Flower is the latest creation from thatgamecompany, a new challenger in the argument for the idea that games can also be art. As I sit here with the game freshly completed, I am finding it difficult to decide how much to reveal, and how much to keep to myself.
Much like one of the messages behind Old Man and the Sea, a complex book by Ernest Hemmingway, fishing up deep emotional substance and bringing it to the surface spoils the magnificence and splendor. The game is almost wordless, and the conveyance of the storyline is all told through colour, motion and imagery.
The basic concept is that you control a flower petal, and move through the world opening up flowers and collecting more pedals that add to your entourage. As you collect sets of flowers the game opens up the next area for you to continue. See what I mean? It sounds boring, almost pointless. As a matter of fact, there are only seven levels, and one of those levels is short, and the last level is the credits. How is this a compelling game? Let’s see if I can find the words.
From the motion of the flower pedals, to the lush grass that parts as you travel through it, to the vivid colours and absolutely fantastic environments, really only the word breathtaking fits. One of my favorite things was to do in Flower is to fly high and then dive while moving myself in a way that made my entourage look like a dancing chinese dragon made entirely of flower petals.
There is no HUD, no pointer as to where to go next, although they provide visual clues and brief animated sequences to help you find your way. It has a very organic nature to it which is, in my opinion, the best way to present it.
The hard part of being critical in this game is that it would be like criticizing a single brush-stroke on a painting – that may have been put there deliberately for you to notice it or it may have been a limitation of the artist or their tools. There are some that would criticize some of the urban environments as they aren’t so detailed as to show details such as chairs, windows and the like; that would be an exercise in nit-picking, and quite possibly beside the point. This is a world without animals, people, or cars; it’s barren nature reminds me of certain scenes in the movie I AM LEGEND.
Field of view, motion blurring, and the occasional awkward camera angle keep this title from a perfect score. I should also note that if you can’t play first person games because of motion sickness then Flower will likely have you decorating the inside of a toiletbowl with a 1080p technicolor yawn. If you have had problems in the past with game-induced nausea don’t even think about picking this up without first watching a few preview videos.
Since there is not a single word spoken from start to finish, this game rests heavily on the music and audio cues to let you know what’s happening. In fact, the absence of any dialog helps create the connection; since you have no one telling you what to look for, you’re forced to listen as much as look.
The sounds are generally musical, from the plucking of strings to the sounds of a harmonious choir as you pick up flower petals, and they complement the the music. The background itself is grand and sweeping, sad and desolate, as well as dark and threatening.
While the message is less direct with words, I found myself more in tune with what was happening and sudden changes would genuinely surprise me. It’s more like lying on a wave and feeling it move you than to be on top of the wave and being able to see where it’s taking you.
The controls are about as simple as the interface. You simply use the Six-Axis to steer your flower pedals in the direction you want to go. Tilt it forward to go down, pull up to go up. Lean it left or right to turn left or right. The twist motion doesn’t do anything, and pressing any button or direction on the analog sticks will accelerate you.
It is so simple to play that anyone can pick it up. It does take some concentration to play the game so while a four-year old can technically play it they may get frustrated with understanding the basic control mechanism. I have to say that this is, bar none, the best implementation of the Six-Axis controls I have ever played.
As I stated at the beginning, the magic of gameplay is not in the mechanics; it is a simple game of touching flowers which release petals and progress the storyline. There are moments when you don’t have absolute control, such as in ravines with strong winds that carry you forwards, but ultimately you are a free-roaming petal opening up flowers all over.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit to enjoying a good explosion, but the passive yet powerful impact this little game brings is a breath of fresh air. There are no Nazis, there are no inexplicable ammo crates strewn about, and you most certainly are not solving puzzles that open portals to hell. You will not find a red key or a red door, but at a basic level you are still flicking switches to open the next area.
It is the execution of such a simple game to bring forth something so engaging which brings the score up. Just because I rate this perfect does not mean everyone will; I had a buddy of mine try it out and while he enjoyed it, he’s of the mind that he’d rather play a Scorched Earth knockoff.
I would also like to point out that while an obsessive compulsive disorder would cause you to search for every insignificant flower, thatgamecompany handled the game mechanic well by only requiring you to collect most(and not all) flowers, and generally the significant patches are highlighted by short animations integrated into the game.
This is an area where Flower tends to wilt. You have maybe 3 hours of new content, and then it’s revisiting where you’ve been to find the 3 bunches of green flowers hidden in every level to gain a trophies. That’s it; no more, no less. The score reflects the cost associated with such a short time.
Perhaps making it longer would have felt dragged out and spoiled the exhiliration. This takes us back to the brush-stroke argument – was this deliberately designed or was it a limitation? Regardless, the price point was a little too high for me and I think they should added more content, sold it for a few dollars less, or come out with a bundle that included flOw with it.
If you love the game (as I do) and want to enjoy it again, by all means it’s worth a second or third playthrough, if not immediately. If you have a 1080p set and want to show off the colours, or bring a non-gamer into the world of gaming without needing to shoot bullets then you should definately consider adding Flower to your collection.