other hand, Blossom Tales 2 proves to be almost as good as the games it’s emulating and this isn’t something to be dismissed out of hand. Sure, it may be derivative, but this is a release that doubles down on what it’s trying to accomplish and doesn’t water anything down. Even if we sighed when the exciting ‘new’ item in a dungeon was just a legally distinct hookshot, the dungeon itself still proved to be a genuinely engaging and fun place to explore. Plus, the experience of slowly uncovering the overworld while getting all kinds of news toys to subtly change up combat and movement proves to be well-paced and addictive all the way through. Both puzzles and combat are simple enough that they aren’t necessarily hardbut they remain challenging enough that it feels satisfying when you overcome them.
As for presentation, Blossom Tales 2′ visuals look a little more advanced than its predecessor, though it still adheres strongly to a classic 16-bit retro look. Whether you’re fighting evil cacti in the desert or dastardly pirates near the sea, most of the spritework features a cute, simple aesthetic that fits well with the vibe of a story being told by a loving grandpa.
We would have liked to have seen a little more creativity in the environment design—forests and deserts feel so played out by now—but what’s here is adequate to keep sections of the game from feeling like they blur together. The music, meanwhile, is a little less impressive, consisting of a series of rousing adventurous tracks and more low-key tunes for the dungeons and villages. None of the soundtrack is particularly memorable, though this also means it doesn’t get in the way by feeling too distracting or repetitive.
Blossom Tales 2 is the kind of game that’s absolutely good, but definitely not great. The cute narrative premise, solid dungeon design, and pacing of overall progression all make this one worthwhile, but it’s also the kind of game that feels like it’s hamstrung by its lack of daring to try something new. In this sense, it’s the epitome of a “buy it on sale” game; you’re not missing anything by waiting to snap it up at a later date, but if you’re a fan of the traditional 2D Zelda template, it’s probably worth getting at some point when the mood takes you.