Sep 28

Presented with the opportunity to experience two new video games, I thought back to a game that had piqued my interest but normally wouldn’t merit a purchase.   Flower (Playstation 3, PSN $9.99), critically acclaimed but questioned for its status, is an experience that makes you reconsider what the term “video game” actually entails.   Surely, some form of electronic component is a requisite, but what beyond that?   Is it the use of a HID (Human Interface Device) like a mouse or controller?   Is it the existence of some sort of objective?  How does score-keeping and record breaking factor into the classification?

While surely there will always be major video game genres such as sports (Madden Football) and first-person shooter (Halo), there seems to be an increasing number of “experiential” game.  In other words, there are more games focusing less on objectives and more on immersing the player in an experience.  After spending some time with Flower (the game takes only several hours to “complete”), it’s easy to classify it as one of the latter.  An incredibly simple control scheme (the controller is manipulated like an airplane yoke and a single button is pushed), complete lack of objectives or pacing, and a heightened focus on aesthetics make this point clear.  All told, it was quite a worthwhile experience, making a 1080P TV highly recommended, if not requisite.

Stills and Video Dont Do Flower Justice

Stills and Video Don't Do Flower Justice

Flower’s design is exceedingly simple.  You “pilot” a single flower petal by maneuvering the controller around in space and “accelerate” by holding down a button, which produces a gust of wind.  Looking around the landscape, there are other flowers that a highlighted with a glowering ring of light.  Passing through other flowers allows them to bloom and you, to collect another petal.  As you allow entire groups of flowers to bloom, it will trigger the surrounding landscape to flourish and grow.  This creates quite the impressive effect where the area will turn green (or blue, purple, any colour featured in the landscape) with a strong gust of wind encouraging you to move on to the next desolate area.  Covering all areas in the landscape will generate a single flower into which all your petals will dissolve.

The aesthetics of Flowers are definitely the most striking part about the game, but equally compelling is the theme created throughout the game.  In choosing each of the landscapes to enter, you are shown an apartment in some cityscape with each different landscape represented by a single potted flower.  Taking that contrast a step further, each different landscape is introduced by a different typically industrial scene.  The first, for example, features a city street with cars rushing by at great speed (creating the familiar white and red streaks of sped-up traffic) and a soundtrack of car horns and jackhammers.  This cacophony is then met with a lush, open meadow.  The duality of instantly being transported between one scene and its antithesis is pretty striking.

Further reinforcing the stunning visuals in Flower is the immersive audio.  The music is light an soothing as you might expect of a game featuring flowers, meadows, and wind.  The sounds effect, though, go a long way to bring the player into the experience.  With each different type of flower representing a different tone, the sound effects add to the sound track in a way that make the motion, aesthetics, and sound blend together seamlessly (much like Everyday Shooter and Electroplankton, excellent examples of the blending of game play and music).  Flower might encourage a game player to bemoan the ten-dollar price tag for lack of content, but this undervalues the game’s impact.  Escaping what were once rigid guidelines of the video game development industry, Flower proves that more abstract titles can work (and more importantly, sell).  This is an excellent title to provide some perspective and remind us to slow down every once in awhile and appreciate those things we may take for granted, such as the simplicity and complexity of a meadow.

Coming to the realization that I simply no longer have the time to give truly immersive games their just due (a depressing realization), I chose another simplistic game in the form of Ragdoll Blaster (iPhone/iPod Touch, iTunes App Store $0.99 (link opens iTunes)).  The objective is to fire ragdolls out of a cannon into a target place in various place throughout the different levels.  What makes it increasingly difficult is the amount of obstacles and puzzles standing in your way as you progress.  The control scheme is arguable even more simple than flower, requiring nothing more than a finger tap on the screen which controls direction and speed (by tapping farther away from the cannon).  The levels are scored by how many ragdolls you require to hit the target; the fewer, the better.

As you progress through the levels, the complexity of each design increases.  Some require simple calibration of direction and power, but others make you operate levels or pistons by firing ragdolls at the mechanism.  The sound effects fit (such as the cannon firing or menu button presses) and the music can either be a clip of In the Hall of the Mountain King on loop (an excellent piece of music) or the music on the iPhone/iPod.  For a dollar, the 100+ levels that come with the game are a pretty good value.  Also, having expanded that number since the game’s introduction, the developer has left open the possibility of releasing additional levels in the future.  Ragdoll Blaster provides an interesting diversion that occasionally requires a bit of thought.