Flower

October 2nd, 2009

Flower

I can see why some folks wouldn't care for this game. You can't dual-wield weapons, the team deathmatch mode is sorely lacking, and the final boss is a pushover.

If that last sentence meant nothing to you, then you'll likely enjoy it.

Flower feels a bit like a tech demo stretched into a proper game.  Of course, the same could be said of Portal, and that one's become something of a classic.  While it's short, it's incredibly enjoyable and well worth the ten bucks.

In basic terms, you control a flower petal.  The controls (which are explained only by a brief abstract graphic) are quite simple.  Tilt the sixaxis controller to steer and press any button to initiate a gust of wind.  As you come into contact with other flowers, they bloom and shed petals of their own, which are chained behind you.  Think of an airborne Katamari, and you're part of the way there.

Gameplay feels like a cross between a platformer and a simplified flight simulator.  As you pick up clusters of petals in your wake, they bob and weave like fractals.  Hit a sudden crosswind, and the pattern flutters briefly into a multichromatic chaos before knitting itself back together.  At times, it feels like steering a cloud, at others, like diverting a running brook.

The physics feel solid, and though it's sometimes difficult to maneuver, that's more a nod to realistic motion than it is a programming fault–windswept tulip petals don't turn on a dime in real life, either.  Though I would have liked the option of using the joysticks, I can understand the design choice here: it's certainly a showcase for a motion-capture control done right.

The interface is beautifully done and well mated to the game.  There are no loading screens, as you're returned to the window sill between stages.  The lack of any sort of HUD or status information during gameplay does wonders for the immersion.

The graphics are nothing short of breathtaking.  Individual blades of grass sway and cast convincing shadows, and the lighting is marvelous.  Though they're not exactly photorealistic, the visuals are done with such an artistic flair as to be completely engrossing.

As you progress, you leave a vibrant landscape blooming in your wake.  If this sounds a bit familiar, you probably remember Okami, which espoused a similar theme.  As with Okami, the idea is to return life to a barren environment.  When you finish a stage, the sense of reward is somehow much more tangible than what you get from dismembering space marines.

There's no dialogue (or even human intervention) and there are no cinematics to speak of.  There's a loose approximation of a plot, if you look for it, but that's not really the point.  This is a game about immersion, and it succeeds wonderfully.

As far as I can tell, you can't die in this game.  There are no timed objectives, and there's no pressure of any sort to get from Point A to Point B.  In fact, you can set the controller down for half an hour, and the game will simply act like a screensaver.  It seems the developers aimed to pull the player in rather than pushing him along, and it was a wise decision.

Music and sound play a significant part, and both elements are impeccably done.  Though sometimes drifting into Windham Hill territory, the music suits the game well.  Think of a pastoral late-70's Eno or Tenmon's work for Makoto Shinkai's films.  In a manner similar to Everyday Shooter, your actions will often trigger one-note musical cues, and they're nicely integrated with the background music.

Flower's an odd little game built on a bit of a gimmick, but that doesn't keep it from being an engrossing experience.

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