In a generation that looks to redefine how we look at games, Flower stands out from the crowd with its intuitive controls, breathtaking visuals, and innovate design. Truly a unique and beautiful experience, Flower will leave a haunting impression on …. Wait a second – we’re Crush! Frag! Destroy! We don’t write garbage like that; we review games honestly and fairly. So let’s drop the rhetoric and get to the review, CFD style.
Two years ago, ThatGameCompany and Jenova Chen attempted to redefine what a game is with flOw. It turned out to be a unique experience, but one that left many gamers feeling underwhelmed and was soon labeled an interactive screen saver (i.e. cool to look at, but not so much fun to play). Jenova and ThatGameCompany have returned to push the boundaries of gaming with Flower. Once again, they have crafted more of an experience than a game, but this time it succeeds in being both beautiful to look at and fun to play.
Flower is an experiment in minimalist game design as there is a deliberate lack of documentation and direction from the start screen to the first level of the game. A few simple graphics explain how to move the controller to control the action and then you are led to the level select screen. Of course this isn’t simply a level select screen; it’s a piece of art that you interact with. A single pot with a wilting flower is sitting on a table with a cityscape behind it. Tilt the controller to center the camera on the flower, hold a button and you jump into the level. The cityscape fades away and when the world comes back into view you are a flower in a meadow. The goal of each level is to guide petals through the environment causing flowers to bloom which, in turn, causes parts of the level to be revitalized. Finish the level and the flower blooms and a new flower is placed on the table that represents the next level. I was never sure whether the level represented the future, the past, or a dream but I imagine that is the point. Flower is all about the experience and how you interpret it.
With such a simple concept it’s important that the controls work well and they shine here. Flower features intuitive controls that showcase what the Sixaxis is capable of when a game is designed to use it. Essentially, any button can be used to adjust the speed of the wind and altering your course is done by twisting the controller. I found that holding the controller in the traditional manner limited my range of movement so I ended up holding it in an unorthodox fashion; you might have to experiment to find a method that works for you. Once you find the method that suits you, the motion control works well as the action on the screen responds to your every whim.
Flower is visually impressive and those visuals are an important tool for conveying the narrative as there aren’t any characters or dialogue in the game. From the rolling green hills of the first level to the darker and more emotional levels that follow, every moment of Flower is a sight to behold. From the gentle swaying of the flowers and the grass as you approach them to the way they react as a gust of wind passes over them add to the feeling that you aren’t playing Flower, you’re experiencing it. The colors in the levels pop when they need to and in later levels are subdued to convey the emotions of the story. In this way, color is another important tool that Flower uses to convey its narrative. From the deep greens of the grass that you fly over to the multi-colored petals that trail off behind you, the bright colors represent life and are distinct and vibrant. When you come across a section of the level that’s waiting for you to revitalize it, the lack of color is cold and depressing. The connection between nature and life, which is something that’s not left to interpretation, is represented by the palette of colors that are used throughout the game.
Sound is another important narrative tool and the audio in Flower delivers on this premise. From the sound to the soundtrack, every aspect of the audio experience of Flower matches the feel of the game. Listening to the gentle sounds of the wind as you guide it through the world, perfectly matches the actions on screen; from a soft breeze to a slightly louder roar as you pick up speed through the environment. Of course the real audio treat is not the sound of the wind, but the melody that is created as you breeze past the flowers. Not only does passing over flowers cause them to bloom, but it also triggers an audio cue. When played with this in mind, it’s possible to find a rhythm and string together a series of flowers to create a melody. Just as the colors change with the mood of the game so does the melody that you create as you play through the levels. From the happy tune that plays as you fly through the first level to the melancholy tones of the later levels, it all adds up to a fully realized and enjoyable story to listen to as you experience the world that Flower presents you with.
The only problem with the experience is the length of Flower. Even playing it at a leisurely pace it will be over in a mere two hours. If you’re into trophies or just finding any of the hidden flowers in a level you can expect to get a couple more hours out of Flower but realistically, it’s about five hours of game with little replay value since there is no score to try and beat and no other modes of play.
Flower resembles a game in many ways but it’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s not simply something that one plays through and then forgets about and it can’t be easily described, judged or discussed without spoiling the experience, so I’m not about to attempt it here. Needless to say, it’s something that everybody who has a PS3 should own and with a price point of only $9.99, it’s a small investment for such a rich experience.
Things We Liked: Intuitive controls. Impressive visuals. Level 6.
Things We Disliked: Fairly short. Little replay value.
Target Audience: Everybody who owns a PS3.
(Flower – Available on PlayStation Network. New to CFD’s reviews? Read our explanation here.)