Flower: An Art Review

The following is a submission to a class I took entitled “Covering the Arts.”  The assignment was to review an art piece, and the professor of the class, in a very progressive move, allowed me to review a game.  I chose the PSN downloadable game “Flower.”  If it doesn’t quite read like a typical game review, that’s because of the requirements, such as being written in AP style and requiring sources.  Despite these limitations, or perhaps because of them, I am proud of the end result.  Special thanks to Richard Whittaker of the BBC and Kat Bailey of 1up.com for their time.  All pictures contained within are shamelessly stolen from thatgamecompany’s website and belong entirely to them.

There aren’t many people who are aware of this fact, but flowers can dream.

Their dreams are pretty much exactly what one would expect from flowers.  They dream of open fields.  They dream of vast and colorful collections of their peers.  They dream of a gentle but determined breeze that carries their petals into the blue sky.

They dream of a green world.

These dreams are the focus of the game “Flower,” a downloadable title for the Playstation 3 that is available on Playstation Network.

Developed by California-based thatgamecompany, a small studio best known for their previous downloadable title “flOw,” “Flower” was released for PSN in February of 2009.

The premise of “Flower” is very straightforward.  The player guides a stream of wind as it blows through the game world.  As the wind passes over flowers dotted throughout the level, they bloom and add petals to the wind stream.  This continues until the player reaches a glowing, spiraling wind funnel of petals that signifies the end of the stage.

However, with “Flower,” the destination is not nearly as important as the journey.

The landscape changes dramatically as the player guides their wind stream to bloom flowers across the level.

Brown, dried-up patches of dead grass will transform and become lush, vibrant and green.

Toppled-over rock formations will suddenly stand strong and proud, overlooking their freshly bloomed flower friends.

Motionless windmills will creak and groan to life, adding their power to the player’s wind stream and pushing them off to new areas to rejuvenate.

“Flower” is a game made up entirely of these kinds of moments and it is hard not to get caught up in them.

“Whereas most games test your reflexes or skill, ‘Flower’ is more of an experience,” said Richard Whittaker, an avid gamer and a web assistant at the BBC’s Vision Learning department.

“I actually find it very relaxing,” he said. “Each level has its own atmosphere.”

The levels in “Flower” do differ quite a bit from one another, even though the goal of guiding the wind stream and blooming flowers remains the same.  Over the course of the game the player will visit sunny fields, craggy cliff sides, nighttime ponds, and even starkly gray urban environments in their quest to bring color to the world.

Each level represents the dream of a respective potted flower adorning the windowsill of an apartment.  The apartment represents the main menu of the game, and the player selects a flower to enter its dream and play the level.

Upon first starting the game, there is only a single flower on the windowsill to select.  When completing a flower’s dream, the player returns to the apartment to find a new flower pot adorning the windowsill and a new dream to explore.

This is important to note because “Flower” is a game with a narrative structure.  Director Jenova Chen, using only pictures and sounds, does an inspired job of showing that the dreams of the flowers are connected and that the journey through each is meant to bring them to a specific place in the sixth and final dream.

Thankfully, that journey is one with a lot of pretty scenery.  The graphics in “Flower,” while not mind-blowing from a technical standpoint, are vivid and colorful to behold.

“Technically, although it is a beautiful game to look at, it’s not stunningly so,” said Whittaker.  “I think the real beauty comes from the overall atmosphere of the game.”

After each level, “Flower” will play a visual montage of what the player accomplished in the given area from different camera angles.  During this montage the only sound present is from the natural environments portrayed, and it is difficult not to spend a few minutes relaxing and admiring the scenery.

Indeed, the player may very well feel as though they have created their own piece of art.

“‘Flower’ basically plays like a digital painting,” said Kat Bailey, a staff writer for 1up.com, in an e-mail interview.  “Other games have pretensions toward being art thanks to their colorful graphics or their cutscenes.  What sets ‘Flower’ apart is that it makes use of the medium’s greatest strength– the fact that it’s interactive.”

The sound and music, as directed by Vincent Diamonte, also play an important role in the game’s journey.  Each flower bloomed has a corresponding chime that resounds.  It blends in well with the game’s music, which places a heavy focus on strings and the piano.  Each event in the game is accompanied by an appropriate musical interlude that complements, but doesn’t overpower, the scene.

The controls for the game can be difficult to adjust to.  It uses six-axis motion controls, meaning the player tilts the controller in the direction they want their wind stream to travel.  Pushing and holding any of the main face buttons will give the wind stream a forward momentum.  While a simple and innovative control scheme, the motion controls can be a bit oversensitive at times.

“Missing flowers and having to maneuver the controller as if you were driving a truck got old quite fast,” said Whittaker.  “An option for conventional controls would have been a plus.”

“Flower” is a short game, clocking in at about a two-hour experience.  This is appropriate given its nature as a downloadable title, and makes the game feel like a pleasant run in with a spring breeze.

Any Playstation 3 owner who is looking for a beautiful game with an uplifting theme should add “Flower” to their library.  Those who are willing to ride the wind will find that the dreams of flowers are not so different from the dreams of people.

One Response to “Flower: An Art Review”
  1. Old Gaulian says:

    I agree a beautiful game – both thematically and artistically. Great review.

    Is it possible to be beautiful yet macabre artistically? Dark Souls or Demon Souls for example are beautiful, yet solemn experiences. While Flower is uplifting, Dark Souls is depressing. But does that make it any less beautiful?

    Food for though, I guess.

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