No dialog, no narration, no sticks and no score. Flower is a game defined mostly by what it doesn't do. But strangely, what results is a compelling story and strong play mechanic that left me entranced, even moved.
You may not have heard of it before, but Flower is a game coming to the Playstation Network. It follows Flow, a game that used only motion controls to guide a prosaic creature through some beautifully rendered primordial soup, eating other creatures and slowly growing in size.
Flower is a little more directed than that experience. There are clear objectives, end points and levels. But here is where the standard video game rubric is abandoned.
For a start the player is dropped in with very little explanation, just a few pictures of how to tilt the controller. Then confronted with a potted plant on a shelf of a downtown apartment it is left to experimentation to reveal that this is the game menu.
Here, I tilted the controller and found the camera panning towards the plant, pressing a random button started the game. Even with its sparse instructions the game eerily seemed to 'get' what I wanted to do. The game starts, and a hand drawn animated sequence of a bustling city lands me in a field of tall, windswept, lush green grass.
In the distance I can see the hillside continue and can just about see an outcrop of rocks and a small tree. Around me the meadow drops away with translucent shimmering particles giving the place substance and magic. Without further instruction, and the camera gently hovering in front of a lone flower, I press a button.
Instantly, a single petal lifts into the air and sits on the breeze. In my excitement I drop the controller and picking it up notice the related movement on the screen. The next few minutes are spent swaying in the breeze, rising and falling, pitching and yawing with a subtle tilt of the wrist.
Then some instruction, press any button I am told. Doing so, I discover the other half of the controls - the ability to blow the petal through the world at speed. And again I am lost playing with my new found friend - now soaring and diving around the meadow and beyond.
From my flight I notice other flowers and dip down to investigate. As I touch their stems they open and strike a chord. I fly though more of them, then a whole series. All the while I'm adding notes to the music, but also - I notice - adding more petals to my growing flock.
Then in walks my other half and I spend the next ten minutes showing her my discoveries. While she has a go and I draw breath, I realise that in one seemless twenty minute session I've been told the game's story, introduced to its controls and am eager to get on with completing the first level. All with no text and just a few instructions. This feels like a new era in game design.
From there the game unfolds in more traditional style. Each location has a series of flowers that need to be opened to unlock different areas. The flowers are arranged to enable players with enough skill to effortlessly glide around collecting them each in order. At the end of a location, there is a whirlwind into which to deposit yourself and the stream of petals you have created. Then it's back to the windowsill where a new plant is added, and you are awarded petals for your performance. And so the cycle repeats itself.
As you progress from one area to the next there is a transition from countryside to city. And a story is pictorially told of the need for the two to combine. It's not long before you realise this is the task at hand - rejuvenating the derelict urban environment by reintroducing some fauna and flora.
Flower does all this through its simple clean visuals that can only be fully appreciated as you progress into the game. The landscape at times opens up to reveal rolling fields, and the next moment closes down to a narrow valley. It takes in the scarlet morning sun rise, glinting golden cornfields, grey industrial edifices and bright repainted architecture. Framerate and resolution are both as they should be - simply not a concern.
As I mentioned, the game adopts a classical music style that flows in a similar way to the visuals. From the other room my wife commented that it sounded like I was watching a Jane Austin movie. Funny, I thought, it looks like one too. There is also the clever musical accenting achieved by giving each different types of flower their own note or chord.
The only sadness is that the game only lasts for around two hours on an initial play through. Replaying levels for fun and increased scores will extend this substantially. But this is still quite brief for such a rich experience. I was certainly left wanting more. The thought struck me later on how more involved I would be in all this if there were collaborative or even competitive elements.
But that said, within a brief visit to this magical land there is an impressive range of environments and challenges. This is easily more than a technology demo - as some accused Flow of being. As with any game like this, it is much easier to understand in the flesh than to explain. And I suggest you do just that. For a minimal investment you will find a gaming experience as elegant and subtle as any novel. And like a good novel, it is one you will want to pass on to all your friends.