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REVIEW: Flower

Posted March 1st 2009 by Jordan Mammo.

At the moment, there doesn't seem to be anything that ruffles the feathers of dedicated videogame fans more than the concept of the "casual" game. "Generic brown-and-gray first-person shooters" may be a close second, but the open hand embracing non-games and their ilk when the Nintendo Wii was released has since been withdrawn by many and formed into a clenched fist.

The problem is not so much that Nintendo and others have decided videogames should be more accessible, but that their motion-based software hasn't felt very ambitious. Motion controls have often been employed for the sake of doing so, and titles like Wii Sports or other mini-game collections reinforce the notion of games as simple toys than as different experiences. On one hand this is fine because these kinds of titles serve a purpose and are worthwhile in their own right, but the disappointment stems from also expecting to see that new technology attempt something more, to visit a new place and experience something that might be a little more worthwhile.

Interestingly, it's Sony and developer thatgamecompany's Flower that might help take us there. Flower takes about two hours to play through to completion, employs a simple control scheme, and uses the Playstation 3's "ripped-off" motion-sensing capabilities to guide players.

It's the best two hours I've spent playing videogames in a long time.

Flower takes place within the dreams of potted plants sitting on a windowsill of an urban setting. Players take control of the wind within each of these flowers' memories, help plants bloom and collect petals in an attempt to restore the natural landscape. A simple tilt of the Playstation 3 controller chooses the direction in which the wind can blow, and the press of any button causes you to accelerate and gain momentum. It's a simple set-up that allows for quick familiarization with moving around fields as well as for refined play that's especially rewarding when going through the game's obstacles.

The reason Flower is so rewarding is because it uses its visuals and sound in concert with its gameplay. The fields in which the game takes place are lovely, and once you collect a couple of petals you realize that each flower makes a single sound as you blow through it. Different colored flowers make different noises, and they help set the mood and tone of the dream. Before you know it, you're flying through the air with hundreds of different colored petals swirling around you as you surf through and part the seas of grass with your momentum. The flowers create music as you glide through them, restoring the landscape and sprouting more. When you pull yourself up into the sky there is only the sun glaring down at you, and when you fall back down to earth you can see the huge tail of petals trailing behind. It's a stunning thing to experience, and you don't even feel like you're holding a controller anymore. It's almost liberating.

And then everything changes.

The most interesting thing about Flower is not the feeling of exhilaration that it creates in its first few stages, but how it uses them to establish, for lack of a better term, its story. Each dream acts as a self-contained stage, but together they form the narrative arc that makes up the core of Flower. At first the game gives you plenty of room and the freedom to simply fly around and enjoy your interaction with the world. Later it introduces man-made objects such as windmills that compliment the landscape and enhance your experience and ability to fly. It's thrilling.

As soon as this freedom is given and enhanced, the game begins to take it away as other objects are introduced that actually inhibit your ability to move and interact with the landscape, and they don't quite fit in. When you unexpectedly take damage for the first time, it might come as such a shock that you'll jump out of our seat (I did) and make sure it wasn't a fluke only to be damaged again (did this, too). The level design and flower sounds change according to the mood of the memory, and you'll find that your way of playing changes, too, as Flower aptly moves from pure joy of movement to claustrophobia before culminating in an excellent final stage. Flower's arc and theme are pretty simple to grasp, but they are effective at conveying and eliciting an emotional response because they are fused well with the title's other aspects.

Where Flower stumbles a little is by taking control away from the player at some inopportune times. So much of the title's intentions are communicated through the way you interact with things on-screen that it's disappointing when cut-scenes are used to telegraph what's happening and point you in the correct direction. It breaks up the flow of a game that really thrives on letting the player go. I don't know if the developers interrupt gameplay so much because they aren't confident in their ability to pull people where they want or if they just want to zoom out and showcase the scenery from afar. Regardless, the game would be better off with less of these disruptions.

Trophies are also included to offer incentives for replay, such as finding all the secret flowers in each stage or collecting every single petal. Flower is not a big task-oriented game, though, so I don't quite see the point of them here other than to artificially extend playtime and create some sense of accomplishment outside of the game's narrative. Then again, that generally seems to be the main purpose of trophies and achievement points anyway.

Overall comments:

Flower is a very short game clocking in at two hours (or less), but it's a title that benefits from its short duration; many games finishing up at 15-20 hours can't muster up the kind of experience found here. It's also one of the more interesting and ambitious games that takes advantage of motion-sensing capabilities. Flower doesn't overstay its welcome, says what it wants to say, and blends almost all of its aspects together well. That's a lot more than I can say about most videogames I've played lately, and at the price of a movie ticket these days (ten bucks), I can't recommend it enough.

Tags: Flower, Playstation 3, PSN

Posted in: Gaming, Reviews

Comments (3) | Permalink | Digg | Reddit

User Comments

Batist

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I might be interested in getting this if I do get a PS3. 10 bucks seems like a good deal too.

Sunday, March 1st 2009

kinopio

PSN has quickly turned into an amazingly interesting platform, IMO. I definitely have more interest in PSN titles than full Blu-ray games.

Sunday, March 1st 2009

Jordan

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Yeah PSN is pretty sweet. There are some ported titles like Ikaruga and Rez HD that I wish would carry over from XBLA, but in terms of original content I really enjoy what PSN offers. My ratio of retail games to PSN games is extremely lopsided. I've got about six or seven PSN games to my one copy of Virtua Fighter 5. And I don't see that ratio changing much anytime soon.

Sunday, March 1st 2009

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