Flower

Guns, boobs and loud music: three key ingredients in making a game, and three things your grandma, partner or kids probably don't want to see. Unbelieveably though, there is actually a secret fourth ingredient so powerful that games can be based entirely around this fourth thing, with absolutely no dependence on any of the in-your-face features traditionally used in game development. Playstation 2 masterpieces like Ico and Okami showed just how incredible a game could be, with little more than a stick or paintbrush as weaponry, no boobs to be seen, and music that ranged from tranquil through to stirring, without ever touching on loud. Though it's tricky to specify exactly what the fourth ingredient is, the closest description possible is simply this: emotion. If this is all a bit bewildering, look away now, because Flower, available on the Playstation Store, is a game that knows nothing but the fourth ingredient.

Flower

If you've played flOw, also developed by thatgamecompany, then you'll have a reasonable idea what to expect here. As with its water-based older brother, Flower relies on Sixaxis motion control to navigate a series of levels, controlling a main entity that grows as you progress. In the case of Flower, which has evolved into three dimensions, compared with flOw's layered, two-dimensional structure, you control the wind, gliding over the tops of flowers and causing them to bloom. As you pass by, a single petal from each is added to your trail, creating a beautiful swirl of colour and light in your wake. The aim of each level is simply to bloom appropriate groups of flowers to allow you to progress until you reach the end of the level. The beautiful part about that though, is that each level actually represents the dreams of one little plant. You begin looking at a lonely plant potted next to a window in a city apartment, and must first complete the flower's dream to allow the plant to awaken. In doing so, more plants will appear next to the window, allowing you to delve into more dreams.

Coming from the team behind flOw, it's no surprise that the motion-sensor controls of the Sixaxis are put to good use. The sensitivity is gauged well and the control feels quite natural. It's easy to find yourself grabbing for the analog sticks initially, but as you get used to the flow of the game, controlling the power of the wind and gliding within inches of each petal becomes second nature. It's fortunate too, since a later level features not just friendly petals, but also some dangerous obstacles that are certainly best avoided. The general theme of the game sees you moving in the direction of a city, with levels becoming steadily more perilous and dark as a result, but that's all the more reason to help flowers bloom and send life cascading back across the terrain in an incandescent display of beauty and colour.

Flower

Graphically, Flower is quite beautiful and, to some, screams "Cell Processor". It appears to do many of the things Sony tried to emphasize about the Cell Processor when the PS3 was first announced. With little real technical knowledge, a simple interpretation of one of the Cell Processor's strengths is that it allows many objects to be handled independently, which is exactly what Flower does. The streams of petals carried by the wind, the movement of the grass below, and the flowers blooming across the landscape are all brought to life seemingly as individuals, each with their own personality. The sheer variety of colour is unmatched on Playstation 3, even making the funky visuals of Ratchet and Clank seem somewhat tame. A particularly stunning example of Flower's beauty is in a level where your petals glow in different colours, allowing you to literally paint the floor below. As you soar across the grassy terrain, trails of varying colour paint the ground, leaving some quite beautiful patterns.

Brilliantly, the visual beauty of Flower is accentuated by a subtle, but moving score. Like flOw before it, Flower makes great use of the music to build atmosphere, with great dynamic range. In some levels, the music is positive and playful, perfectly complementing the action on screen as you sore over green fields causing beautiful flowers to bloom, while in other levels, filled with darkness, mystery and danger, the music is far more intimidating and almost mournful, as if grieving over the tortured land below. The sound effects are nicely matched with the music, so you can expect sharp, abrasive noises when danger calls, and more positive twinklings when all is roses. There's perhaps not the uniqueness of flOw, which was lent an extra level of oddness, thanks to the relatively unexplored nature of the game's setting, but Flower feels complete, with an extremely satisfying sound ensemble.

Flower

The main criticism of Flower lies pretty much in a single area though. When the game is going, there's little to fault, but sadly the experience is not a long one. The main levels are few in number, and easy to complete, so it's unlikely that the game will take more than a few hours to finish. There's also no multiplayer options (online or otherwise) to add to the lastability, but there are at least trophies, adding a few extra objectives that might also show you things in the game that may otherwise have been missed. If you take your time to find all of Flower's hidden features, there's certainly more to do, but the game is considerably shorter than disc-based releases, and shorter even than most store titles. That said, the experience is made all the more potent as a result, since the clever ideas and moving moments of the game are not dilluted across extra levels added simply to expand the game's length.

In a world where the games industry is gradually becoming forced to stick with tried and tested formulae, making use of the latest important film license and relying on catching the eye of the casual gamer, it's extremely refreshing to see a title brave enough to do something different, interesting and enjoyable. Flower is a beautiful game and one that should be enjoyed by all, but will be ignored by many. Though it may be short, Flower is sure to leave a long-lasting impression.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

thatgamecompany

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2009-02-12

Trophies:

14

Review summary

Gameplay:

A beautiful experience built on emotion

Graphics:

Glorious visuals that will brighten any screen

Sound:

A great range of music from sedate to stirring

Lastability:

A short game, but with replay incentive

8.9

Supernova

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