February 16, 2009 Anyone who has played thatgamecompany’s previous offering, flOw, will know that they march to the beat of a slightly different drum, aiming to produce games that touch players on a different emotional level than the majority of video games on the market. Their new game "Flower" certainly achieves this with its beautiful graphics, relaxing soundtrack and instantly accessible control system combining to give players a memorable and unique gaming experience.
The gameplay in flower is exceptionally simple with the only written instructions given in the whole game being - “Hold any button.” Players start each level as a single flower petal - within a flower’s dream apparently, but that’s really neither her nor there – which is controlled by tilting the motion sensitive Sixaxis controller and pressing any button, including the joysticks if you wish, to muster up some wind and send your petal soaring on the breeze. Flying through a flower will cause a petal to join you, so before long you are trailing a long line of multi-colored petals in your airborne search. The way these petals move really is a joy to behold and players will find themselves shooting skyward and doing a few pirouettes just to get a glimpse of their glorious plumage – or should that be petalage.
The outdoor pasture the petal finds itself in is drab and dull, robbed of much vibrancy, so it is your job to explore the surroundings looking for any of your blossoming brethren to spark back to life. Revitalizing enough flowers in an area will trigger an explosion of rebirth not dissimilar to healing the ground in the latest Prince of Persia and reveal new flowers to pollinate as well as opening up new areas to explore. While these tasks serve as goals to provide some structure to the game, there is no sense of urgency as there is no time limit imposed on achieving them. Players are free to simply fly around the level – an enjoyable enough experience in itself. The game also includes trophies that fit with the laid back nature of the game – taking a break for 10 minutes between levels will earn players a Healthy Play trophy for example.
It’s not all smooth sailing however, with later more ominous levels featuring downed power lines being harder to navigate. In fact players will be punished with a harsh shock if they hit the wrong part of a downed power line and suffer a reduction in the amount of petals in their entourage. Such occurrences seem out of place with the generally relaxing experience of Flower and stood out all the more because of the contrast, but such instances do add another layer to the gameplay and at no time will your initial petal die requiring a restart of the level.
Flower looks absolutely beautiful when played on a HDTV. Directing a trail of petals close along the ground and watching the blades of grass part before you is a genuine pleasure. Over 200,000 blades of grass are simulated and animated simultaneously on-screen, providing a rich interactive environment that begs to be explored. Restoring life to an area and the resultant explosion of vibrant color is also a delight to witness as is the way the ever growing number of petals spin and ride the currents as you soar through the air.
The low key, relaxing music is a perfect accompaniment to the overall Zen like feel of Flower. The music changes based on the action onscreen – speeding up for example when riding an air current through a canyon – while touching different colored flowers will trigger a distinct audio cue, which results in the player acting as composer to provide a unique soundtrack for every game.
It must be said that while I enjoyed Flower, it is is definitely not for everyone. Those who like their games adrenalin fueled and with clear-cut objectives will probably be quickly bored. But those people are well catered for in the video game market and are definitely not the audience this game is aimed at. For those who are looking for something more akin to an experience than a game though, Flower is likely to prove a delight. The replay value of the game is high, with the pull to revisit previous levels just to soak up the glorious visuals hard to resist. This is just as well as the game is incredibly short and can be completed in a little over an hour - including the end credits sequence, which could be considered a level in itself. The briefness of the game is only highlighted by how enjoyable the existing levels are – I just wanted more – but then again Flower should not be thought of as a game that needs to be completed, but rather a game that should be experienced. On that level it more than succeeds.
Flower is highly recommended for anyone looking for a different gaming experience and at the bargain price of USD$9.99 (UKP6.99, AUD12.99) through the PlayStation Network Store, there’s really no excuse for not enjoying its charms.