Stunningly beautiful, the followup to flOw is one of the Playstation 3's best downloadable titles.

User Rating: 8.5 | flower PS3
Playing Flower is not quite like playing any other game on the market. It's incredibly difficult to describe exactly what the experience is, but perhaps the best comparison that may be drawn is to meditation. Flower is not a generic title -- and by that, I mean it cannot be put into any genre. It's not a puzzle game, though that may be the closest one gets to describing it. You control a group of flower petals with the Sixaxis, steering them towards buds that have not yet bloomed but will do so when you touch them. The buds dot a sparse landscape that grows more vibrant and verdant as you touch more and more of the blossoms. And that's more or less it.

If it doesn't sound like a "game" to you, you're probably right. It's not a game in any traditional sense: you aren't competing against time or an opponent, you cannot lose, and there is no "payoff" per se for accomplishing the mission -- if you can even call it a mission. Despite paring down the interactive experience to an extremely simple control scheme and extremely simple objective, the boys at That Game Company somehow create something even more captivating and absorbing.

The music and graphics are perfect. The art style is simple but exceptionally well-done, and there's a reason people describe this as one of 2009's best-looking games despite the fact that it's a tiny downloadable title and hardly at the same level of graphical fidelity as Killzone 2 or Uncharted 2. Ultimately, however, the charming, lulling score may be the finest element of the presentation. The chiming sounds that accompany each flower blooming assume a melody of their own as you get the rhythm of the game and begin to float gracefully from field to field revitalizing the environment.

The theme of Flower is the clash between nature and humanity, a conflict that is devastatingly rendered through the game's allegorical structure and iconic -- even symbolic -- objects, such as electrical towers. It's a challenging idea to tackle with a game, and I'm impressed that Flower handles it in a somber, intelligent way, rather than bashing us over the head with its message. The game evinces maturity while evoking the beauty of nature and the possibilities of both harmony and destruction that human development and "progress" represent.

Of course, no title is perfect, and there are a few complaints I have regarding this one. It's short -- perhaps 3.5 hours long, though that may be a stretch. Flower consists of six levels and an interactive credit sequence (quite creative, reminding me of the title sequence in Prince of Persia), so don't expect to be overwhelmed by the depth of content. Also, the controls are a bit of a struggle. It may only be a testament to my own inability to completely give myself over to the organic, free-form nature of Flower, but I found myself tweaking and yanking the controller while attempting to control the Sixaxis flight of the petals. If you're not a fan of Sixaxis control or struggle with it, Flower's controls are not going to be your favorite scheme in the world.

Finally, I must admit to being annoyed by the inclusion of trophies and achievements in the game. Yes, annoyed! Given its thematics, it disrupts the concept to have trophy notifications popping up on your screen. And it does a disservice to the game when you worry about getting every last blossom or "secret" flower -- the game is meant to be a release from the human obsession with control, order, and accomplishment: that is, the desire for everything to be bigger, better, and faster. Pairing such a game with achievements defeats the point.