Is there time in your busy schedule for a lovingly realised brief burst of innovation?
Reviewed on the PlayStation 3 by Mark Dicks
I may be heavily scrutinised for the following comment… as of last month I added a PlayStation 3 to my console collection (about time eh?). Persuaded by the recent price drop and ever-growing catalogue of downloadable exclusives, it was no better time than the present. So then I needed to break my new Sony machine’s duck, I chose Flower.
As it turns out my decision both helped show off the PS3’s prowess as well as ease me into the feel of my new DualShock 3 controller’s Sixaxis functionality.
For those who don’t know, Flower is the second instalment by thatgamecompany. A company thats ethos is to create video games from the ground up with the player’s feelings in mind rather than that of its mechanics. So if you’re looking for the next big explosive multiplayer fest it may be best to start looking elsewhere.
To play Flower all you need to do is a pick a button, yes any (I chose X), well that in being any button mapped on the controller, not that miniscule red one tucked under your seat. As for the rest, you’ll be spending your time tilting, swaying or even twisting your DualShock 3. This play style suits Flower to a tee.
In your very grasp is the power to harness nature, kind of like a Wiccan god of wind. In fact scratch that, you actually are the wind. As you start your first level there are neither garish cluttering HUDs nor tutorial hints, just a closed lonely flower bud in front of you. Pressing down your selected button and tilting toward this single stem is when you realise Flower’s angle. Here is a game for you to drift, play and discover.
Dotted across each level or what the game likes to call dreams are a collection of interactions. Starting with bundles of closed flower buds and then expanding to dream specific objects. Simply brushing past one of these interactions shall trigger an event. Flowers shall bloom, cartwheels will spin, rocks shall separate etc. all from just a touch from your windy presence. In a nutshell this is what Flower is all about. There are even power-ups (if they can be called that) that gain you some unique abilities, but listing them here would spoil the discovery.
If a goal were to be labelled in Flower it would be to awaken and restore life to each dream. But I feel if you didn’t also take the time to unwind, explore and experiment you may be missing the point that thatgamecompany are trying to prove. There does also seem to be some strong messages about our current world resonating in Flower. But I believe it’s down to you the player if you acknowledge them as part of the ride or not. For me I agreed with these emotional hints.
You may or may not be the art gallery visiting type. But I like to believe I’ve witnessed a few exhibitions in my time, both for recreational excursions as they were to help educate my sculpting digits. Visually and sonically Flower reminds me of an interactive installation that could quite happily be surrounded by white walls whilst neighbouring today’s modern art.
The visual touches to this game personally I found were outstanding. For what I can remember Flower has the BEST looking grass I’ve ever seen in a video game to date. Graphically it’s just been executed so well. Each individual piece flicks and parts from your presence. I think I ‘wasted’ most of my time dive-bombing into it, just for visual responsive pleasure.
thatgamecompany have lovingly crafted visual surprises throughout your experience. For example as you awake each flower bud a petal joins your side. So as you reach the climax of each dream you’ll find an ever-stretched conga line of flowery attachments. But here’s the clinch, if you move quick enough you can weave back through your own path. I spent quite a while darting after my tail to marvel at it’s colourful fiesta. In all the lighting, the colour, the spectacle of Flower is a fantastic achievement for the player’s eyes.
But were would these visual’s be without sound? Interactive soundscapes are something I applaud in video games. Flower has done just this. Musically an airy gentle motif backdrop accompanies you. As you brush past the environment interactions you are gifted with chimes to choir chants, its although each flower bud is actually a note on a full-scale instrument. You are acting as the conductor for this floral orchestra. The music even livens as you restore more life into the dream. Pacing plays a part also, if you slow down to a hovering halt the sound shall echo this with distancing it’s self.
There’s a lovely approach to ambiences, and as being an ambience collector myself hearing these are a joy. They even make an impact in the ‘menu selection screen’ depending on which dream you’re about to enter. Each dream has it’s own locale backdrop. Heck they’ve even given the wind it’s own voice. It’s the little details in sound I love, like ushering past the in-game lamp-posts your ears will be welcomed by their electrical hum.
The length of Flower however I feel is it’s weakness. As just like a gallery visit, you’ll soak up the involvement that each art has to offer promptly. Then once you’ve had your fill there are other installations to witness before the day is done.
There are secrets imbedded in Flower, I went back and found a few but I felt like I was retreading previously discovered steps. Part of the fun of Flower was when everything was fresh and exciting. Having a ‘and what happens when I do this’ mentally. If you know what’s coming I feel part of the magic is lost and having a lack of cut-scene skip can niggle. Unfortunately this is a distinct burden on replayabilty. BUT I could see me in the future happy to revisit the experience only if the surprises had slipped from memory.
I enjoyed my time with Flower I did, but somehow I feel that maybe an introduction of random interactions each play would have been a nice addition. I understand a large factor to the game is to relax and escape, and trust me I took that trip. I even found my mind starting to drift into fond memories of the past akin to a favourable music track’s effect. However there’s only so much unwinding one can do when there’s so many other games waiting to be played.
Overall Flower is the pinnacle of Zen garden enthusiast’s interactive dream supporting the Sixaxis in-controller capabilities. There aren’t many games out there like it with the same emphasise on feelings. It’s just a shame that the experience is short lived. But if you can look past that, pick up that controller and embrace a bubble wrapped emotional stunningly relaxing ride.