In theory, Flower should be an easy game to review; thatgamecompany’s follow-up to fl0w is short and sweet, and despite being unusual, its concept is simple. This proves to not be the case because of Flower’s artistic aspirations. This PSN title epitomizes a recent flux of downloadable console games with abstract themes, games that refuse to conform to the traditional review process. Even though that means more work and — worryingly — more thinking involved, it’s worth it, as it’s safe to say that Flower represents these games and the changing face of gaming wonderfully.
For an abstract video game, Flower is easy to describe. Players guide a flower petal using the motion-sensing Sixaxis controls to alter direction, while thrust is provided by wind, activated by pressing any one of nearly all of the controller’s buttons. Essentially it’s a flying sim, but with a petal for a plane. Flower’s levels require players to guide said petal from flower to flower, blooming them and collecting more petals as they do so. Doing this restores color, beauty and life to the world in various ways. When enough of the world has been restored, players can float to a spiral checkpoint, and this produces a final, grand burst of beautification that completes the level. There are six levels, and the game takes just under two hours to complete, making it seem relatively short on content for its price.
Other arguable faults can be noted too. For example, Flower’s Sixaxis controls are comfortably the best of their kind so far, but they still feel clumsy, particularly when the games forces swift but awkward U-turns to collect missed petals; these will be inevitably missed because of the sensitive controls. Also, despite Flower’s short length and some diversity in presentation and theme, the experience can quickly resemble a collection grind. In fairness, that feeling does dissipate somewhat towards the game’s second half thanks to a sharp change in atmosphere and tone.
As valid as those faults are, focussing on them would be missing Flower’s point. While they do underline a game that doesn’t quite meet its potential, the experience remains undeniably unusual, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing, a fact itself underlined by the games that Flower debuts alongside; Q1’s tirade of familiar shooter sequels appear soulless and bland in comparison.
In that respect, it stirs thoughts of last year’s TGR Game of the Year Braid, and both games’ magnificence are found within their details. Guiding the petal through flowers creates pure, positive notes that overlay the unobtrusive background music, giving Flower a chillout, orchestral take on Rez’s gameplay. When in sync with the controls, it’s fulfilling to create harmonious melody by successfully clearing a row of flowers. This is one example of how the experience is always visually and audially rewarding, whether it’s through your actions causing the coating of drab, grey buildings in bright rainbow colors, or through dipping your glowing petal into a tranquil pool and causing the water to illuminate delightfully against a moonlit backdrop. It’s certainly satisfying to see the game’s landscape become vibrant and vivid under your guidance, even more so to watch a view of a city gradually follow suit in the menu screen’s window. Flower is all about empowering the player.
It’s through these changes that Flower subtly provides its narrative, one that imposes itself brilliantly upon the gameplay halfway through. OK, it’s not quite at Braid’s level of intricacy, but it’s still unexpected and delivered neatly, and does emphasise the game’s environmental and philosophical themes. If a player’s willing to embrace these themes, relax, and enjoy Flower as a game that refuses to obey convention, then the game’s true quality will become obvious.
Again, that’s not to say those earlier criticisms aren’t valid, because they are. If they weren’t there, you’d probably be seeing a larger score beneath this review. Frankly, the score is just not that important with this game. Flower will be talked about around December time as one of the most important games of 2009, and rightly so. It may not quite deliver like we all expected it to, but it remains a fresh triumph that stands tall in a crowd of copycat games with numbers at the end of their names. Flower is refreshing, different, and definitely worthy of any PlayStation 3 owner’s time.