Upcoming downloadable PSN title Flower caused quite a stir in the office last week. The game sees you control a petal using movement of the Sixaxis as it rides the wind across expansive meadows, gathering other petals along the way. You'll find more detail from Neon's hands-on preview, but that, essentially, is pretty much it.

It's beautiful, has uplifting music and, I'm told by Neon, affects on an emotional level - if you're not a cynical, cold-hearted bastard. I'm sure he's right, but my scepticism of the game has nothing to do with a deep-rooted hate of all things nice and colourful. No, my concern merely relates to one crucial question: Is it fun?

This, for me, is the primary determining factor in whether a game should be considered "good". As I told Neon, if a game looks pretty, has lovely music and has an interesting control scheme that's great, but that's not enough to make the game fun, the game good.

Neon challenged this definition of "good". Is going to an art gallery fun? Is watching Schindler's List fun? Is listening to a Radiohead album fun? Is watching your football team lose fun?

What is fun? It's different for everyone, but for me it's about pleasure, about enjoyment, and that doesn't always have to bring a smile to your face. Watching Schindler's List is fun because, despite the harrowing subject matter, it affects you on an emotional level, which in itself is a pleasurable experience. Listening to a Radiohead album is fun because we enjoy the music. Watching your football team lose is fun because we've had an emotional experience.

A game doesn't have to have hulking space marines, exploding heads or seven-hit combos to be fun. All it needs is to provide an experience that, when you put the pad down, can be described as having been an enjoyable one.

The "cool" factor is one that is relied upon too heavily by game developers. Is this weapon cool to use? Is this character cool to be? Is this level cool to look at? Is this explosion, are these physics, is this game cool? Fun, and quality, are measured by this cool factor in many games. Flower doesn't care about being cool, because it knows that fun can be had in other ways. This, in the fledgling games industry, is an extremely brave move.

Flower screenshot

So, "Are you enjoying yourself?" I asked Neon. "Yes", he replied. Fair enough. Then Flower is good.

And, despite how 'arty' it is, Flower is quite clearly a game, one that is still trapped in the traditional mechanics gamers know without knowing that they know. You need to guide your petals around touching other flowers, which then unlock other areas to explore. There are levels, and visual clues as to how well you've done. There's clear progression, goals and rewards and a degree of skill required to guide your petals around with the Sixaxis. Flower might be art, but it is still, quite clearly, a game.

Is Flower good? Yes it is. Why? Because the experience of playing it is enjoyable, despite the fact that you don't do too much, but if it isn't enjoyable, then, for me, it shouldn't be considered good. I will always remain sceptical about games like Flower, asking the same "is it fun?" question I ask of other, more traditional "gamer" games. It is not enough, in my mind, to have an experimental interactive experience, wrapped in pretty graphics and draped in calming music. There needs to be some "fun" somewhere for it to be worthwhile.

Flower raises the "are games art" debate once again, one that's becoming more than a little tiring. For me, this debate has been massively overcomplicated. Games are art, it seems, if they look pretty and don't involve shooting things. For me, "are games art" is a pointless question, since they quite obviously are. A more important question is "are arty games good?"

So-called 'arty' games shouldn't be immune from the same criticism from reviewers other games are subject to. There is no need for a us to develop a different way of working out a review score for games like Flower. The same rules should apply. Is Flower good? You'll have to wait for the review to find out, but rest assured that if we say it is, you'll know it's fun.

What do you think makes a game good? Should games like Flower be treated differently to other games? Let us know in the comments section below.

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clangod's Avatar


Well, if the only question you need to ask to determine if Flower is good or bad is "is it fun"? Then the answer quite frankly is "yes".

I agree with lost on this one as what makes a game "good" or "fun" is generally measurable in it's original ideas, structure, story & playability etcetera etcetera.....

