Flower is an odd proposition. Just like thatgamecompany's last title, flOw, it's not really a game. It's a relaxant, suited more for a 3am slump on the couch than a 3-hour session after work.
And like flOw, Flower is sure to again divide critics and gamers alike. While the basic structure of a game is present - you, uh, progress through levels towards a conclusion, and stuff - it only takes a few seconds of playing before you realise that, basic structure or not, this is something more (or less, depending on your tastes) than a "game".
Flower sees you taking control of the wind. You begin each level with a single flower petal, and must blow the wind around like a Katamari ball, each flower the petal touches blooming to release another petal, which adds to the size of your windy, flowery mass.
And...that's it. You do that a few hundred times each level until the game ends. Sounds boring! But it's everything that happens in between that makes this game so special.
Exhale - In Flower, you are a breeze blowing flowers through tall blades of green grass. To the accompaniment of a soothing orchestral score or sparse guitar strings. Every flower you open makes a short chiming sound, so the more adventurous can attempt to plot a synaesthetic course through the levels, arranging their own soundtrack. There are no time limits. There is no difficulty. Death is only present, briefly, in one level. Video games just do not get any more relaxing than this.
This Is Not LAIR- Flower uses the X button to control the speed of the wind. And that's the only time you press a button. The rest of the game, from menu selection to in-game flight, is controlled by the Sixaxis, and shockingly, it works. Control is fluid and responsive, and the lack of mashing or memorising control schemes only adds to the soothing, low-key vibe of the game.
Game Design 101- It's amazing that a title that so many will allude to as "art" or as some tool for relaxation can also get so many things right on the game design front. Sign-posting is a masterclass in subtlety. You'll experience tutorials that you don't realise were tutorials until you're done. They even sneak a few "boss battles" in there while you weren't looking, and the way the final level leads up to such a confrontation is the most breath-taking moment I've yet to experience on the PS3.
Granted, Flower will not be for everyone. These "artsy" PlayStation Network titles never are. But if you've had a rough day at work and really need to unwind - and perhaps even have your mind tugged at, ever-so-slightly - there's currently no better way to do so on the PS3 than with Flower.
Flower was developed by thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America for the PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network). It is due for release on February 12, and will retail for US$10. Played game to completion.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.