Yesterday wasn’t any fun for my girlfriend. She had a terrible day at work and was unable to snap out of a somber mood. I told her to check out thatgamecompany’s Flower and see if the downloadable title would make her feel any better. I explained to her that when I played the game, I felt more relaxed and less at odds with the world than I have in a long time.
Flower (PlayStation Network)
Flower does more than amuse. It tickles the senses and stimulates an emotional response. It took me away from my vexing week and plopped me into a world rife with color and sublime subtlety. I found myself unable to conjure up that previous bile-building fervor that was beginning to boil over before I sat down to play. My fuming was replaced by a child-like sense of excitement and an intense desire to take part in the game’s unspoken narrative. You can call thatgamecompany’s PSN title experimental or reasoned -- I’ll debate that later -- but it seems prudent that I begin by saying Flower is divine.
Unlike most games that dabble with motion on the PS3, Flower provides a scheme that isn’t spotty and always works the way you desire. As you harness the wind and make flowers blossom to set loose a petal, you won’t encounter any problems. This is due in large part to the way you hold the controller. Instead of a standard position, you’re required to hold it horizontally.
Flower tells a story. It has a silent narrative that you have a hand in shaping. I won’t pretend to know what the designers wanted me to see and feel; however, I believe there is an obvious overarching theme of change persistent throughout the game. There’s room for interpretation, obviously, but Flower isn’t much different than Doom: You’re a petal-gathering Marine, defending yourself and possibly Mars from hellspawn and darkness.
Because of Flower's last level, I now know what a visual orgasm feels like. Flower is a gorgeous, mellow experience that, regardless of what many might say, is undoubtedly a game.
Which is sort of the problem.
When Flower's main priority is showing you really beautiful images and interesting mechanics, like in the very last level or the (completely optional) grass-painting section early on, it's truly a wonder to behold. In these moments, Flower felt like nothing I'd ever experienced before -- a work of art where the focus is on calm exploration or visual rewards, unrestrained by conventional "go here, do this" game design.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what the other 80% of the game entails.
While the controls are fluid and the environments are jaw-droppingly beautiful when they want to be, there's just not much chance to enjoy them when much of the game boils down to a tedious, unnecessary set of "collect all these flower petals to open the next area" objectives. This sort of gameplay is somewhat easy to tolerate for the first two levels, but -- even for a game whose running time only lasts two hours, maximum -- it gets incredibly tired near the middle. I didn't find it relaxing, or fun, or terribly interesting to fly around an environment trying to pick up every last required flower petal in order to progress. Additionally, once you've cleared a particular area, you're treated to a short cut-scene of that area exploding with life and color; this is tolerable early on thanks to how beautiful the nature-gasms look, but once you get into levels where you'll be clearing up to a dozen different areas in sequence, it just gets rather irritating and repetitive to have camera control yanked away every time the game wants to show you that, yes, you just successfully infused color back into this part of the landscape.
Flower feels a little unsure of itself; since the game was so unconventional in terms of control and narrative and cosmetics, it's as if the designers were worried about alienating the player through even more unconventional objectives and game mechanics. As it stands, the game has two or three truly brilliant, imaginative, awe-inspiring moments that happen to be unfortunately bookended by tedious, uninteresting, collect-a-thon gameplay. Those wondrous moments alone make Flower a must-buy for any PS3 owner with an extra ten bucks to spend, but one can't help but lament the fact that it doesn't provide the consistently surprising, jaw-dropping experience it well could.
Flower feels like the first step in a right direction -- much more so than any of thatgamecompany's previous releases -- but having played through it twice, I can't help but feel that it could have been a gargantuan leap.
Overall Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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