Game Review: flOw (PS Vita)

flOw PS Vita

flOw is a unique exploration and evolutionary game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita, PS3 and PS4. flOw was originally released as a flash game in 2006 created by Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark to accompany Jenova Chen’s masters thesis on dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA). flOw became an unexpected indie hit after receiving a positive reception with 100,000 downloads of the flash version within its first two weeks rising to 650,000 downloads by July 2006. Sony saw even more potential in flOw and the creators behind the game and initially brought it to the PS3 when it released on March 30th 2007, becoming the most downloaded PS3 game of 2007 and by February 2008 the figure of 650,000 flash downloads had rose again to 3.5 million across all available platforms. The success of flOw resulted in the release of a PSP version on April 24th 2008 and Jenova Chen’s development studio Thatgamecompany receiving a further two games in their deal with Sony as flOw became the predecessor to the even greater experimental and successful Flower. flOw was nominated for a host of high profile awards, such as the Best Downloadable Game of the Year at the 2008 Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Interactive Achievement Awards, but narrowly missed out on all of their nominations with exception to the music category, which won one of the numerous nominations for the game’s score with the composer Austin Wintory winning the Rookie of the Year Award. flOw has become increasingly popular over the years since its PS3 release and was chosen via a public vote to be one of eighty games showcased in the Art of Video Games exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2012.

You start with a single small organism consuming even smaller organisms in an attempt to mature, while progressing onto the next area is as simple as consuming the red organism, although you can revisit the previous area at any given time by consuming the blue organism in the case that you have accidentally progressed onto the next area without consuming or preying on every organism from that area or if you have just consumed it to get out of the way of an organism that is attempting to prey on you.

The evolutionary process requires you to prey on smaller organisms, which collectively allows your organism to grow stronger and change various proportions, such as height, width and depth as well as the ability to change colour and become multi-coloured.

You can feed on the creatures that are surrounding your organism as much as you want to, but you also have a choice to just explore the areas, while looking at the various species of creatures and not harming them at all. This is a wise design choice as it allows you to choose your path of progressing upwards through the food chain or alternatively minding your own business somewhere around the bottom of the food chain, so in a sense you can be a predator hunting prey or you can be prey hunted by the predators. When a predator attempts to feed on you; you will notice your organism changing colour or appearance with blue expressing that your organism has been stung and a loss of segments indicating that you have been hurt, while predators will change colour with red representing danger, which is when you should do your best to avoid a predator particularly of a large size and blue demonstrating that you have stung that particular organism with a loss of segments to the opposing creature indicating that you have hurt it.

There is downloadable content available for flOw in the form of the flOw: Expansion Pack, which is available from the European PlayStation Store for just £2.39. The Expansion Pack provides further organisms for you to consume and therefore provides more evolutionary possibilities for the organism that you are controlling.

flOw supports cross-buy between the Vita, PS3 and PS4, although it unfortunately does not support cross-save, so you will not be able to continue from your previous progression on the PS3 version or when you start playing the PS4 version. Cross-buy presents a superb amount of value for Vita and PS3 consumers already, but Sony is really taking the cross-buy scheme to the next level as they have implemented a range of titles that will support cross-buy for the Vita, PS3 and PS4 with just a single purchase required for all three versions of the game, which means if you already own the original PS3 version; you will be able to download the Vita and PS4 versions free of charge upon their release.

The controls are intuitive and easy to learn with a minimalist approach that provides an excellent amount of manoeuvrability without over complicating anything. There is one control scheme that is mostly based upon motion controls. The motion controls definitely seem to work rather well with the gyroscopic tilt controls steering the movement of the organism as the X button allows you to move faster in the direction you are facing at any given time and pressing L or R expands and contracts the organism, while pressing the start button pauses the game and sends you back to a holding area were you can consume the blue organism to return to the main menu or consume the red organism to return to the game.

The graphics are vibrant, although a lot of the colour scheme consists of white on black; there are numerous tints and shades of those colours and a variety of other colours that really lift the colour palette, which provides a major twist to the graphical effects and really helps to bring the graphics to the forefront with a sublime light show that occurs during the evolutionary process of your organism, which works in perfect harmony with the incidental audio.

