Thatgamecompany, the developers of flOw, has again risen above the limits of the gaming medium with its newest ambient game, Flower. Flower is the latest in a series of games driven completely by artistic design, focusing on simple mechanics, beautiful graphics, and a truly engaging atmosphere. It is perhaps the first fully realized artistic experience to hit consoles. TCG's flOw provides a light, ambient, somewhat interesting setting, yet fails to take it anywhere. Linger in Shadows is a 10 minute demo which is extremely light on player interactivity. However brief flower may be, it provides a gripping, emotional experience, stunning visuals and raises (if not sets) the bar for all other games laid upon this ground.
Each stage in flower takes place in one of six related dreams experienced by six flowers sitting on the windowsill of a bleak, urban apartment. Each dream takes the player away from the bustle of metropolitan life into an endless, colorful field filled with budding flowers. The player controls the wind by tilting the SIXAXIS to control the camera's perspective and pressing any button to create wind. The wind starts in control of a single flower petal, but as it touches other budding flowers, more and more petals are added, forming a sort of enchanting snake of flowers in the air.
Flower might not have the best technical graphics of the current generation, but the artistic design is truly amazing. Each level drips with color and theme, whether it starts out that way or the player makes it that way. Each blade of grass moves realistically and independently, and the game does a very good job of not reminding the player that they are playing a game and not experiencing a dream. The world never feels static, and the music nearly always fits the mood of the area. Being an artistic game, it's hardly surprising, but flower is an audiovisual feast.
Touching certain flowers throughout the world triggers different events; usually a burst of color to the surrounding area or the sprouting of a path of new flowers to follow. In the latter half of the game the flowers spin up windmills and follow power lines in the fields. Not all the flowers need to be touched, and indeed if they did, it might ruin the experience with backtracking to missed flowers. Although the level design is certainly rather linear, there are various hidden patches of flowers strewn about each level which encourage exploration, and add to replay value. The trophies in Flower are intelligently designed to encourage exploration and replay. Playing through the game once won't net even half the trophies like many games would.
Despite the admittedly simple premise, Flower is dripping with not only wonder, but meaning and emotion. The game takes a rather surprising turn towards a darker world in the end, which can be viewed as adding a basic sort of "industry ruining the beauty of the world" kind of theme, or it can easily be extrapolated into hundreds of other themes. This turn the game makes distinctly sets it apart from other, perhaps more mundane, games of the genre. At the end of Flower, you will not only be entranced by its beauty, but will also feel like you accomplished something.
Admittedly, Flower is not for everyone. It provides a relaxing, ambient, and stress-free experience that is very light on length and gameplay mechanics. It's an experimental game that excels at everything it tries to be, and doesn't feel "game-y" at all. Flower truly sets standards for the industry and raises my expectations of similar games to come, and perhaps of all games.