Flower is a rare video game. For one thing, it has flowers. For another, no one dies. It's a game where the player controls the wind that guides a lonesome flower petal (and its eventual flock of follower petals) through a game world in need of nothing more than some attention, love, and nourishment.
Flower is also a game that is difficult to explain.
In the most simplistic sense, Flower is about guiding a stream of petals from one checkpoint to another where each "checkpoint" is a flower in the landscape. Once the player's petal stream touches a flower, the checkpoint is considered "met" and a petal from that flower flies into the air and joins your petal posse. When all, or enough, of the flowers in a given area have been touched, a scripted sequence is set off and urges the player the progress onward. A new player's actions may feel fairly simplistic or minute, but this is a feeling that will dissipate quickly. As the player fills more and more of these area-by-area conditions, the landscape begins to come alive: dead grass is reborn, new plants spring forth from the ground, trees regain their color and lush leaves, and so on. As a player progresses through the world of Flower and the areas that its made up of, the game is also attaching a sense of gravitas and emotion to its most fundamental game mechanic: touching a flower.
Flower's other main game mechanic comes for the sense of flow that the game encourages a player to maintain. With only a handful of exceptions, it's always possible to stop going from new flower to new flower to unlock new areas and, instead, just fly around the landscape as it exists at any given moment. The ability to just guide a stream of flower petals through the air with no sense of purpose is a near-constant possibility in the game and that lends a great deal of validation to the atmosphere of the game. That said, Flower is at its best when a player can maintain a mildly fast and uninterrupted pace throughout an entire area and the chime that each flower emits when its touched is properly strung-together with the other flowers that make up a given "path" and the player is consistently experiencing rewards for completing the objectives in a given area. This emphasis on flow is especially true of the final three areas, where there is an actual feeling of urgency that motivates players.
The marvel of Flower, though, is its ability to convey emotion to players. Like no video game that I can think of before it, Flower revels in happiness and serenity. As players progress through the six areas in the game, the only possible result for any player that can allow themselves to submit into the game's atmosphere is a feeling of profound, rewarding warmth. The music, the art direction, and the controls all lend themselves to a playing experience where a player is able to minimize the gap between the player, the controller, and the game and buy into the concept that a player's direct actions are the reason these streams of flower petals are flying and sweeping through the gorgeous in-game landscapes.
Flower's developer, thatgamecompany, is doing some very unique work within the realm of video games and it will be interesting to see where they go from Flower. The company's last game, flOw (and the Flash release), is a game that also creates a very unique, strong atmosphere while allowing a player to define his/her own play style. While it bears very little gameplay similarities to Flower, flOw's minimalism and clarity of design are even more pronounced and well-defined in Flower.
When I finished all six of Flower's primary areas (and the exceptionally clever Credits segment), I went to Metacritic to see how the mainstream game reviewing sites handled their treatment of Flower. It was surprising to see how traditional the reviews for the game were; especially Eurogamer's piece which, of all things, criticized the ten dollar price tag of the game. Aside from my issues with the game's imprecise and flow-breaking sixaxis-based control scheme, I find it difficult to find much to gripe about with Flower; least of all its paltry entry fee for a game that lasted me about two-three hours and a game that I will no doubt look to play-through again when the memories of the game have faded a bit or I want to be reminded that games don't have to be about guns, death, and sex.
Flower is the rare kind of video game from which discussions of games as art, entertainment versus experience, and dollars per hour will blossom. Don't listen to that nonsense.