As a gaming enthusiast I’m always interested in new gaming experiences, but every once in awhile I feel compelled to go back and put in some serious time replaying some of my favorite games from the preceding years. In that spirit, I have created a new series of writing pieces titled Replaying the Classics, wherein I discuss the games that I have replayed recently. Unlike my Late to the Party series, my goal with these writing pieces is not so much to give a strong analysis of a particular game, but rather to give an informal recounting of a game and to try to convey to the reader why it’s one of my favorites. I do not come to you this time as a game reviewer, but merely as a friend wanting to have a casual chat about what he’s been playing. Today, let’s take a seat in our comfy chairs and talk about Flower.
Do flowers dream? I do not know the answer to this question, but if they do I suspect that their dreams might be something like the experience you get when you play Flower. In this game you are the wind. No, seriously, that’s what you are, or rather what you control. Each of Flower’s seven stages begins with the camera zoomed in on a single flower, and as soon as you press any button a single petal from that flower breaks aways. You then guide that petal using the wind, and each time you get close to another flower you cause it to bloom and release another petal that joins you in your journey across the dreamscape of Flower. As more and more flowers are brought into bloom you slowly restore life and greenery to a world that has gone gray and drab and disconnected from nature. Your flowing stream of petals grows ever longer with each flower you touch, to the point that by the end of each level you’ll have hundreds of petals snaking through the sky. When the world of a level has been revitalized you guide your living rainbow of petals to a special spot on the ground, where they all then rush into the earth and bring forth a single new flower. Life… has found a way.
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that Jurassic Park-inspired sentence a second ago. It seemed somehow fitting when it came out of my mouth. Anyways, if Flower doesn’t sound like a “normal” sort of game, you’re exactly right in that estimation. Flower is missing a lot of the normal tropes we associated with video games, such as scores, lives, time limits, and fail states. Because of this, Flower is one of those games that is sometimes derided as not being a “real” game. Even if we acquiesce to this sort of argumentation, however, Flower can at the bare minimum still be called an interactive experience, and at the time it came out back in 2009 there weren’t too many other things like it. Flower is one of the very few games I’ve played that I can say at times produced something akin to a Zen-like experience. I flowed across the land, gathering petals and restoring the world, and felt at peace. The simple control scheme added to this, with every button doing the same thing in propelling the wind along while the PlayStation 3 controller’s internal motion sensors serve as the means of steering the wind. I guess if would describe Flower in a single phrase it would be “elegant simplicity.” Perhaps I’d even opt for “deceptive simplicity.” There’s not too much to Flower, and it’s not a long game, but you might be surprised by how it does so much with so little.
“Like what?” you say. Well, I already mentioned the Zen aspect, so let me give you an example of a small, but notable thing that Flower does very well. Would you believe it if I told you that the mere act your petals causing another flower to bloom was a strangely joyous experience? Each flower has its own musical note that plays when your petal(s) touch it, and there’s an undeniable exuberance with each one as it opens up. Every time a flower blooms it’s like a miniature resurrection and life comes bursting forth into the world. Another way Flower impresses is with its story, which is extremely simple and yet very emotional. There is no dialogue and very little of the normal means of traditional storytelling, but what’s there is still a moving tale of our separation from nature and the journey, told through flowers, of getting back to healthy connection to the natural world. Even someone like me who’s not an outdoorsy sort of person can’t help but be touched by the whole thing.
As I said earlier, Flower is a fairly short game, with each of its seven levels only taking about fifteen minutes or so to complete on an average playthrough, and if you go for a speed run you can certainly finish the game in under an hour. That said, I don’t know why you’d want to go for a speed in Flower, as I think that completely destroys the feel of the game. This is a game perfectly suited for a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon, where you kick back for about two hours and finish the whole thing in a single sitting.
Oh, right, before we finish there is one last thing I need to mention. Some people get caught off-guard by the fifth level of Flower, which might be described as the dark night before the dawn of the sixth level. If Flower is a dream, then this level is the nightmare. It can feel out of place, and there are some electrical hazards you will have to avoid as you guide your flower petals forward. Hitting those hazards and getting zapped can be a genuinely frightening experience the first time, and losing some of your petals can be disheartening, but fear not, there is no death in Flower so just keep pressing forward towards the end of the level. Once you learn to recognize the electrical hazards they won’t be hard to dodge, and the exuberance and victorious feel of the sixth level is well worth any anxiety you endure in the fifth level.
Is it just me, or is there a breeze in here? Oh, never mind, that’s just the winds of change, letting us know that today’s session of Replaying the Classics is at an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together. Don’t worry, the same winds taking us down our separate paths will soon bring us back together again, and when they do I’ll have another game to talk to you about. Until next time friend!