Forget the whole "Can games be art?" argument. "Flower" is art, period.
It's a game because it has abstract goals to achieve, but the absence of scoring, time limits or anything punitive in the experience gives "Flower" a unique presence amongst the pantheon of video games, one game enthusiasts should embrace.
How's this for a premise? You control the wind. Starting with a single flower petal, you guide the wind into other flowers, causing them to bloom and restore life to the surrounding land. Collecting certain petals opens up new areas, and you repeat this process until the exit appears.
That's it. Six levels of that. You don't even get an on-screen counter to indicate how many petals you've collected. Only gusts of wind that keep the petals within the area's invisible boundaries restrict players' otherwise complete freedom of exploration. Nothing but superficial PS3 trophies await the more obsessive-compulsive lot of players.
That said, "Flower" does have a story to tell, and it does so without dialogue or even text. Each level represents a different theme, conveyed through various color schemes, times of day and physical surroundings. Without spoiling too much, things don't stay bright and cheery all of the time.
"Flower" presents players with a vast, vibrant colorful meadow upon startup, giving the impression this will be the complete thematic antithesis to dark, violent games such as "Gears of War." Personal advice: play this game in private, lest your buddies chastise you for being a sissy and a hippy.
Those who can overcome the initial embarrassment of playing a game about collecting flower petals might end up begrudgingly enjoying the game, as they should.
The game's intro splash screen summarizes what "Flower" is all about far more effectively and succinctly than I ever could: "Tilt the controller to soar. Hold down any button to blow wind. Relax, enjoy." It's simple, and it works remarkably well. The game lines up almost every flower in straight lines for easy collection, but should you miss one, brisk speeds and sharp controller motions make U-turns a snap.
The grass sways in the breeze, parts like hair when the petals fly by and appears as far as the eye can see. Any developers who got away with putting bland, cheap two-dimensional foliage in their games should feel pretty humbled right about now.
Nothing in particular about "Flower" got on my nerves for more than a few seconds. The petals occasionally obstruct your view but only momentarily. The game's length (a paltry two hours) is the only meaningful aspect of its design that could stand to be improved.
For more than 20 years, video games have trained us to expect things such as character upgrades and high scores as rewards. This game's refusal to adhere to such traditions might alienate the majority of game enthusiasts, but those who value pure in-the-moment gameplay will discover a mesmerizing experience like nothing else on PlayStation 3.