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Flower
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: thatgamecompany - TGC
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
I remember when Clive Barker and Roger Ebert got into the middle of a heated debate on the "games as art" argument. Personally, I have no stake in the matter - I love games of all sorts, and whether or not some people think games can be art is of no consequence to me. Be that as it may, development house thatgamecompany has given proponents of the theory excellent ammunition. Flower is a soul-stirring experiment in pure beauty, and it should not be missed by anyone who can connect to the PlayStation Network.

When I finished downloading and installing Flower, I scrolled through my PlayStation 3's Xross Media Bar, hoping for a trailer-like preview of what I was in for. Instead of seeing a gameplay montage, I was greeted by a still picture of a grassy plain with one yellow flower sticking out from the grass. Above the plain, a trail of differently-colored flower petals outlined the swirling wind. Accompanying this serene landscape was some of the most relaxing and simply beautiful guitar music I have ever heard. If a game's Xross Media Bar representation grabs your attention long enough to stall you from actually playing the game itself, that's usually a very good sign.

Flower's aesthetic brilliance cannot be defined by any word in the English language. The only word that even comes close to describing the game's outstanding production values is "transcendent." Every sense of that word applies; if someone had the crazy idea of translating an Emerson or Thoreau poem into videogame format, Flower would be the result. Every time you restore life to an area, the rippling animation of spreading color is otherworldly. When you skim your trail of flower petals along the ground, the grass parts in a perfect V. When you hang a U-turn after collecting hundreds of petals, the sight of the petal trail you have created is a dazzling sight to behold. When all of the visual elements converge into a whole, they make the world of Flower a surrealistically beautiful place.

The quality of Flower's sound design matches that of its visual counterpart. At the beginning of each level, you are treated to the sound of the world around you. I never really appreciated the sound of the wind in a game until I played Flower. Every time you pick up a flower petal, a musical note of some sort plays. As you soar around the levels picking up more petals, the music becomes richer and more pleasing to the ears. The score is outstanding, and it acts as a perfect complement to what you're seeing on-screen. Whether it makes use of the piano or the violin, Flower's soundtrack definitely knows what is pleasing to human senses. This is a game you should definitely play in Dolby Surround if you have the capabilities.


Gameplay:
Flower contains some semblance of a story, but it takes the same thematic approach as Braid - that is, the story is never explicit, but it is always implied. Flower's storytelling is contained exclusively within the game's spellbinding imagery. On an apartment windowsill in a heavily-industrialized city (where cars fly by at the speed of light) sits a lonely potted flower. The game simply prompts you to hold a button as the camera simultaneously zooms in on the flower and fades to black.

The scene cuts to a natural landscape, the camera focused on what looks like the same flower that is sitting on the windowsill. Pressing a button causes the flower to bloom, releasing a single solitary petal into the air. From there, the actual gameplay begins. There are two main objectives. One is simply to fly your petal through as many other flowers as possible. Every time you fly through a flower, you collect a petal, making it a part of what eventually becomes a long, beautiful trail. The other objective is to fly your trail into areas that are devoid of life, reviving them in the process. This style of gameplay is unique and terrific; flying around while infusing the world with life feels like something out of a dream.

The story alternates between the city landscape and the natural one, and there are a few interesting twists. The game definitely has a message, and some players may feel as if they're being preached to, if only by the imagery. However, if this is indeed the developer's intention, Flower is a gentle, well-meaning sermon that forces its players to dig a little in order to discover its secrets.


Difficulty:
Flower is not challenging, nor is it meant to be; there is no difficulty curve to crest. It is an instantly accessible game that the developers clearly want players to finish. The controls are explained right off the bat with a very easy to read diagram; this is displayed every time the game is started. Around the halfway point, the game introduces a hazard that you must avoid in order to proceed, but it hardly constitutes a challenge. One of the game's selling points is how relaxing it is, and there's an awful lot of truth behind this. At the time of this writing, I can hardly think of a better way to calm down after a long day of work or school than playing Flower.

The biggest problem with the game is that it's over entirely too soon. The story is well-paced and the final level is brilliant, but Flower will simply leave you wanting much more. As it is, the game can be completed in its entirety in one sitting - by just about anyone.

Completionists can come back to the game to figure out how to unlock Trophies, but other than that, Flower doesn't have any immediate replay value. However, it is a game you will want to revisit in the future. It's one of those games you'll want to show off to your friends... and your family, too.


Game Mechanics:
To explain exactly how Flower plays requires me to take you back to the image displayed on the PS3's Xross Media Bar. In the middle of the picture are the game's simple instructions:

tilt the controller to soar... press any button to blow wind... relax, enjoy.

Flower's control scheme makes use of the SIXAXIS motion controls and one face button. That's it. Tilting the SIXAXIS controller left, right, up, and down will cause your petal trail to bank, flip, climb, or dive. Whichever face button is pressed will trigger the wind, your only means of propulsion. Of all the PlayStation 3 games I've played , Flower features the best use of the SIXAXIS's motion-detecting capabilities, and other developers should take note of how well they are implemented here.

Flower features Trophy support, and the developers have included some very interesting Trophies. The hints they offer in order to get you on the right path are sometimes enough to let you know what you need to do. More often than not, however, they're intentionally cryptic.

In the end, Flower is an artfully executed piece of interactive entertainment. One question remains, however: does Flower really fit the mold of what is conventionally known as a game? The answer doesn't matter. Play it.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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