Video Game Rentals Delivered

Flower (PSN)

David Yun (PSN Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (PSN Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-04-27 23:13:44

Flower (PSN) - Rank S

Developer: ThatGameCompany
Publisher: SCEA
Date: 2/12/09

Flower fulfills, in a very small but potent way, two of humanity's most primal longings: freedom and beauty. You play as the wind, a life bringing zephyr that leaves verdancy in its wake. Soaring, diving, and skittering through swaying grass, you kindle flowers to bloom and fields to explode into color.

The game starts out with scenes of gray, urban despair filled with the discordance of pointless, dreary bustle. Selecting the wilting potted flower in your drab room transports you to a sunny field, clean and free and full of glorious sunshine. The transition is dramatic. If you're even the least bit prone to emotive manipulation, you'll feel suddenly uplifted. The warm, inviting visuals combine with naturalistic music to pleasantly embrace you. The deep whispering SHHHHH of the wind rushing through the grass reminds you that the natural world has a voice of vitality, when it's not muffled by layers of concrete and asphalt.

The irony is not lost on me. You need broadband internet, a flickering monitor, and a $400+ electronic monstrosity in order to play Flower. Players are likely to be sitting in cramped spaces surrounded by urban sprawl. It's certainly no substitute for a wilderness hike, but Flower is a startling attempt to distill that experience through a technological medium.

Initially, a single flower petal serves as a sort of cursor. Since you're the wind, this is a necessary visual focal point to serve as a spatial frame of reference. Each flower bud stroked by your passage blooms and contributes another petal, until you're a swirling trail of bright color and gentle grace. Taking a cue from Everyday Shooter, each flower you spark to life sets off a musical tone that harmonizes with the soundtrack. The result is a beautifully interactive audio score that strongly complements the vibrancy of the visuals.

Flower controls simply, in the most effective implementation of the Sixaxis motion sensor to date. Tilting the controller shifts your orientation and pushing any button sends you whooshing. We all crave the sensation of flight; it haunts our dreams. With those simple controls, Flower realizes those desires. Even before tackling any game goals, just the giddy act of launching myself into the expansive sky brought a smile to my face.

And somehow, through this semi-abstract artistry, Flower still manages to deliver a subtle narrative. Subsequent levels provide a wide environmental and emotional diversity, ranging through shifts in locales and moods. The creators clearly had an ecological message in mind, alluding to issues such as sustainable power and responsibly balanced urban renewal, but fortunately never deliver it in a heavy-handed manner. The fundamental tone is one of hope and rejuvenation triumphing over the pensive threat of industrial decay.

Despite its presentation, Flower is still very much a traditional video game. There are goals to be met and rules that govern the process. It is not necessarily the product that will win a non-gamer to our avocation. As an informal experiment, I had my wife try it out. Aside from marathon sessions with Tetris, Bejeweled, and Animal Crossing, she is decidedly not a gamer. After the initial giggling thrill of motion-controlled flight, she was confounded by the goals required for progress. Video gaming depends on a sort of literacy, and while gamers have been trained in the process of converting feedback into win conditions, the cues in Flower are likely to be too subtle for others. Flower is not necessarily the "gateway drug" to ensnare outsiders, but it is an inspiring diversion between our massive bouts of firefights and chainsaws.

I took some flak last year for my review of Braid on the grounds of overrating pretentious fluff. Flower is analogous in that it provides an artistically ambitious experience in a small, short, downloadable package. If you don't highly value uniqueness and innovation, you're likely to have a similar reaction. If, however, you're receptive to creativity and breaks from convention, Flower will be one of the most special games you'll ever play.

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