The presentation of the game adheres to flOw’s mantra of “Life could be simple…” as the presentation is so minimalist in its appearance to a point that you could argue if it has any to begin with. The only hint of a presentation that you will see is the controls screen before you are taken into what could be described as an interactive equivalent of a main menu, which also doubles as a level select menu in the sense that you select which organism you want to set out on your journey with.

The audio is just as relaxing as Flower with some of the most relaxing you will ever find as the music will evolve with incidental notes popping up and re-arranging the musical arrangement as you progress through the evolution of your organism, so as with Flower the music and the sound effects intertwine with each other to the point that they effectively become the same entity.

The trophy list includes thirteen trophies with nine bronze trophies, three silver trophies and one gold trophy, while the Expansion Pack has one bronze trophy. The trophies are mostly easy and the majority of the trophies will be earned naturally through playing the game as you progress towards completing each of the campaigns. Some of the easier trophies include the Adventure bronze trophy for starting your first campaign after installing the game; the Evolve bronze trophy for unlocking the second creature; the Beauty silver trophy for completing the campaign without being hurt, which can be achieved by just steering clear of any of the surrounding organisms and just trying to progress through each area as quickly as possible; the Peace silver trophy for completing any campaign without eating anything by just avoiding any of the surrounding organisms; and the Swift silver trophy for completing any campaign within 120 seconds by simply progressing through each area of a campaign without preying on any of the surrounding organisms and just rushing through it as quickly as possible, which can be quite easily simultaneously paired up with the Beauty and Peace silver trophies. There are some harder trophies including the Giant bronze trophy for completing a campaign with a creature of 25 segments or longer; the Fashion bronze trophy for completing a campaign with a creature of ten alternating segments; the Cannibalism bronze trophy for eating all advanced creatures in a campaign without eating any food; and the Zen gold trophy for leaving the game on idle during the credits for five minutes, which is pretty easy in its own right, but you need to complete all of the campaigns in order to unlock the credits, which is why this can become a difficult trophy. The Expansion Pack downloadable content has an easy trophy list as it only consists of the Grace bronze trophy for consuming ten winged foods, which is pretty easy to achieve as they are added to various areas around campaigns. I would estimate depending upon skill, a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips and knowing the tactics of exactly when to hunt your prey to feed and when to avoid predators that it would take between four to eight hours to 100% the trophy list including the downloadable content.

There are no difficulty levels, although the difficulty naturally increases as you progress through the game with much larger organisms to avoid or prey on that can provide a real threat to your organism and evolutionary process if they sting or attack your organism on enough occasions.

There are no local or online multiplayer game modes and online leaderboards. I can understand the lack of local or online multiplayer game modes as they are not essential to the experience; I believe that online leaderboards would have been a good inclusion as they could have included leaderboards for the fastest times set on each campaign; the fastest combined time set across all of the campaigns; the most prey consumed for each campaign; the most prey consumed across all of the campaigns; the most evolutionary processes for each campaign; and the most evolutionary processes across all of the campaigns. However, another way to analyse the exclusion of any local, hotseat or online multiplayer and online leaderboards is that the game is not meant to be competitive and is instead meant to take you on a relaxing journey.

The replayability of flOw is formed from the amount of exploration in the game with an endless amount of possible evolutionary processes, alongside the fact that flOw is just as relaxing as its successor Flower and is certainly one of the most relaxing games ever created and therefore you will be coming back long after the first time you have completed each campaign in an attempt to create even more evolutionary processes with your organisms.

Overall, flOw has all of the hallmarks of a game by Thatgamecompany as it provides a visual treat and audio that will make your ears sing with delight with incredibly relaxing, yet immersive gameplay. flOw is much like Flower not in regards to its content, but in the sense of how relaxing it makes you feel as you are immersed in the gameplay. It would be highly recommendable anyway, but with the implementation of the Vita, PS3 and PS4 cross-buy scheme resulting in a single purchase of only £3.99 and downloadable content for just £2.39 for all three versions of this beautiful and amazing game makes flOw an unmissable must have purchase.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: flOw
  • Publisher: Thatgamecompany
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Cross Play: No
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 322Mb
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