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Monday, August 4, 2014

Flower


By on 7:46 AM

I've heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I cannot conceive of the beholder that wouldn't appreciate the beauty of Flower. Apart from its merits as a game, Flower is breathtaking, perching you atop a flowing breeze so that you may spread the vibrant colors of nature across the land. On the PlayStation 4, Flower is as lovely as ever thanks to a higher resolution, which allows the vividness to shine. Yet Flower's significance is tied not just to its visual elegance, but also to its use of music and motion to carry you across pastoral lands on a powerful emotional arc.
In Flower, you ride the wind. You enter the first level to see a single hovering flower petal; you press a button to surge forward and carry the petal with you, and tilt the controller to steer, as if you're the pilot of a blissful breeze. As you rush through the grass and natural growth, you pass through clusters of flowers, each bud blooming and adding a petal to the ever-growing bouquet that sails through the air. Each time you glide through a batch of flowers, petals emit notes that complement the bucolic soundtrack. In this way, you aren't just a player but a musical collaborator, composing your own countermelody as you rush ahead. Flowers are arranged in rows, circles, and other patterns, and following those patterns enhances the musical effect by allowing each tone to flow into the next.
This is the kind of experience some dismiss for not being a game, much as they might dismiss JourneyGone Home, or Proteus. There is no score to achieve and no time limit obstructing progress. While there are levels that allow you some destructive powers and require you to maneuver with some care, there is no combat and no death. Reaching the end of each level is your ultimate goal, but the dividend is not place on a leaderboard; rather, your gift is the joy of watching gentle foliage radiate across the land after collecting the prescribed petals. Playing Flower is its own reward, following its narrative journey from easy existence, to conflict, to harmonious resolution. Developer thatgamecompany carefully crafted Flower's tempo so that its lowest emotional point would be followed by an enormous sense of uplift.
You could reduce the journey's message to a simple environmentalist one, but Flower doesn't argue that humanity is at war with Mother Nature, instead suggests that the two can coexist. Two opposing forces collide, then merge, and that story emerges purely through gameplay and level design, putting an end to any doubt that Flower is less a game than any other systems-driven experience. The power, however, comes not from accomplishing tasks but in the very act of moving and existing. In this sense, you can see how Flower, originally released on the PlayStation 3 in 2009, planted the seeds that led to the developer's follow-up, Journey. Like Flower, Journey leads you to an emotional nadir before thrusting you into a glorious awakening, and like Journey, Flower herds you back into its levels' confines if you try to venture outside of them, though it does so with some awkwardness, in contrast to Journey's subtle nudges.
Just as you might improperly dismiss Flower as "not a game," you might also improperly dismiss it for its brevity: You could easily finish in an hour, and that hour progresses at a relaxed pace, lulling you into security rather than pumping adrenaline into your nerves. But value is more than a simple price-to-minutes ratio, and I'd sooner revisit Flower's serenity than countless 50-hour grindfests. Like a snowy mountain ridge or a tranquil river valley, Flower invites introspection and inner calm, and that kind of interactive experience is almost as rare now as it was when I first surfed these winds.

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