Review by discoinferno84

"Any way the wind blows..."

A lone flower is sitting in a pot on a desk. It's on the verge of death; its stalk is bent at a twisted, sickening angle, and the petals are underdeveloped and malnourished. It is the only thing that remotely resembles life in this room. There are no people. Maybe they are just gone for the day, but you get the sense that no one will be coming back. The walls are bare, and the desk lacks any of the typical supplies and decorations. The wooden furniture is old and unvarnished, seemingly left and forgotten like trash. The only window is cracked and broken, revealing a clothesline and an eerily gray void of the sky beyond. The sounds and lights of the inner city float up from the darkness; the impersonal glare of a streetlight and moan of a police siren are the only signs of what passes for humanity this afternoon. It's all gray, drab, and soulless…except for the flower. As you peer down into those humble remnants of beauty, it gives off the tiniest, almost nonexistent glow and magically whisks you away into one of the most compelling games in recent memory.

When the screen fades back in, the gray and lifeless urban slum has vanished. It's been replaced by a seemingly endless field of grass, its stalks flowing along the breeze. The focus, however, is on the flower dominating the center of the screen; its strength has returned, and it's giving off a few sparkly bits of pollen. A slight puff of wind sends the stalk arching back, causing a single petal to go flying into the green abyss. It tumbles and turns in midair, giving off an almost supernatural glow as it flings itself into the unknown. It'd be easy for it to crash back down into the soil and shrivel into nothing…but it doesn't. Thanks to the motion sensing of the controls, you're able to alter the speed and direction of the wind. The petal is launched skyward, barely brushing the tips of the grass as it ascends beyond their reach. You're given a slightly wider view of the surrounding world, and you can just make out a glowing orb of another flower in the distance. If you reach it, you'll knock off another petal, activate more flowers, and eventually rejuvenate the entire field with Mother Nature's energy. It all begins with a single petal and a bit of air, and that's all you need.

It's a simple premise; all you've got to do is reach the next flower. Actually pulling it off, on the other hand, requires a surprising amount of patience and handling. Since the controls are so finely-tuned, you're going to have to be careful as to how you move the controller. If you turn or twist in too sharp of an angle, you petals could go flying at an awkward angle, resulting in you getting disoriented and spending a few minutes trying to regain your position. It's easy to miss your intended target; you'll zoom past the nearest flower, desperately turn the controller on its side to bank around, and pray that hit your mark the second time. The process is further complicated by the variety of in terms of level structuring. The first couple of stages - there are six in all - focus on broad fields and basic mechanics. But you'll eventually come across intricate hill and valley networks, poorly-lit roads, cityscapes, specifically-designed arrangements. Some areas might require you to activate a pattern of flowers, while others force you to dodge obstacles or find hidden paths. The complexity gradually builds over the levels, culminating in an area that is the polar opposite of where you begin.

Such progression underscores game's overarching theme: nature versus industrialization. It begins with the dull, urban squalor of reality, then takes you into that gorgeous, swaying sea of grass. But the further you get, the more you'll notice that the two worlds begin to encroach upon each other. The city gradually regains its life, from the color of its buildings and burgeoning flora to an overall sense that, despite its initially desolate appearance, people thrive within it. Those untamed fields of wonder slowly gain more technology; it starts with a few modern windmills (the imagery is heavily based on the hills of the Californian Central Valley), progresses into phone and electrical lines, and then to seemingly monstrous and demonic factories, and eventually ending in a stage that tries to balance out both aspects. The transition is ugly and occasionally heart-wrenching; by the time you reach the final level, the old fields will resemble the reality from which you tried to escape. The theme complements the game's simplistic design; while there is are no characters or dialogue, there is still a story (and perhaps even a moral) to be told.

The gradual shifts in nature are presented with some absolutely stunning visuals. You get a sense of foreboding from the jagged shapes and steel-gray buildings; it‘s almost like they're reaching out to rip you to shreds. There is nothing quite as beautiful as drifting over a hill as the sun sets, or illuminating a pitch-black field in a magical, bioluminescent spectacle. Even the simple animations of the flower petals is mesmerizing; they twirl and dance on the breeze, hypnotizing you with their circular motions and swirling patterns. It's not just the texturing and detail - of which few other, if any games can match - but the sheer abundance of color. The first stage has a basic yellow and green contrast, but you'll eventually come across reds, pinks, oranges, blues, and purples. When combined with the ambient noise and soothing instrumental soundtrack (the violin and piano work is amazing), the various colors give a presentation unlike anything else on the PS3.

That could be said for Flower as a whole. It doesn't try to be just another downloadable console title. It takes flower pollination, a simple and naturally observable concept, and turns it into a compelling and emotionally stirring game. The goal is simple: get the petal to another flower, activate the next one, and continue until you've created a natural work of art that spans entire valleys. There are no extra stats, menus, time limits, or ways to die. It's just you and those flowers, spreading out across that gentle breeze. However, said breeze can be annoyance; since you alter the speed and direction of the wind with the motion sensors in the controller, there's plenty of opportunities for you to miss your intended target, get disoriented, and waste time trying to regain your position. While the game is forgiving of any missteps - and it'd have to be, given the nature of its design - perfectionists might have trouble getting used to it. Others might be turned off by its brevity; there are only six levels (seven, if you count the ending credits) which means you'll be done in one sitting. Those levels are absolutely gorgeous, though; they make you think about what wonders lie beyond the realm of human civilization. You may never get to see the real thing, but at least Flower gives you a glimpse of what could be there.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/10/11

Game Release: flower (US, 02/12/09)

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