Though short, Flower blends audio and visual artistry so well that it creates something beyond explanation.

User Rating: 9 | flower PS3
SCORE: 9.3/10.0

+Incredibly engrossing gameplay
+Gorgeous visuals
+Stirring and adaptive soundtrack
+Varied level design

-Should only take around three to four hours to completely finish
-Invisible walls limit the game's apparent freedom

Swish! Whooooo! The wind careens off the mountains, the grass, the desolate buildings. The wind's companion is a single petal, weak and frail in build but the textbook definition of ephemeral beauty. The goal of the video game Flower is simple: you control the wind and experience what it's like to be an invisible force of nature in a world that is almost without color and vibrancy. You then instill it with life by simply interacting with other flowers. If it sounds compelling, that's because it is, but it's simply greater in practice. Flower would have greatly benefited from more content and freedom but when the experience is so phenomenal, those problems become minuscule. Not everyone will like the simplicity and focus on the emotive aspect of the gameplay but for the gaming equivalent of Prozac, nothing comes even close to Flower.

As previously mentioned, you control the wind and by extension the petal that follows. How you do this is by tilting the PlayStation 3 controller and holding down the X button. There is literally no other input necessary which means that even the most inexperienced players should easily grasp the mechanics. The world you fly through is at first bleak and gray, but once you fulfill special prerequisites (most often moving your petal close to an unbloomed flower to make it bloom), everything is permeated with color and background music reacts accordingly by emphasizing piano notes or other musical cues. It all seems like a bit much but when you get to playing the game, it works like a charm. There's no inaccuracy in the motion control of the Sixaxis function and the single-button interface keeps everything very simple.

The goals in every level are usually straightforward and follow a linear path. The aforementioned flower-blooming is the most common objective, though the game does mix it up on occasion. Once a set number of flowers bloom, you get a new line or batch of flowers to interact with and this is repeated throughout the various levels of the game. This might make the average game tedious, but even though the rudimentary set-up is the same, the consequences vary greatly. In one level, blooming all the flowers will cause a sea of beautiful green grass to sprout forth, while in other scenarios it might turn on windmills, get rid of dangerous hazards or even paint entire skyscrapers.

The common motif shared with all of these examples is revival. Those that have played Okami on the PlayStation 2 should be familiar with this sort of mechanic, seeing as that game had a very similar goal. At first, everything will be either dull or shrouded in darkness. Once you're done, you'll find yourself in a world of immaculate beauty. The greatest contribution to this important juxtaposition of light and dark, the proverbial "good and evil" setting, is the superb visuals. It's quite hard to explain how Flower looks in simple words. It's at times slightly cel-shaded in appearance, though that's only a very superficial observation of the overall look. A better way to explain Flower is to say that it's like a living painting, every color is elaborate and blends with the rest of the "canvas" splendidly. The most impressive part of the visuals is, however, the stark contrast that's created by the bright and gloomy locales, making for a spectacular explosion of color from the most unexpected source. Though graphics are in most cases just a side-dish that accompanies the main course, Flower's mechanics focus equally on the gameplay and the aesthetic qualities. For that reason, the visual fidelity makes the experience that more stunning.

Of course, one must not forget the other aesthetic quality of Flower: sound. The sound design is amazing, it uses new age/cIassical music that acclimatizes with the situation in-game. This is an aspect mentioned earlier in the review, but the gist of it is that with every flower that blooms, the music grows a bit in intensity, though not too much that it seems overbearing. The general soundtrack is beautiful on its own, but it becomes even more splendid when put together with the gameplay in such a meaningful way. With the combination between visuals and audio, Flower becomes not only a game that is pleasing to the senses; it's a game that soothes the soul. This sounds exaggerated, but it most certainly isn't. Flower can actually calm you down and make you feel better if a bad mood sets in. Not many games can call claim to that outstanding feat. This makes the game even more unique and most certainly even more of an artistic experience.

Flower is not without its flaws, though. For one, it's very short. The price, seeing as it's a downloadable game, is indeed far lower than that of retail games, but its still very noticeable that it takes only three to four hours to breeze through the game. Considering that Flower is more a game to be taken in chunks and then replayed for sheer joy, this can partially be forgiven. However, it still would have been even better with more substantial content. The other misstep is that there are invisible walls to keep you on a certain path. The most appealing aspect of wind as we perceive it in nature is how completely free it is in form. For that reason, when you're forced to follow a predetermined direction, it reminds you that, unfortunately, actual wind is still not within your grasp. A special free-roam area, where you can just jump in and play, would have been very welcome. Nothing extremely huge would have been necessary, just a moderately big playing field with no certain focus.

However, it takes a very cynical attitude to actually disregard the experience just due to limited access of the outer areas. It's still amazing to swoop your petal in the direction of the blinding sun, to see the grass sway under the force of your velocity, to witness color sprouting from a monochrome setting. With hi-definition visuals and surround sound, there's not a game like it. It would be easy to look at Flower and disregard it for its odd premise. However, with an open mind and an optimistic outlook, you can let Flower affect you too. It's a downloadable game that simply works on every level. If you have access to the PlayStation Network, Flower should be high on any recommendation list. It's beautiful, entrancing and simply one-of-a-kind.

Gameplay: 9.2/10.0
Graphics: 9.7/10.0
Sound: 9.4/10.0
Replayability: 8.7/10.0

Final score: 9.3/10.0