Flower
by Polly



It's not often I get to review a tech demo, but in Flower's case, I can certainly make an exception. Okay, maybe it's not fair to call Flower a tech-demo. It does have all the makings of a game, but it definitely feels like it'd be used to sell the graphical prowess of the PS3 rather than being marketed as a fully-featured interactive experience.

Admittedly, the whole idea of Flower seemed really pseudo-hippie/artsy-fartsy to me at first and the fact that the game is almost entirely motion-controlled didn't really help its case any. But, I guess one can be surprised if they open their mind a little. Well, it's either that or that the game was just interesting enough for me to finally pull the buying trigger on it once it went on sale for $4.99, because the very thought of buying something that's essentially not much a game on PSN for $9.99 seemed a tad absurd. Those were my thoughts prior to buying Flower anyway.

So what's all the hub-bub then? In Flower you're the wind navigating the dreams within flowers. Talk about an ambitious concept. You whoosh around with all your majestic whooshy-whooshy might and pick up flower petals to bring life to the land. That's pretty much it, in a nutshell. Along the way, you'll also have to perform some fairly simple tasks such as illuminating ponds, firing up wimdmills, and strangely enough, bringing electric back to a dead city, but rarely do these little "puzzles" ever require much thought. Just find more flowers to collect and you'll be on your way to completing each area of the game. The simplicity of Flower's gameplay is definitely one of its chief merits, because when coupled with the luscious visuals and pleasing audio, they make for one hell of a relaxing game. Absolutely perfect for winding down for the evening after a long work-day.

Flower is definitely Sony looking to do a little showing off and with the visuals presented here, they certainly have something to stand up and be proud of. All of the graphical processing power housed inside that over-large George Foreman Grill'ish exterior is put to some amazing use here, producing what I can only call the prettiest game I've ever seen. You'll WANT to just fly around each and every area taking in the beautiful scenery and enjoying amazing little touches of detail including how each and every blade of grass reacts to the changing of the wind. All six Stages of the game (save for the first) start out drab and damn near dead and flourish to beautiful, beautiful life as you fly around collecting petals and bringing sweet revival to all the land. They're all awe-inspiring in their own way, but the stand-out of all of them for me has to be witnessing an entire city being brought back to the land of the living. To me, those are the most dumbfoundingly gorgeous moments of the game and simply have to be seen in motion to be enjoyed. There's no way I can describe it well enough and screenshots honestly don't do it justice. Even low-quality YouTube videos aren't good enough. This is a game tailor-made for the HDTV experience, and I feel you're losing a lot of visual impact if you're playing it on anything else.

With the visuals, there's only one real minor gripe and it has to do with the legion of flower petals you're carrying around. Again, it's an absolutely wondrous effect, spiralling all around and catching sight of your "tail" wrapping around behind you, but it can make seeing in front of you a bit of a pain at times, because the stream is so dense. It may just be me, but I lost my sense of direction more than a few times flying through my own petal storm. It's not anything worth being upset over, but it can be a bit distracting when you're trying to make accurate swoops through large bits of scenery or collect stray flowers.

The audio compliments the visuals in a way many games strive to, but often fail at pulling off. The music always fits the mood of each dream, be it a quiet and peaceful piano piece for bright and sunny days or dark and moody tones for dreary thunderstorm full of dread, and the environmental effects of wind and rain and what have you couldn't sound any more perfect. The audio and visuals are simply in perfect sync with one another. They both stand out as exceptional, but neither one takes full control of the experience, essentially making them fit together as a single piece.

As I've mentioned before, I'm no big fan of motion controls, but Flower absolutely nails it. Using the Sixaxis to glide your stream of flower petals through the air honestly couldn't be easier or more accurate. The only time you ever have to use a button on the gamepad is to initiate acceleration of the wind. The simplicity of the controls is just another way the game immerses you and makes Flower such an enjoyable experience. If you're one of those people that played StarFox and thought that leaning with your gamepad back and forth would somehow help your Arwing bank harder, this game is definitely for you. There's honestly not much more I can say about the controls other than that they're spot-on, though I do have a few gripes about how the game is built around them.

Accelerating through Flower's expansive environments is fun as hell. It's the game's height of freedom and beauty. Unfortunately, in order to complete many of the tasks to advance in any area, you won't be spending too much time zooming around. Each new area of a Stage is typically opened by blooming small and large patches of flowers, and in order to open the new area you have to bloom EVERY single flower in every single patch. This usually can't be done at high rates of speed, so you'll spend most of your time tapping the accelerate button and making sharp turns to slowly fly back to the flowers you missed and pick up the petals. I feel they could have handled this a bit better by expanding the "hit box" of the wind you control, or letting your massive tail of flower petals pick up the strays. So, in the end, some portions of Stages can feel more like hunt-and-peck sessions trying to find and bloom the flowers you missed, rather than the free-flight awesomeness that the game excels at.

My only other real gripe is that Stages 3 and 5 feel a little out of place in the game as a whole. Mind you, both stages are just as visually impressive as all the others, they just don't feel like they belong in the same game due to the mechanics. Stage 3 is almost entirely a breakneck ride on the wind with you cruising through curving valleys and canyons trying to bloom as many flowers as you can along the way. It's the best Sonic The Hedgehog experience in years! Joking aside, I like the area, but it's a radical change from the calm style of the two previous stages. Stage 5, my other minor complaint, has you flying around in the aftermath of a terrible lightning strike with downed towers and lines all over the place, trying to awaken the plant life to bring electricity back...Okaaaaay... The problem here is that towers and other obstructions you haven't "healed" yet can actually damage you. You never die, but it feels strange when the whole game spends its time telling you that you can't do anything wrong, and then suddenly my flower petals are being electrocuted and my screen blanks out red like a first-person shooter because the damn towers are hard to actually navigate through. You can end up being juggled around in this sequence so much that it's quite easy to lose your bearing if you're not careful. Again, it just feels really out of place to me and very disruptive to the game's otherwise calming nature.

For me, Flower was a beautiful and relaxing, yet uplifting experience. Even with the flaws I've mentioned, I've never played anything like it and as far as videogames go, I've never seen or heard anything like it either. It struck a chord in me that I never expected a videogame to, ever since I started gaming back in the 80's. There's an odd and peaceful child-like whimsy that comes from playing it and just enjoying the freedom of flight while taking in the stunning visuals. It'll certainly get a few replays, simply because I love looking at it so much. About the only things I can hold against purchasing Flower are its price point and that a couple of Stages feel like they could have been handled differently. Other than that, if you don't mind paying $10 for a glorified tech-demo and wanna put that HDTV of yours to some very relaxing use, I say go for it and enjoy the bliss of the freedom of flight.






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