Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flower: Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Or Any Mountain At All, Really

So Enya finally designed a video game.

There will be digression.

First digression: the Gary Jules' song Mad World is a universal video game trailer soundtrack, because it would work just as well with Flower as it did with Gears of War. Floating through the sky as a flower petal, totally serene, with Mad World in the background would make an outstanding trailer.

How about Madden? Have defensive lineman rushing a quarterback, him running for his life, then taking a brutal sack.

Mad World could be the gaming equivalent of that scene from the Hitler movie that gets its subtitles changed every five minutes.

Now where were we?


Flower part one: the first three levels
After my epic three-week adventure trying to buy and download this game (this story stretches itself every time I mention it--five years from now, I'll claim I started trying to download it in 1992 and didn't finish for seventeen years), I admit that my enthusiasm was a bit drained.

That lack of enthusiasm lasted for about ten seconds once I started playing the game.

See there's something about Flower that's joyful.

Soaring through the air, floating with the breeze--it's a wonderful experience. And it really is very "Enya-esque"--incredibly soothing and peaceful. the colors are beautiful and oftentimes spectacular.

The basic gameplay, without spoilers, is that you control a flower petal, and you fly that petal to other flowers which are revealed to you in the course of the level. That sounds incredibly boring, but it's not in the least--at times, it's downright enthralling, because it's all so remarkably fluid.

As I'm playing the third level, full of wonderful feelings, I realize how much I appreciate that the developers didn't try to "game" this up. It's not a game, exactly, more of an experience, and it's extremely special.

I'm wondering what the next level might be, and then, in an instant, I realize what would be an idea place to extend the game: the mountains, with snow melting in springtime. The sun would melt the snow, and as it melted, flowers would grow.

Wow. That would be beautiful.

Flower part two: the rest
As level four began, the remarkable, colorful vistas of the early levels were replaced with darkness, and instead of a beautiful, lush world of color, we're plunged into some serious WTF. Now WTF in that you won't be able to figure out what's going on, but WTF in the sense of why the development team made the decisions they did. Soon, your flower petals will be smashing through things, or maybe that's a ball of energy formed by flower petals.

Whatever it is, it's a heaping bowl of I Don't Give A Shit.

Meandering is no longer encouraged, or sometimes, even allowed at all. Flower then rips off The Blob and some of the visual style of Mirror's Edge and goes from being incredibly, beautifully original to a pretty average day at the office.

Even worse, it didn't have to be that way.

Want to do a "dark" level? Fine. Do it in pure black-and-white, and have explosions of light instead of color. That could be tremendously dramatic.

Worried that the gameplay doesn't change enough unless it's gamed up? No worries. Let us play through a level, then let us play through it again, but this time, give us a variety of filters to apply. How cool would it be to play through one of the early levels with an Impressionist filter?

There were an exponential number of opportunities here, and quite a few of them are realized early on. The later levels, though, are just squandered. The developers help you develop this wonderful, semi-spacey vibe, then they kick it in the teeth.

Mountain. Squandered.

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