February 9, 2009 - thatgamecompany has depicted something that I never once imagined: what would a flower's dream look like if we could see it? Flower, a PS3 downloadable that comes as a spiritual successor to flOw, is one of the most beautiful games that I've ever played. Not just because the visuals are entirely breathtaking, but also because the experience of playing it offers more enjoyment, emotion and enlightenment than any game I've tried in years.

Before you read on, keep in mind that Flower isn't quite for everyone. There will be those that experiment with it but won't see the point, as it strays so far from the traditional spectrum of gameplay systems, but it's truly worth playing.

Flower is a poem, where you as the player participate in the dreams of flowers confined to the ever-changing landscape of a colorless city. Each dream, or stage, revolves around a different theme and gameplay objective, but your method of control remains the same: tilt the controller to direct a series of flower petals through beautiful environments. Press any button to stir up a wind that will coax them along. As you begin with one flower petal, you'll soon touch other flowers and gather more petals, generally influencing the environment in a way that pleases the dreamer. This setup works amazingly well to create varying tasks for you to enjoy.

Your ethereal playground.
Your ethereal playground.

As odd as it sounds, thatgamecompany has created one of the most elegantly crafted gaming experiences of all time, where learning only takes a moment -- if it doesn't already come naturally. I've never felt motion controls work so seamlessly before, but Flower is a testament to how effective the scheme can be when used properly. Even turning the controller upside down will cause the petals to blow in a loop or travel towards the camera. Furthermore, the fact that the game only requires one button (any button on the controller) makes it totally approachable. I found the right analog stick to be my favorite method of controlling the wind, as applying a light amount of pressure caused a weaker breeze and subsequently allowed for more precise control.

In truth, that's really all there is to Flower from a gameplay perspective, but the experience is much more fulfilling than you could understand just from reading about it. Watching the petals join together in a subtle blend of light and musical notes while thousands of blades of grass billow back to life stirred deeply-rooted emotions in me. The majesty of it all stems from the fact that Flower tells you so much by saying so little -- as if a Zen poem had been lovingly shaped into a videogame. This is the sort of experience that anyone can enjoy with the right attitude. There is no death or failure. You simply complete the objectives and solve organic puzzles in your own time while basking in the euphoria of the game's visuals and music.

But for gamers more interested in traditional challenges, there are secrets to be found in each stage, as well as extremely clever Trophies that tie in brilliantly with the game's overarching philosophy. Although the entire game can be "completed" in under an hour and a half, there is an impressive amount of replay value that comes just from playing in the sweeping fields. For example, one dream allows you to change your petals to one of three different colors. Skirting across the grass in this state will paint the grass that color, giving you the freedom to color an entire valley as you see fit. This is entirely optional and unobtrusive in its design, but adds a layer of gameplay onto the stage that enhances the richness of the experience.

It's just the nature of life.
It's just the nature of life.

Although I admit that I would have liked to see even more in Flower, I am completely comfortable with the game's length. The reward you receive emotionally is easily worth the ten dollar price tag. Flower is also the type of game that you can come back to just for the joy of playing it again. It's so streamlined and elegant that I'm even content to let it sit idly on my PS3, as it will quietly switch to stunning landscape shots of the current stage.

Closing Comments
thatgamecompany's Co-founder, Jenova Chen, told me that Flower is experimenting with territory outside the traditional "fun pie," an abstract pie chart Chen constructed that maps out the emotions and motives of modern game genres. If you're interested in something very unique and very powerful, Flower is a must-play. It will especially resonate with people that possess a deep connection with nature and spirituality, as it's the type of game that reaches out to us and whispers about the beauty of life -- without saying anything at all.

Another Take

Why does Flower have objectives? That's the question I kept coming back to again and again playing Jenova Chen's newest stab into the gaming ether. Flower is a pretty game, both aesthetically and conceptually. Moving a colorful swirl of flower petals across a sea of tall grass using tilt controls is poetic. Levels are flush with colors and evocative piano music to match the central concept: a city dweller caught in a series of pastoral daydreams.

My disappointment with Flower is that the gameplay stands in direct contrast to the core concept. Levels aren't open-ended ruminations where the player is encouraged to roam at their own pace and create their own experience. They are linear trawls with clearly delineated objectives. You must fly through a certain number of one flower type to activate the sprouting of a new flower type. Once you fly through enough of the new flower types, you reactivate the whole area with color and move on to the next area.

Instead of being able to let go, I found my brain constantly fretting over how many flowers I had left to activate and wondering if I had missed anything. The core gameplay obstructed me from immersing myself in the game's surreal aesthetics. In contrast to flOw, or other games built around open-ended experiences (Endless Ocean, Electroplankton), I always feel like I'm on a leash when playing Flower. It's gameplay by checklist, not free-form exploration and player expression.

There are wonderful moments in Flower. Using the motion controls to steer your petal cloud over the grassy plains is beautifully tuned. After a few minutes it becomes subconscious and dreamlike. The night levels can be especially lovely, with your petals picking up an electric blue glow that leaves trails of light in the darkness. The daytime level where you soar through patches of black and white on your way to spreading color throughout the field is stunning.

While individual elements of Flower are exciting, the overall experience they're used in feels like a compromise to me. It approaches a new kind of gameplay based on pure aesthetics and player-defined experience, and anchors it in the crudest assembly of checkpoint objectives. Flower is a wonderful attempt to create something that moves beyond what we normally expect from modern videogames. It deserves to be experienced and argued about. It's got a beautiful vocabulary, but, to me, the sentence those florid words are used in feels disjunctive and awkward.

IGN Ratings for Flower (PS3)
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9.5 Presentation
A nearly magical elegance and sophistication rarely seen in gaming. A simple story that teaches you a lot, if you're willing to listen.
9.0 Graphics
A superb achievement in visuals for a downloadable title. The first level alone is astonishing.
9.0 Sound
This game must be played with sound. The music and effects work brilliantly to complement the dreamy experience of moving the controller.
8.5 Gameplay
Some of the most intuitive motion controls I've ever used. But Flower's significance extends far beyond its stage-to-stage objectives.
7.0 Lasting Appeal
Flower is very short, but there are secrets to find that will encourage gamers to come back. Furthermore, it's one of the rare gems that's rewarding to share with (girl/boy)friends.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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