I think based solely on the arty game discussion then it need only be something which acheives it's goal in an original and stylish manner. Something which enables a player to either experience "the art" (in an essentially submissive way), or create thier own experience using the creator's idea/ concepts and tools.

flOw for example is a lot like Flower in it's concept yet a completely different "work of art". The controls are pretty much mirrored between the two as the six-axis' sole function is an obvious one. Both games are fun and well devised. They enable a player to control the medium within it's boundaries without complicating matters with time limits, score requirements and such. Therefore a player is able to simply experience his/ her own journey.

Take Echochrome for example. It is a puzzler... yes, obviously. It's concept and execution is original to a certain point in the way that you can change the perspective of the levels to achieve your goal (that's just how it works). It has a flavour all it's own. But is it fun? Well again, yes. It can frustrate the hell out of you and takes far more brain - work than flOw or Flower but ultimately it's as arty in it's concept as is either of the former.

I welcome these "arty" games and look forward to more as time goes by. If all they acheive is to compel and inspire developers to introduce more unique elements into traditional mainstream titles, then their work is done. We can still enjoy them for what they are... yes you guessed it... Pure unadulterated "fun".
Posted 08:25 on 16 February 2009
WaterElemental's Avatar
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LOL... thats more like it!!
Posted 21:46 on 13 January 2009
lost's Avatar
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When are game reviewers going to grow up and gain some intellectual depth to their writing and critiques? It's as though every game reviewer is stuck writing high school English papers. "The game is good because it is fun". What kind of ludicrous one-dimensional writing is this? Is that actually an argument? Is "fun" the only standard to live up to? Thank god the film industry has grown up and with it the critics (some of them at least). Please do some homework by taking a film or art history course. I dare you to make the argument in class that a particular work is "good" because it is "fun".

What happened to aesthetics, original ideas, story, influence, structure, history, character, timing, mood etc?

Please also note the difference between art and entertainment. I know that there can be overlaps between the two and cases made for each but there is a difference. I have not played Flower or Flow but I suspect it could be the kind of work that will not be a corner stone in the history of games but I can see it being very influential in its tone, timing and movement. Some future game designer will play this game today and in some way be deeply moved by the work which will influence the games they make in the future. Works like this may be small in scale but do not underestimate their contribution in creative and stylistic innovation.
Posted 16:06 on 13 January 2009
WaterElemental's Avatar
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This guy seems very narrow-minded when it comes to the experience of games.
Posted 23:51 on 12 January 2009
Triggerhappytel's Avatar

Triggerhappytel@ cousin walter

I like the sound of this. I never played Flow but am recently getting into downloadable games - hopefully there'll be a demo of Flower but I'd like to check it out for sure, if the price is right.
Posted 16:36 on 12 January 2009
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cousin walter

is it really gonna be £20 , i was think more like £5-£8
Posted 16:27 on 12 January 2009
FantasyMeister's Avatar


You're both right. If Neon thinks it's worth £20 because he's a hippy and Flower is the immersive equivalent of sharing a joint with Hare Krishna then you can't argue, and if Wes thinks it's worth £5 because it doesn't have Ryu in it and the petal can't pull off a focus attack then that can't be argued with either.

Different strokes for different folks. Which is why review scores can never be right. Gamers are so diverse that review scores need to be 'targetted', and even then there are occasions when people will highly recommend a game based on what they know you like and still get it completely wrong.

Play it safe, score it 8 if you think the reader was born in the sixties and thought Braid was fabulous, score it 4 if you think the reader thinks that Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 should be hanging in the Tate.

Edit: I guess the problem with the current scoring systems in use is that Metacritic et al will only settle for one score, in which case, personally, I'd give a score based on "Does this game achieve what it set out to do?" rather than "Is this game fun?". Bit like if Sony brought out a spreadsheet application for the PS3.
Posted 14:26 on 12 January 2009

Game Stats

Release Date: 12/02/2009
Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Simulation
No. Players: One
Rating: PEGI 3+
Site Rank: 2,798 24
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