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flOw Review Rewind

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On 03/26/2010 at 05:52 PM by Sam Wakefield

Evanescent flOw gives an abstractly artistic outlook on aquatic life, that which is as lovely as it is repetitive.

While lovely to look at, surprisingly organic, and nice to relax with, it's not quite worth spending money on.

I find myself at a loss for words when I try to think of an introduction for flOw. Oddly, for a game that is so simple, it’s one that dances outside traditional categorization. I suppose, and I write it with a quirky smile, the title is the game – description, category, and a unique sense of being.

Those of you who are familiar with Flower will already find yourself sort of in-tune with the flow of flOw… and with good reason. Both games are the brainchild of game designer Jenova Chen and the indie game developing company thatgamecompany. Somewhat lesser known is the fact that flOw is a sort of big sister to 2009’s Flower, being released in flash format back in 2006, until 2007 when it became a downloadable game on the PlayStation Network. I, myself, stumbled over flOw when it was being offered this last Valentine’s Day on PSN for free, and figured I’d give it a shot despite having never heard of it before.

I’ll put this out there as bluntly and as eloquently as I possibly can: flOw is a piece of abstract art: lovely and conceptual. I write that half-cringing, since putting “art” and “video games” together is one oft discussed, and for some folks raises a cautionary red flags. Nevertheless, in terms of flOw, I find it hard to describe it any other way: … I use the term “abstract art” here as a sort of dual edged sword however, as when it comes to flOw, it can be both a wonderful thing and it’s biggest downfall.

When you start flOw, you get instructions nearly as abstract and simple as the game: “go with the ‘flOw.’ Tip the controller to move, press any button to boost… friends can pick up a controller and dive in.” …And it’s really as simple as that. flOw is game that uses the PS3 Sixaxis controller optimally: tip the controller away from you and float up, towards you and down you go and so on. In fact, you could play all of flOw without ever pressing a single button on the PS3 controller… though if you did, you’d be missing out on certain aspects of the game.

Coming into flOw completely fresh, I will honestly sit here and say that I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on at first. You start off, essentially, as what appears to be a crescent moon and a series of conjoined circles (very lovely circles, I assure you). Little blurred specks hover and glide around you, and the blue hues of your surroundings actually invoke almost a weightless, outer space-like feeling at first. As you progress, it becomes increasingly more obvious that you are in fact some kind of aquatic creature; a strange little styled micro-organism. In fact, if there is a plot to flOw, it’s a lesson in marine life: bigger creatures eat smaller creatures and, in turn, risk being eaten by creatures larger still. The more you eat, the larger and more stylistically complex you become (and a little less abstract), and so the further you “evolve.”

flOw a hyper-stylized version of the old computer game, where you play as the hungry little snake who slithers around attempting to eat apples, all whilst while trying not to bite yourself or trap yourself in the ever increasing maze that is your tail.

While in flOw, consuming one’s self is not an issue (thankfully, as you can grow to some outrageous proportions), there are offered challenges in your fellow translucent micro-organisms - some will ignore you while others will try and take a bite out of you to further their own growth. Some will attempt to draw you in, others will repel you away, while others still will paralyze or explicitly hunt you if you come too close. Largely on 2-D fields, you progress through the level by finding small flagellated creatures with a brightly target sign in the middle of their bodies: blue will move you “up” a level (a higher level of the ocean environment), red will move you “down,” or deeper into the ocean. You try to progress as far as you can, eating your fellow microorganisms in an attempt to grow as maximally as possible, until you go down as far in the ocean as you can. You eventually eat what I think of as a “level complete” organism: unique structurally from the other organisms, due to (scientific term) shiny factor. You gobble it down, get transformed into a new type of organism, and start all over again from the top of the ocean.

There are six creatures throughout the game, four of which in their earliest stages look like the original “snake” or worm-shaped creature (the other two very obviously being jellyfish and dolphin respectively). However as you grow and progress, these snakes transform into their own unique shapes. Each of these creatures have very different abilities and, in turn, your environment reflects that and throws varying challenges your way. For instance, as the “dolphin” creature, your “boost” ability is speed – press any button and you jet ahead for a short period of time. In turn, you encounter “enemies” (other competing organisms) that can move just a touch faster than you or will turn invisible and “unedible” if you jet over to them quickly.

As I earlier said, flOw being a something of a piece of abstract art acts as a dual edged sword in a certain regard. Fascinating and beautiful, yes, but also somehow not quite fully a game. That abstractness that makes up flOw’s strongest feature will undoubtedly have some people falling madly in love with it while driving others completely up the wall: you experience flOw, you chill out to flOw… but don’t expect any real challenges or goals. flOw was more designed to impart upon the player a sense of tranquility: even when you’re being “chased” by other micro-organisms in the environment, it’s never particularly a distressful affair or all that challenging or intense. flOw is too abstract for even that; with a bit of popping up or down a sea level, you can easily overcome any obstacle that you may find in your environment… or completely ignore them if you should so choose.

But don’t get me wrong: flOw, while repetitive, can be fun for reasons that are difficult to explain. It’s delightfully non-static: there’s always some kind of movement, shifting hues decorating the background, and ambient decorative music that enhances the experience… but I know that it’s also very easy too look at this game as a kind of glorified screen saver, which is a fact I wouldn’t really deny either. On a normal day, flOw runs for $7.99 USD on PSN (there’s also a PSP version) and as lovely as I find the game, I can’t say that I would shell the money out for it either. This game is easily not more than two hours long, and really only if you’re attempting to trophy hunt. The option for multiplayer is attractive, though also somewhat misplaced as flOw isn’t much about competition.

If you lost your chance on Valentine’s Day, should the day ever roll around where PSN offers the game for free again, I would whole heartedly recommend downloading it to give it a shot. Otherwise, while it’s a neat and zen-filled little game, nice to play and look at from time to time, you really aren’t missing out on a heck of a lot.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Jason Ross Senior Editor

03/26/2010 at 03:52 PM

I forgot to download flOw back when it was free on Valentine's Day! I regret the decision, but I have to say I agree, it's not worth eight dollars, from what I've seen.

Nick DiMola Director

03/29/2010 at 06:08 AM

I agree exactly with your sentiment here, Sam. I think I would've found myself pretty upset had I actually spent money on flOw. It's a cool little game, but like Flower, there isn't all that much to it.

Chris Mabrey Staff Alumnus

06/01/2010 at 04:23 PM

I managed to catch it on Valentine's Day, actually; played it for a bit, and I'm on the same wave as you are, Sam. It's certainly worth playing, but $8 is a bit steep for the experience. Flower, on the other hand, even though it's fairly similar, I would wholeheartedly pay the money for (and did).

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