Flower is the latest title from thatgamecompany, and just like their last outing, Flow, this is not by any means your average game. While Flow seemed like a game where the player was meant to experiment and find their own means of enjoying the game, Flower is much more driven in its play style and seems more like an experiment for the developer than for the gamer.
In Flower you control a gust of wind as you move from flower to flower, collecting petals and unlocking areas until you make it to the end goal of the level. This is all done using the Sixaxis to control direction in three dimensions while hitting any button to accelerate. The Sixaxis controls are very well done and I never had issue with them, though this could be due to the mostly relaxed nature of the game and not because the controls are particularly tight as far as Sixaxis use goes. As you pass over and activate flowers you’ll gain a single petal from each one that will be added to your gust of wind. This lends an aesthetic quality to finding every flower possible even if you they aren't necessary for progression, and as you add petals your wind gust will get longer and you’ll be able to travel faster.
The biggest difference between Flower and thatgamecompany’s last endeavor is the use of an unspoken narrative that ties the entire experience together. From the starting screen you choose between flowers on a windowsill, each one representing a level comprised of the flower’s dream. Advancing through a level is done by blowing your gust of wind past a shining flower that will activate something to help you continue the level. There are other objectives that come up during a play through, and even a few obstacles that can damage your wind gust, but none of these should be any real impediment as I never actually died throughout my play through and I'm not sure whether it's even possible to actually die.
The game is very relaxing, which makes sense when you think about the context. There is little I could think of more relaxing than being a gust of wind in a pristine field of grass looking for flowers, but that isn’t to say that Flower is a one trick pony. The levels run the gambit from relaxing, exhilarating, empowering and at points even somewhat frightening. Where Flow made its levels the same and the difference was the character you controlled, Flower uses the same character among wildly different levels to tell a story, and to me that makes for a much more immersive and meaningful experience. Flower definitely has a poignant message for those who care to listen, but it never really intrudes on the gameplay for those who would rather just enjoy the game for what it is. Each level conveys a different mood and contains different challenges to keep things fresh, and later levels are completely different from the first few you try (there are a total of six levels).
The visuals in Flower are a true joy and could be seen as one of the game’s best draws. The blades of grass all waving in the breeze as you pass by, the spectacle of flower petals as you twist across your own path, everything in this game visually is fantastic. I was worried that I would grow tired of the color green when seeing initial videos of this game, but most levels are not dominated by green grass, so that was not an issue. Visually the game is perfect for what it is meant to convey, and I have a hard time finding fault with it.
Audio presentation is probably Flower’s second best quality. Music in the game is classical and each level has its own tracks that do very well to convey the mood, although they aren’t of high enough quality to be remembered individually. Sound effects are as high in quality as the music and really help to make the game more immersive. Hearing the wind blowing as you move through the blades of grass is almost exactly as I would imagine being a gust of wind would sound like, and each flower that you pass by and activate emits a single note. These notes can be quite meaningful and pretty when a sequence of flowers all with different notes are activated and treat you to a short song of your own “design” as you pass through them.
Flower’s gameplay fits the overall game very well, but there is not a lot of depth to it. You’ll have fun, but I could definitely see it getting repetitive if the game was longer. I was happy to find that there were obstacles throughout the game to keep each level fresh, and some power-ups that help you to get through obstacles or paint your designs along the grass, but these really only serve to keep you playing through the game, and don’t lead to enough depth that I can envision people replaying the game solely for the gameplay.
Sadly, just as Flow’s worst quality was value, Flower follows in its footsteps. The title is only ten dollars, but you’ll only get 2 hours of content out of that. There are unlockable trophies for finding the three secret flowers in each of the 6 levels and performing various other tasks, but there is little else to make one come back to the game, other than the desire to play around in the levels and take in the admittedly fantastic presentation of the narrative all over again.
Overall, Flower is a very interesting foray into gaming that improves upon its spiritual predecessor in almost every way. The presentation is amazing, the gameplay is relaxing yet varied, and the narrative and message behind the title is truly something worth telling, but the short play time and lack of depth in gameplay keep this title from being a top tier title. That said, Flower is still very fun and a worthwhile experience as long as you understand that your ten dollars will only get you two to three hours of amazing presentation and poignant narrative.