Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

flOw (2006)

Genre: Relaxing | Players: 1 - 4 | Developer: thatgamecompany

In flOw you play as a wormlike thing, some kind of early multi-celled organism(?) and have to guide he/she/it through a series of top down levels as he (I'm calling it a he) grows and transforms into a larger wormlike thing. Thatgamecompany sure do make it tough to review their games.

Each level is a layer in an aquatic environment. Picture a dozen layers of glass vertically atop each other, each time you move up or down a layer you’re moving to a new pane of glass. There are no menus or instructions to tell you what to do, so you’re left to simply swim around and try to figure it out through trial and error. After a while you’ll realise what is required of you to progress, but I won’t spoil that process by detailing it here.

Controlling your worm (*chuckle) is an art in itself. You tilt the controller in the direction you want him to go, but it’s not merely left and right, you’re on a pseudo 2D plane, so in order to turn him back on himself you have to tilt in 3D. Yup, that makes about as much sense as I thought it would when I was writing it. It needs to be played to be understood, and while it’s initially confusing it soon becomes an extension of your hand; you’ll soon be zipping your little worm in and out of tight spots, avoiding danger like a pro.

flOw’s appeal is limited, as is the gameplay element; in fact, it’s not really a game in the traditional sense, it’s more like an extended and interactive artwork/tech-demo, but if you've enjoyed the subsequent 'non-game' releases from the same developer (flower and Journey) then it’s an interesting insight into their origins and the thought process of the designer Jenova Chan, as well as being a relaxing and occasionally engaging experience. When the “are games art?” argument is raised among gamers, flOw will feature heavily.

The PS3 version has multiplayer for up to four players.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PS3 and PSP but can only be bought from the online store. There's also an earlier flash version, but I can't imagine how that would work without the tilt mechanism.

3 growth spurts out of 5

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