Warning: The following contains spoilers for Flower.
“It’s like running barefoot through a meadow!”
That was my initial impression of Flower formed after a minute of play. It feels as true now as it did then. Flower is an instantly gratifying experience based on very simply concepts, the pleasure of flight and the sensation of bringing something to life. In a recent interview conducted by Michael Abbott, thatgamecompany’s Jenova Chen described it as the “anti-Grand Theft Auto” a goal at which it succeeds admirably.
At the heart of Flower is a means of progression that involves quite simply doing whatever is the most pleasurable thing you can at any moment. Movement inside the game is controlled by physical movement of the SIXAXIS. Simply moving the controller around in a fashion mimicking flight is loaded with the the potential to amuse and entertain in much the same way spreading your arms and pretending to fly around the room is; who hasn’t tried that when they’ve thought nobody could see them?
Soaring across the world you soon realise that flying past a closed flower causes it to burst open with a sound and visual effect that is at once subtle yet pleasing, it’s an action that is clearly good because everything about the aesthetic experience reinforces its positive nature. Automatically you try and find the next closed flower so you can experience that sensation again.
After you’ve found and opened a few flowers the camera pulls back and you witness a rush of colour into the world – a similar effect used in de Blob and Prince Of Persia – this eruption of colour is clearly a welcome event and one you want to witness again. Therefore just as with the first flower you open, you want to have that sensation again, your immediate desire is to bring more colour to the environment. How do you do that? By flying around and finding more flowers of course, by doing the only things you can do, which also happen to be the things you most want to do.
This is the basic formula for the first few stages of the game, what you want to do and what you need to do are in sync and so without really considering your actions, you do what is required. Until something goes wrong …
When it happens it feels like the worst thing that could happen, not only because it clearly looks unpleasant, not only because you feel you’ve caused it; though some part of you realises it was inevitable. It’s the worst thing that could happen because for the first time you don’t really understand what you’ve got to do anymore. So you just keep flying because, despite the loss of colour and lack of purpose, that is still something that feels like a positive act.
The next stage is jarring and actively unpleasant, it requires a degree of precision not found previously and though you cannot die, the shock of failure stings because the effect it is so different from what you’ve come to expect; it’s a diminishing experience not a rewarding one. You don’t want to carry on because this stage is not like those that came before it’s hostile and dark, and sad.
I nearly stopped playing at this point, I was no longer comfortable, it felt wrong and I didn’t want to be there. Flower had provided me with a mechanic that was inherently pleasurable and then taken it away in a manner that made me long for its return. It had succeed in showing me something I liked and then taken it away right before my eyes. In the space of a few seconds it had successfully conveyed a sense of destruction and loss that the more explicit Fallout 3 had required dozens of hours to evoke. All I wanted was to return everything to the way it was before. Once again the one thing I needed to do, find a way to restore the world to its former beauty, was exactly what I needed to do.
Pushing through to the next stage can feel like a chore, for every minor victory you gain the world around you remains a forbidding, dark place. Once you reach that final stage it dawns on you what you have to do, and everything from there to the conclusion seems to go in a rush of flight and colour. Filled with a sense of righteous indignation you soar through the streets crashing into anything that doesn’t belong. The music building as you get nearer and nearer to the centre of the city, the crescendo of sound echoing the beating of your heart as you rush headlong for the tangled mass of blackened metal, bursting it apart and allowing the colour to flood back in.
Flower is a simple game with a simple premise, it is also a game that so many others can learn from. It doesn’t need explicit objectives, or a map screen, or a voice in your ear urging you in a specific direction. It ensures you do what is required by making what is necessary exactly what you want to be doing.
Of course you’ll play Flower why wouldn’t you? It’s exactly what you want to do, even if maybe you don’t know it yet.