The power of love, motherfuckers!
Braid was a 2008 release starring a self-loathing British stalker capable of using the powers of Shame and Regret to manipulate time in unsavory fashions. All of this may or may not have been a metaphor for the atomic bomb, or the destructive nature of human obsession, or something completely unrelated. It had the right kind of ambition of boosting the games-as-art argument, but the problem was that the developer (all one of them?) knew this. So they (he?) took every chance possible to preach and shove different waves of text and imagery down the player’s eye sockets in an attempt to create the snobbiest game of all time. Perhaps he believed he can get away with anything and get away with it, being that the game was released during a Gears of War year. (And I believe it is no coincidence that the PS3 port was released on an Uncharted year.)
Anyways, the reason I like Flower so much is because it is everything that Braid is not.
In Flower, you control wind. Or the Hand of God. Or fate. Or the spirit of Michael Jackson. Who knows. Your playground is this open field where assorted glowing flowers go to be admired. And by breezing through them, the flowers feel so aroused by the wind that they blossom and ejaculate pedals. So your breeze of orgasmic wind becomes a spiral of hot messy flower pedals. Flying over certain groups of flowers will cause flashy effects resulting in segments of the area to come alive with colour and vegetation. And you keep flowing from section to section until the power of Love liberates the entire field. Since the game has the simplest control scheme possible (press any button to move yo!) and the wind has a pretty decent view of the world below, this is a game that even the most video game-inept human can pick up and feel proud of themselves.
The first few levels of Flower feel like the combination of a tech demo and a car commercial without the car. Colourless areas suddenly spring to life at the presence of your speedy invisible vehicle, while subtle musical cues and a soft-hearted soundtrack pluck at the strings above your aorta. All that’s missing is the kid whispering Zoom Zoom.
Then Flower takes a surprisingly dark turn, and suddenly the game shifts into an oppressive mood. What causes this oppression? You’ll have to find out for yourself. But in a game about flowers, you can probably guess what the antithesis of nature is. This shocking shift is handled surprisingly well, and Flower manages to set off a feeling of grit and horror without ever bludgeoning another man and dropping a quart of blood. Something most games can’t fathom.
The biggest surprise about Flower is actually the last level. I shan’t give away what happens, but there is an incredible feeling of empowerment. Moreso than driving the giant mech or gun turret with unlimited ammo at the end of a sequence of any given futuristic shooter, you feel like the most macho son of a bitch alive for unleashing a flowery wrath on the aforementioned enemy. Never before has flowers pumped so much testosterone into my system in what is perhaps the best open-for-interpretation ending to a game since…Braid?
You can make numerous arguments for what it all means. The first gut reaction any person will have is that Flower is about hippie environmentalism; burn down the city, be one with nature, run around naked and smoke weed all day. But that final moment in the game does not suggest any kind of pro-Gaia, anti-urbanism nonsense to me. Rather, there are a number of other, more welcoming messages that I walked away with. The power of imagination, the battle with a 9-to-5 existence, the struggle with drudgery, the value of nourishing your mind. Perhaps all cliché themes in books or . But Flower makes full use of its interactive medium to make an impact on the person holding the controller.
I would say that a few small bit and pieces keep Flower from being an all perfect game experience. You accelerate the wind by holding any button on the controller, and steer with the broken Sixaxis motion controls. It’s not that you need absolute precision to manipulate breeze, but I had the occasional moment where my Hand of God was fumbling by, trying to make sacred u-turns to activate a single flower. Also, by design, it’s not a very replayable game. You could hunt down every stray blossom and cabbage patch if you so desired, but once you’ve had your flower fill, you’ll probably let the game stew on your PS3 hard drive for all time. Now keep in mind, I would say the same about Portal and Bioshock, two alleged all-time greats. Even if you never want to play either again, you’ll hang on to the memories of the experience for a long time.
And it doesn’t have Batman in it.
But Flower is a game that every Playstation 3 owner should experience. Even if you elect to not experience it for yourself. After telling my former girlfriend from the Final Fantasy 13 review about it, she was considerably impressed and had a higher opinion about this shameful video game hobby that I waste way too much time in. It’s only ten dollars, with memories that will last a long time. Flower is, arguably, the best game of 2009 to not have Batman in it.
4 ½ stars