By removing many of the barriers associated with traditional game distribution, digital downloads offer the promise of more diverse offerings. Flower is such a game. Created by the development team behind the quirky flOw, Flower is unusual in that it's less a game and more an experience. You don't necessarily "play" Flower; you interact with it. It's beautiful, stirring, and it may have some rethinking their definitions of art.
Flower opens with a view from inside an apartment overlooking a dreary city. Potted flowers appear on the windowsill and serve as the gateway to six worlds, each viewed from the perspective of a particular petal. While there is no text, narrative, or cutscenes explaining what you are supposed to do or why you are doing it, as you progress, you will reflect on the environment and how it's easy to overlook, or take for granted, nature's inherent beauty. Fortunately, your petal has mettle.
Flower's design can best be described as relaxed. There are no points to track, no time constraints, and no right or wrong way to play. Your goal is simply to touch groups of flower buds, triggering them to bloom, which unlocks other areas of the world. In essence, you are the equivalent of E.T.'s glowing index finger. Finding the exit on each stage sends you back to your apartment window, with a new flowerpot on the windowsill serving as a portal to another world.
If you're the type of player who needs clearly defined goals to accomplish it's not for you, but it's a great companion on a sleepy weekend afternoon.
Movement throughout the worlds is accomplished by tilting the SixAxis controller left, right, back, and forward. The controls are extremely responsive, and easily one of the best uses of the PS3's motion-sensitive controller to date. To propel the petals forward, you simply press and hold any of the buttons to simulate a gust of wind.
Instead of populating the environment with randomly arranged flowers, the developers decided to position the buds in lines or circles, giving you a clear idea of where to explore next. You can also tell where to go based on the landscape's colors, with early levels having crop circle-like rings of dead grass amidst a sea of verdant green. Unlockable trophies encourage players to find hidden flowers or to take meditative breaks between sessions.
Flower's gameplay is just as unique as its design. Literally anyone can pick up the controller and get it immediately. If there's one problem it's that there's not much depth for experienced players.
Flower relies on its presentation more than most games, as the visuals and sound work in tandem to elicit emotions from the player. Flower's lush and haunting vistas, ambient sound effects, and striking use of color encourage you to explore dream-like landscapes using flower petals and the wind. There are no animals, people, or insects; just plants, trees, rock formations, and reminders of man's march toward industrialization.
The orchestral soundtrack is extremely subtle, with each flower you coax to life eliciting its own note. Swirling petals, majestic crescendos, and dynamic transformations vividly portray your influence on the world. And it's not something you easily forget.
If you're looking for high-speed thrills and white-knuckled action, it should come as no great surprise that Flower is not your cup of tea. Yet its atypical approach is precisely what makes it so intriguing for those yearning for something off the beaten path. It's a short experience, with the six levels lasting a little over an hour, but it's one modestly priced release that will linger with you long after its bloom fades.
Reviewed on PlayStation 3.