In its short life, thatgamecompany has earned a reputation for uncommon creativity and vision in game design. Flower, the studio’s second title on the PlayStation Network, seems to have sprung from the question ‘what do flowers dream of?’ The answer is at once a video game, a poem, and a poignant world of its own.
The core game play mechanic involves directing flower petals borne on a gust of wind; tilt controls direct the wind, and any button drives it forward, and coming within range of closed flowers causes them to bloom and add their petals to the swirling multitude. While progression through levels is tied to this blooming mechanic (and others), this approach to control also allows for an exhilarating sense of freedom. You can drift lazily, soar at speed, turn to plow through your own petal train or pull it into a corkscrew, or rocket straight up until the landscape curves beneath you before plunging back down to race along the wind-parted grass.
That this flight is such a joy is also largely due to the environments themselves. Graphically, Flower presents a convincing facsimile of nature. While certain textures and shapes are more stylized than strictly realistic, certain details — the sounds of the wind, the golden sunlight on the crests of hills, and especially the natural way the grass cascades in the breeze — might occasionally fool you into thinking you’re playing a documentary.
The melodic piano and woodwind (ha!) dominated score is one of the best ever recorded for a piece of digital entertainment and may be enough to make gamers of a more sensitive nature weep. It mirrors and accentuates the mood of the visuals with equal grace, whether that mood is contemplative, somber, rousing or ebullient. In short, this is the most stunningly evocative game soundtrack since Shadow of the Colossus. And, as will be familiar to players of thatgamecompany’s previous release flOw, the music has an interactive element, with each flower sounding a note as it blooms, so that the player’s actions transform the musical landscape as well as the visual one.
At 628 MB, it’s heftier than the average PSN game, and at $9.99, it’s easy to accuse Flower of being over too quickly. Your first play-through might take as long as two hours if you take your time, and someone who rushes to completion could probably finish it in half an hour or less. However, Flower is a meant to be both played and appreciated in equal measure, and the experience needn’t end after the credits. For one thing, the theme that emerges gradually and develops in the game’s latter half is surprising and effectively thought-provoking (without going into detail, I’ll just say that flowers have nightmares, too). But most simply, soaring through these beautiful dreams will never get old for those who find the experience as enchanting as I do.
Flower is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.