I’ve had some mixed responses to supposedly “medatative” games in the past. Some games I’ve found can really support a relaxed atmosphere for the player, while others seem to make being calm as a challenge that must be acquired competitively.
Well Flower, a indie title from ThatGameCompany, is simultaneously both of these and somehow neither. It’s one of a very small collection of games that manages to be more about the experience than the goal, and probably a member of an even smaller group of games that can make a convincing argument for the “games as art” debate. Flower carries itself with a relaxed sense of style, and is capable of conjuring up some of the most beautiful imagery to grace gaming in a long time.
It’s even got me talking wishy-washy.
As the title suggests players take the role of a flower. Or, perhaps more accurately, a flower petal. From the moment it is plucked from it’s home, this petal simply wafts on an invisible breeze until the player gives it a direction to move in. From here, your petal must collect petals from surrounding flowers, which open and begin to shape the landscape around them. Opening a whole collection of certain flowers is greeted with an explosion of colour, as brown grass turns green and more and more petals fly up into the air.
There isn’t actually a story, as much as a sense that a story is being told. Levels are selected via an apartment shelf with single flowers in pots, and upon selecting a specific flower you’re transported to a sweeping landscape that can be anything from peaceful, to morose or even foreboding. And while nothing is explicitly explained (it would actually ruin the game to do so, I felt), it’s almost certain that by the time the game reaches it’s conclusion you’ll be thinking “Fuck yeah! Nature!” in your head as so many blackened metal structures transform into pristine stainless steel.
As soon as you start to play, you’ll also realise why Flower is a PlayStation 3 exclusive title, as the game’s rendering of it’s environment is awesome. And I don’t mean that in the sense of “We’re having chips for tea? Awesome!”, I mean it in it’s original sense, as in something that inspires awe in the viewer. Each blade of grass, each petal from every flower softly flows with the breeze, and with a frame rate that never dips or stutters to interrupt the view. The visual experience of playing Flower is undoubtedly what makes the game as a whole so powerful.
There isn’t exactly a stated goal to Flower, in fact the game makes very few instructions to the player by the time they’ve begun. Much like the game’s control system, which I’ll talk about in a second, the gameplay here is mostly intuitive. The game doesn’t mind if you float around for a while before you figure it out, and for the most part neither does the player. And once you’ve figured out what’s going on, the action kind of naturally unfolds. Even when new elements are added into the mix, like wind tunnels and lightning rods, the fact that the game isn’t explaining how to deal with them never seems to factor in with the player.
This is partially because Flower uses a very natural form of control, and another reason for the game’s PS3 exclusive status. Only the controller’s SixAxis sensor is used for movement. To dive towards the grass, players must tilt their controller forward, or tip it from side to side to steer. The game only maps one extra button, which can be activated by pressing any button on the entire pad, which increases the speed of your petal as it moves through the world. While playing the game may look a little ridiculous to the outside observer (I looks akin to when your Dad plays driving games and steers the controller the whole time), the SixAxis manages to give an extremely accurate feeling of control to the player, which in turn strengthens the players involvement with the action on screen.
And behind all this impressive ebb and flow of nature is the game’s soundtrack, something which subtly directs the tone of each level without overpowering the other elements of the game. Each petal the player collects also triggers a chord to play, so successfully navigating a string of flowers often opens up something of a melody inside a melody. It’s simple, but impressive.
Pros: Stunning graphics, stunning soundtrack, stunning gameplay. Like a lobotomised debutant, Flower is simple yet elegant.
Cons: Even though expanding the game too far might only lead to a feeling of tediousness, the game certainly will leave you wanting more.
Overall: You know, I kind of hate the term “feast for the senses”, but it really does aptly describe the experience of playing Flower. The gameplay is intuitive, the visuals are nothing short of gorgeous and the soundtrack plays a simple yet elegant accompaniment to the experience. It’s also something of a flagship game for the PlayStation 3, as it shows what the system is capable of with it’s advanced graphical capabilities. No doubt about it, everyone should give Flower a try, 5 out of 5.
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