Friday, December 18, 2009

The 2009 Select [Button]: Game of the Year

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

Game of the Year: Flower

In a year riddled with sequels and familiar, derivative material, Flower stands apart. This is a game that is more meditative than action-packed, and one that rewards a slow, patient approach. Instead of a space marine or a wise-cracking adventurer, the player takes the part of the wind, blowing petals from place to place. Besides originality in concept, Flower accomplishes something few games even attempt: it contains relevant social and political themes. Flower is presented with confidence and gravitas, delivering a message of change without a single word of dialogue. Remarkably, this message has the power to affect both the video game industry and the advancement of alternative energy.

Even the tone of the game speaks volumes for its creativity. It is at times exciting, but there is a quiet revolution here as well: the majority of the game is soothing. There are moments of adversity and triumph, but mostly there is just the peaceful exploration and transformation of wide expanses of land. In Flower, the world becomes more beautiful as you progress. Instead of leaving corpses in your wake, you leave blooming flowers and bright swathes of color.

Beyond Flower’s groundbreaking originality, it is spectacularly well-executed. The visuals are gorgeous, presenting one of the most colorful and dramatic landscapes of any game this year. The physics of the wind, carrying the many-colored petals and parting the grass beneath, help to deliver a sense of reality and immediacy to the game play. The world of Flower is transformed by the player, using the simple, proficient tilting of the controller, into a canvas of color and life. This is painting as performed by nature itself, placed in the palms of your hands.

Somehow, thatgamecompany has managed to create something fresh, beautiful and unique and get it right on their first try. There is not a single moment or mechanic out of place, the game never becomes dull or laborious, and the result is sublime. Other games accomplished a great deal this year: Uncharted 2, for example, took an idea that has been tried a hundred times and refined it until it shone. But what makes Flower the best game of the year is that it took an idea that was completely new, delivered on every possibility, and created something beautiful, simple, socially-relevant, and engaging. Flower is interactive art. And it feels so good.

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