Shortly after the release of the PS3 in 2006, one indie game developer took the old, rudimentary PlayStation Store by storm. The developer was thatgamecompany, and their release of “flOw” was met with overall acclaim and commercial success. The game proved that the PS3 can handle multiplayer, that the PSN is a viable platform to sell games on, that the SIXAXIS’s motion controls aren’t a complete gimmick, and, most importantly, it opened the floodgates for indie developers to release experimental and unique games on a large, previously unimaginable scale.

Flower marks thatgamecompany’s third game release, and like their previous two games, Flower is a terribly short, but completely Zen-like, experience. In fact, Flower is probably the most peaceful, vibrant, and poetic game I’ve ever played. I say poetic because the game tends to break all the standards set over the past sixty years of what a video game should be. In fact, I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty completing this review because of how unique Flower really is.

Throughout the course of the game, there are no explicit instructions; you discover everything through experimentation or basic demonstration. In fact, the only real hint you are given as to how to play the game is on the XMB, where you are told to “tilt the controller to soar, press any button to blow wind, relax, enjoy”. This lack of instructions really gives off an uncanny sense of freedom and allows every player to develop his or her own way of playing the game.

Geat controls allow you to glide across entire fields with ease.

Geat controls allow you to glide across entire fields with ease.

This leads to the question, “So how do you play the game?” That’s a fair enough query, seeing as how not much can be deciphered through screenshots or most videos. Essentially, you control a flowing wind bent on beautifying the world with the help of thousands of little flower petals that you pick up along the way. You can change the wind’s direction by simply tilting the controller in the direction you wish to go, and push it along by pressing any button. For more precise speed control, you can use R2/L2 or the analog sticks.

When you first boot up the game, you’re presented with a single flower in a pot on a windowsill. The flower is in a dusty apartment: through the window, you can see a drab cityscape. When you select the flower, you’re presented with a short montage of the city’s sad condition, and eventually sent into the flower’s dream world.

The dream world is one of the most beautiful scenes you will ever lay your eyes on. A single yellow flower sways gently in the breeze; a massive green field full of millions of individual flowing blades of grass surrounds you. With the press of any button, the flower blooms and a single petal floats above the landscape. The game has begun, and with the tilt of your SIXAXIS, you can easily float on to wherever you may desire. Floating high above the field, you can see a vast green countryside leading off into infinity.

Stunning sights like this are common and breathtaking.

Stunning sights like this are common and breathtaking.

When you finally come down and approach another unopened flower in the field, a satisfying pizzicato will sound (think a perfectly timed pluck on a string), the flower will bloom, and another petal will join you for the ride. As you pass by more flowers, your chain of petals will grow more and more impressive, and the music will begin to swell into an inspirational chorus. The goal quickly becomes apparent as you find special groups of glowing yellow flowers swaying on dead patches of grass. Upon activation, these groups will trigger something special, like the sprouting of glowing red flowers that, when activated, will heal the ground beneath them, making the field even greener.

And that basically sums up the whole game: float around, spot a problem, solve the problem, float around some more. Admittedly, the actual gameplay aspect of Flower is rather shallow. In contrast to my previous review of Comet Crash, where gameplay was everything and visuals were unimportant, Flower is all about the artistic aspect of gaming. Rather than thinking of Flower as a conventional game, think of it as a fun and interactive experience—a revolutionary way of presenting an artistic masterpiece. The audio and visuals are perfected in a way that will manipulate the emotions of even the manliest of men. Completing even the smallest task will leave you feeling like you’ve done the world a wonderful service, and as the story progresses, you’ll probably start hating the idea of cities and pollution.

In all, there are six playable “dreams” and one playable credit scene. Each dream presents an entirely unique atmosphere and goal to the player. One dream has you lighting up fields at midnight, while another has you activating wind turbines. Each dream is completely different and will leave you wanting to discover more. That’s where, just as in flOw, the biggest problem rears its ugly head.

After just a few hours of play, the game is over, and presents very little reason to return. There are a few secret flowers to find throughout the course of the game, but once they’re collected, there’s really nothing interesting left to do. The most disappointing part about Flower is its length, and unless you want to show off what your sweet home theater system can do, you probably won’t even pick up the game ever again once completed.

Closing Comments:

Flower presents a unique gaming experience that has never been seen before. Once again, thatgamecompany has proven that it can create something beautiful, and has provided the PlayStation Network with yet another impressive exclusive. While the game is a guaranteed revelation and unparalleled Zen experience, with an asking price of $9.99, any gamer on a budget will probably have some form of buyer’s remorse a week after purchase.

The Rundown:

Platform: PS3 (via PSN)
Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Action / Zen
Offline Multiplayer: None
Online Multiplayer: None
ESRB Rating: E
Official Website: Developer / Console

Presentation: 10

Flower comes to the PSN as a compact finished product with a level of polish and innovative storytelling rarely seen in the gaming world.

Graphics: 9.5

Flower is one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever see. There are no slowdowns in visuals whatsoever. If you’re just looking for something to show off the abilities of your home theater system, Flower is the game for you.

Sound: 9.5

The music swells up at just the right moments, petal collection is rewarded with satisfying chimes, and everything just feels right.

Gameplay: 8

Other than occasional frustration with trying to produce precise maneuvers/movements, the motion sensing works like a charm—better than any game on the system so far. Each level presents an entirely unique experience and gives the player a real sense of accomplishment.

Lasting Appeal: 4

Although easily accessible and great for introducing casual gamers to something great, Flower will grab your attention and quickly lose it in a matter of days, if not hours. Unfortunately, it’s this lack of replayability that ruins the game’s worth. An empty spot in the menu/apartment leads one to suspect the possibility of downloadable content in the future, but… come on… that’s just cheap.

OVERALL: 7.7 / C+

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