Review: Flower

This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of Flower.

Games classified as “casual” are often unfairly overlooked on the current generation of home consoles. There seems to be a stigma that an experience that’s very accessible is too simple, or should be relegated to the domain of mobile devices while the home entertainment experience is for bigger, faster, more!

Sometimes, a smooth and streamlined experience is exactly what you need. I can’t think of a title on a current generation home system that fits that description more than Flower, a bright and vibrant title that I’m still enjoying nearly a year after its release. The controls are graceful and easy to grasp; you move around by tilting your controller in the desired direction, and tap any button for slight gusts of wind to propel yourself. Seriously, that’s it.

There’s no interface once you start playing, only a brief flash of crimson if you become damaged. Even the main menu is precise and pretty, with each level depicted as a single pot on your window sill that blossoms when you complete it and adds additional leaflets if you find the hidden petals.

Developer thatgamecompany has imbued their world with a vitality that few developers have either the inclination or ambition to achieve. The entire world is vibrant: colours are incredibly rich, movement is smooth and the parts of every level seamlessly integrate with each other. The physics are really nicely done; it feels authentic as you whistle past blades of grass or get blown by a wind current, but there’s just enough hints of stylization without becoming exaggeration to make sure that you notice and feel the motions of the world around you.

Leads Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chan have created something really special, and it starts with their design philosophy. Flower was clearly designed as a commentary of the balance between the natural and the artificial in the world around us, a choice that probably draws heavily on their experience in their birthplaces of Venezuela and China respectively. It’s a conflict that becomes more explicit as the game progresses, once your task of bringing life back to the world encounters greater and more dangerous threats from the chaos that the man made world around you has left behind.

What really stands out in this respect is the ability of thatgamecompany to present this story without a single human character or dialogue. It provides the structure for the story, but allows (and really, demands) that the gamer draws from his or her own experience and views to create their own meaning. As Santiago notes in this developer diary from GameTrailers, their team builds the game around an emotion: the narrative, art direction, gameplay and music are all built around that foundation.

Speaking of which, the music is gorgeous. Each level starts off with a simple melody, and you can accentuate and add notes to it as you pick up pedals while soaring and swooping to your destination. The effects are all soft and subtle except for the harsh tones of the industrial world around you, a development choice that suits the emotion of the game.

Flower is a breath of fresh air for all ages, and a unique title that stands out for its style, gameplay and ambition. It’s one of the most interesting and important titles of 2009, and a ride that everyone should experience.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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