FlOw didn't start out as a PlayStation 3 game, but Sony's console is definitely where it garnered the most attention after being made available as a download early last year. The game's simplistic, stylized visuals made it an unlikely showpiece for the PS3, but its inventive and undemanding gameplay coupled with effective use of the Sixaxis' motion controls made it a good option for early PS3 adopters looking to show off their new toy. The downloadable PSP version of flOw doesn't add anything new over the PS3 version, but it's a great fit for the handheld and certainly worth a look if you haven't played the game already.
Your goal in flOw is simple: You play as a small aquatic lifeform that must swim around and eat other aquatic lifeforms in order to both survive and evolve. The world that your creature inhabits is viewed from a top-down perspective, and you progress through each of the five environments by swimming deeper. Initially you'll be gorging yourself on the flOw equivalent of plankton, but as you dive deeper you have to contend with creatures that will defend themselves and, in some cases, even attempt to eat you. The other creatures' behaviors are every bit as varied as their appearances, so don't be surprised if you come up against a large predator that can disappear and then attack you from nowhere or a shoal of seemingly harmless small fish that are quick to turn aggressive as soon as one of their number is threatened.
Some of the food you eat causes you to evolve, some of it simply replenishes your health. Needless to say, you'll want plenty of both before tackling some of the game's larger predators. Some of the situations you find yourself in feel a lot like boss battles, but there's no way to die in flOw. Rather, when your health is depleted you automatically swim back up to a safe depth where you're at the top of the food chain.
The end of each level is marked by the appearance of an egg, which can only be eaten when you've fully realized your creature's potential. Eating said egg unlocks a new playable creature and then transports you back to the game's first screen where you can select it. There are five different creatures to play as in flOw, plus a sixth that you get to explore the end credits with. The creatures, which vaguely resemble eels, rays, jellyfish and the like, each have their own special ability, ranging from a simple burst of speed through to predatory strikes that home in on weak points and even a move that temporarily paralyzes prey.
Even when you're embroiled in a relatively lengthy battle with a large creature, flOw never feels frantic or frustrating. This is because the game's difficulty masterfully scales to match your skill level, and because the music borders on meditative. FlOw is a game that you'll inevitably "beat" if you spend enough time with it, and that's unlikely to take more than two or three hours. The PSP game can be played through even more quickly than its PS3 counterpart because the expanses of water that you're swimming in are much smaller. If the PS3 levels were large ponds, the PSP's are goldfish bowls. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since you no longer waste time swimming around empty expanses looking for the special red and blue creatures that you eat to swim deeper or back toward the surface, respectively.
In addition to the single-player game, flOw features ad-hoc support for up to four players. We're not certain if it's designed to be competitive, cooperative, or neither of the above, but whatever it is it's not good. Everyone has to play as the same creature, everyone gets moved to a different depth when one player chooses to, and the creature you're playing as rarely looks the same to you as it does on everyone else's screens. The multiplayer game suffers from just enough lag to make the controls unresponsive, as well, so really your best bet is just to keep the WLAN switch in the off position.
If you've already experienced one of the previous iterations of flOw there's really nothing in the PSP version to justify paying for the privilege of doing so again. If you missed flOw on the PS3, though, the handheld version is every bit as good and will only take up 90MB on your memory stick.