From the creators behind the surreal PlayStation Network game, flOw, Flower is ThatGameCompany’s latest bite-sized, downloadable offering that is all set to spread its multicolored love with a fine sprinkling of flower petals, deep sunsets, red skies and lush green meadows just in time for Valentine’s Day. Plenty of debate has circled the net in recent weeks, discussing whether Flower is a tech demo, a game, or simply just a piece of art. In fact, it’s all of those things rolled into one. Although there are no points awarded for your efforts and you can’t ever die throughout its five levels, Flower is certainly a game. There is a challenge, albeit a rather weak one, and there is a storyline. There are also goals to aim for as well as a definite beginning and end to each level. However, it also has elements of a tech demo. It only took me two hours to complete, including the playable credits, and the further I progressed the more it encouraged me to experiment with the Sixaxis controller, twisting and turning it in all directions to showcase the motion-sensing technology perfectly. It’s also a piece of artwork, with bright and vivid colors that explode against the contrasting sepia backdrops and ultimately create a very pleasant and intrinsically relaxing scene. Initially, Flower plays on your audio and visual senses and, in a trance-like way, somehow manages to make you forget about the rigor of everyday life, which can’t be a bad thing.
Flower follows the dreams of five flowers that glumly sit wilted and shrivelled in their pots on the window ledge of a dreary city apartment. Overlooking the oppressively grey concrete jungle, the flowers dream of freedom in the lush meadows from where they belong and yearn to go back to their natural habitat. This isn’t going happen, so among their daydreams they seek to inject some color back into the bleak man-made world where they’ve sadly found themselves living. You achieve this happy conclusion by guiding a floating petal across different locations, collecting other flower petals along the way that then join you on your mission by creating a tail of color that drifts dreamily behind you. The controls are extremely basic. The main game mechanic utilizes the motion-sensing functionality of the Sixaxis controller, with any of the face buttons used in order to create a gust of wind and therefore speed up the movement of the petal.
You begin by collecting petals, tilting the controller in all directions and guiding your petal toward any glowing flower buds on the ground. Once you hit one, you’ll hear an ambient sound like a wind-chime (or similar to a note on a Xylophone) and the flower will bloom. When you open up all flowers of a certain color, or all the ones that grow in a certain area, the dried-out colorless grass where they currently lie turns green and the world around you slowly starts to grow in color, while pathways in the environment open up, or more flowers appear. Hit a bunch of flowers rapidly one after the other and you can create an ambient melody, similar to kind that you’d hear on a New Age CD — the type of music that people into meditation or aromatherapy treatment might enjoy. The fact that there’s no real pressure, even in the later levels where the wind speeds up or wind machines affect the environment, means that Flower is instantly accessible to all. It also has the ability to make you feel quite content and relaxed thanks to its dream-like flow and the feel good factor that it manages to inject you with when you do such pleasant things as bring a dead tree back to full bloom or spot a rainbow arching impressively across the pale blue skies.
Despite many of the hands-on previews suggesting otherwise, Flower is not all sweetness and roses, but surprisingly it also has a darker side. The gaming press were deliberately given access to the just first three levels of Flower, which just showcase the bright and colorful visuals of lush green meadows, bright blue skies and swirling multi-colored petals. However, the final two other levels offer a total different experience from the relaxing scenes that you’ve just enjoyed, which is where, for me, Flower loses its charm and appeal somewhat.
During the first three levels, Flower looks great, with blades of grass swaying gently in the wind and parting realistically when you come swooping down through them, while the stunning sunsets and cloud-filled skies create a memorable backdrop. The way that the range of different colored flowers brings the whole world to life and turns dull environments into beautiful landscapes is also an impressive sight, but the game loses its visual appeal in the latter levels. New gameplay elements come into play, where you need to circle around bales of hay — that don’t actually look like hay — and interact with man-made objects, such as streetlamps, wind machines, pylons, and high rise buildings. The developer has deliberately lured you into a false sense a security, perhaps to emphasize how man has ruined nature, but these latter levels haven’t been handled as well as the initial scenes and graphically don’t compare. It’s a good idea, but it makes Flower feel a little disjointed and it spoils the serenity that was so expertly crafted early on. It just doesn’t create the same impact on your senses.
It actually all comes as a bit of a surprise. The fourth level in Flower takes place at night-time with rain lashing down, while the last level takes part in the city. Under the cover of darkness your petal gets charged with electricity and thus glows brightly. It’s up to you to follow patterns in the fields, moving and tilting your controller to turn on street lamps or circle hay bales. There are still flowers to open up, but this time they don’t create a melody, but instead sound out a discord of notes that jar the ear. Pleasant scenes are replaced by tasks such as turning off the electricity of fallen broken pylons that knock you back and singe your petals should you bump into them. While the last two levels do open up new gameplay elements, such as having to smash into scaffolding attached to buildings, and it does offer a sudden change of direction that will undoubtedly appeal to those who were hoping for more than just collecting flowers, it’s just not as much fun and will come as a disappointment to those expecting to see more stunning locations.
Flower is set to divide the PS3 community. Some will love it, others will hate it and others still, like me, will think it’s alright. Unless further downloadable content is planned though, it’s not a game that you’ll revisit once you’ve had your two hours worth of fun. There’s no reason to go back to Flower other than to show visitors how cool the Sixaxis controller is and how well it has been implemented. With a price of $9.99 USD (6.29 GBP), it’s cheap enough to warrant giving Flower a shot. Ultimately, it’s an evening worth of entertainment and you’ll probably be satisfied with the result. Just don’t expect to be talking about Flower or playing it beyond the next couple of weeks.