Now I’ve entered my parental gaming years it’s not often I finish a videogame in one sitting. Even compelling shorted experience like Portal and Braid have to be portioned up into smaller sittings. But, last week I played a game that I simply couldn’t put down.
Even though my mid-week late nights mean a very sleepy family breakfast time and long haul through the office job, I played Flower into the small hours. Although I’m not sure exactly why it grabbed me so powerfully, apart from the fact is was both familiar and hauntingly ‘other’ at the same time.
So this week I have a family gaming double header in honour of That Videogame Campany’s game. First on offer is another song from Rebecca Mayes – her musical response to playing Flower:
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Right, now you should be in the mood for my family guide to the game proper.
Flower is a downloadable game on PS3 with a heart bigger than its price tag would suggest. The follow up to Flow – where motion controls were used to guide a prosaic creature to consume other invertebrates, provides a more directed experience that is as alternative a video game as it is simple.
What Sort of Game is This?
Adventuring games are enjoyed for two reasons: they provide enemy encounters that require tactics and strategy to conquor, and they create a fantasy world in which to explore and adventure.
What Does This Game Add to the Genre?
Flower first sweeps away the usual rules about video games and creates an experience that is unique and enthralling. The player controls the action by the left/right/up/down pitch of the PS3 controller. Pressing any button increases forward movement. These are then used to control a petal through an expansive countryside setting.
Once past these unfamiliar and unscripted first few moments, things settle down a little into a more traditional adventure video game structure. Each setting is populated with a series of other flowers that need to be touched and opened to progress. As they are opened they add a flower to your flock the game’s only measure of score. After a while players notice a rise and fall to the flower’s arrangement – meaning that experts can effortlessly glide through the space collecting each of them in order.
At the end of each environment there’s a whirlwind into which to deposit yourself and the stream of petals you have collected.
Although nothing is spoken or written in terms of a narrative, through each area there develops a transition from the countryside to the city. A story unfolds of the need for the two to combine and it’s not long before you realise this is the task at hand – rejuvenating the derelict urban environment with the arrival of your stream of fragile petals.
Graphically and visually the game draws its cues more from a Jane Austin film than the usual video game memes. The hillside grasses ripple as the wind rushes down them, and signature chords are added to the classical score each time you collect another flower.
What do People Play this Game To Experience?
People are drawn to Flower because of it’s unusual approach. For experienced gamers this novelty soon opens out into more traditional gaming fare. For novices however, this offers the opportunity of a genuinely interesting route into gaming.
Putting the controller in the hands of a new gamer and letting the game alone guide them into the experience is a fascinating and awe inspiring opportunity. The success here is the natural connection between the player’s hands and the on screen action. They move and sway with their cohort of petals streaming behind them on screen.
Finally they arrive at the tree marking the end of the first world. They innocently trigger each flower around its base to reveal the whirlwind and inadvertently deposit their petals into it. Waiting and wondering what is happening next, delight spreads over their face as the tree blasts into full leaf, the camera pans back to reveal the impressive view and the Dualshock Controller delivers as much rumble as it can through the tiny motors.
How Much Free Time is Required to Play It?
The first visit to a particular level can be concluded in around half an hour. Once players realise they can return to win additional petals and unlock an ending cinematic they will want to invest longer. A good hour can pass as they search for every hidden flower to achieve a higher ‘score’.
What Factors Impact on Suitability for Novice/Expert Young/Old Players?
Young and novice gamers will enjoy the extremely low barrier to entry here. The simple controls and attractive visuals are enough to entice most people in. Once playing they will enjoy the impressive visuals and musical score. Parents should note however, although the first three levels stick to the easy going flora and fauna theme, levels four and five take a darker turn and include the ability for the petals to get electric shocks from the crumbling pylons. Children sensitive to these themes and stroboscopic effects may find this a bit much to bear.
Older and intermediate players will relish the unusual challenge. Those more able may initially find the experience a little short lived – being able to run through it in two or three hours. Repeat plays however, reveal more to do in each area than initially appears and substantially extend things.
Expert games will wax lyrical about the high design principles at work here and enjoy collecting every last petal to see those beautiful end scenes. They will also want to get friends and family player what is a great cross over experience for those less used to gaming.