flOw Review

Title: flOw
Developer: Thatgamecompany
Game Type: PlayStation Vita
Download: 983 MB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download 

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: No

The PlayStation Vita is well-equipped with games that are developed by small teams that don’t have full video game financial support, as some of the bigger companies do.  This allows you to develop your games and sell them much cheaper than other games.  At least, that is what most of these developers do.  While a game made by the likes of Square Enix may sell for $40-60, one of these games would sell for about $10-20.  When you don’t have this sort of financial support, but still strive to build a game to release on the big platforms, your game is known as an Indie Game.

There is a growing library of Indie games available and becoming available for not only the PlayStation Vita, but also the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 systems.  The games are really starting to both be popular and massively populate digital stores like the PlayStation Store.  From Mobile to Steam to Vita, you will find Indie Games around every digital corner, and those numbers are constantly growing.

Even though they are really starting to get popular now, there have been Indie games out on these systems in years before.  Today’s review is for an Indie Game that released on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable back in 2006 and 2008, respectively, and as of this past week, have released on the PlayStation 4.  We present out coverage of the PlayStation Indie Game, flOw.

A really nice factor when considering the game flOw is Cross-Buy.  This is a feature that Sony has begun to implement with some of their first-party titles, such as flOw.  This means that you can get the same game for multiple systems.  If you, say, go onto the PlayStation Store and buy flOw for the PlayStation Vita, your download list will be updated with download items for the game on the Vita as well as the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.  So, you buy the game once, and get it for all three platforms.

Story

The plot of flOw is very simple and basic.  In all actuality, the plot of the game is not explained to you in the game.  Once you boot it up, you get a screen that talks about how you control the game and you are thrown straight into the gameplay in an interactive title screen.

The plot of the game is about small, aquatic creatures, as they venture through the ocean and evolve.  It’s very different from anything else I have ever played.  Your goal is to send them through their lives as they eat food, absorb other creatures into themselves, and become a fully evolved creature once they reach the end of their journey.

This is not really explained in the game, but rather in the descriptions for the game available at various locations, such as the PlayStation Store and Sony’s official PlayStation Web Site.  It’s very simple, and the game is simple enough that it doesn’t need a plot.

Gameplay

Although the gameplay is simple, this is where the entirety of the game lies.  As stated above, your goal in this game is to guide a small aquatic creature, estimated to be Amoeba-class life, through its evolution.  There are five different types of creatures to choose from, and each look a little different.  For example, the default looks like a small snake, one looks like a neutron, and one looks like a fish.  Only one is available from the beginning of the game, though.

The campaign of the game requires you to guide your creature through an aquatic environment full of small bits of food as well as other aquatic creatures similar to you.  You can have your creature eat these to evolve.  You simply guide the “mouth” of the creature into the food and they will eat it and evolve in different ways, expanding it’s body and creating new segments of itself, whether it be a tail, legs, wings, fins, and more.  The way they evolve depends on what you absorb and which creature you’re using.  When you go for absorbing the larger, more-complex creatures, it’s a little more complex.  There are small orb segments on them, just as there are on you, and you need to eat each of these before you can “defeat” them and absorb all of them into yourself.  They can also do the same to you, so you need to be careful not to get part of you stolen.

Progression is done in levels.  Each level is a 2D plane where all of the food, creatures, and you reside.  To get to the next or previous level, you need to find one of two specific creatures on the level.  Each level comes with one small creature with a Blue X  in the middle of it and one with a Red X in the middle of it.  The Red X creature takes you to the next level (below you), when eaten, and the Blue takes you to the previous level (above you).  While your goal is to get to the next level, the Blue creature comes in handy if you’ve got multiple creatures attacking you and you need to retreat.  To further aid, you can see a blurred image of the next level below you so you know where the big creatures are to watch out for.

As you progress, each level will have a little more activity.  While the first level could only have a few other creatures around with you, some of the final levels could have several.  You need to evolve, and work your way around each level until you get to the bottom level, which will have an orb that is Red or Blue, which finishes the campaign.  Each time a campaign is finished, you unlock a new creature and is taken to the “Character Select” screen, where you can choose a creature by moving into it and start a new campaign.

This is mostly everything there is to playing the game, aside from the Expansion and the Multiplayer.  The Multiplayer is basically the game, though you can have another play on-screen at the same time, letting you both fight over the food and each other.  The DLC, though, adds a little bit more to the game.  The expansion, that you can buy on the PlayStation Store, adds an extra character to the game, along with a new type of creature you can eat that takes screenshots of your game, and an extra Trophy.

The game is very simple, and can be completed very quickly.  Like some other handheld titles, it is best played in multiplayer and in short bursts.  There is even a Trophy available for completing a game in less than two minutes.  All in all, you can unlock all characters in less than two hours.  This is enjoyed mostly through short bursts and multiplayer games with friends.

Controls

If I could say that there is one part of the game that is a challenge, it is the control scheme.  This is one thing that is a little weird to get used to, though it is this way across all platforms the game can be played on.  This is due to the fact that controlling your amoeba-like creature is not done by use of the D-Pad or Analog Sticks or face buttons.  In fact, you cannot control their movements with buttons at all.  Your whole system is used to direct and control your creature.

Moving your creature is done by tilting the Vita in a certain direction.  Imagine it like those small handheld mazes that have a small ball in the middle, where you have to tilt the maze to direct the ball to the end of the maze, except less complex.  Tilt the system to the left and you will move to the left.  Tilt up to move up, and so on and so forth.  This is very awkward, when you first start playing the game.  It is pressure-sensitive as well.  This means that you will move slower or faster, depending on how quickly and how much you tilt.

Once you get this understood, there are three other things you can do.  You can make your creature dash by pressing the face buttons or the D-Pad, which allows you to absorb creatures that have force-fields around them.  If you press the Start Button, you will return to the previous level, whether above or below you, and holding down the L and R buttons will reset the Tilt, allowing you to have a fresh start from your current angle with your system.

I cannot say these controls are bad, but they can stand to improve.  They utilize the tilt features of the system, though it would be easier and have more precision if there were an option available to use the Analog Sticks for movement.  Again, the control scheme isn’t bad, but it could be better.  It took me a few campaigns to really get the hang of the tilt controls.

Presentation

Visually, the game looks vibrant, with many bright colors around, whether it be in the aquatic environment, or in the sections of all of the creatures that inhabit the environment.  From a distance, the models look flawless and offer a very peaceful setting before your eyes.  If you look closely, you will see a few jagged edges on the mouths, but with how things move and flow, it’s hard to really tell if you’re not looking for it.

As far as the audio goes, it comes with the setting.  The music that plays during flOw is very peaceful.  It has very soft, quiet tones and, while the beat can really kick up at portions, it keeps a very peaceful tone that helps you remain calm and peaceful as you play it.  I like to imagine this game like an excerpt from Disney’s Fantasia.  Each time I think about how the visuals and music meld together, that is the first thing that comes to mind.

It looks bright and also plays smooth.  There are no frame issues with this game.  It flows smoothly and plays very nice, whether the network features are on or off.

Overall

All in all, flOw is best played in small bursts and with friends.  It is a vibrant, peaceful adventure that will keep you in an easygoing mood.  Though the controls do take some time to get used to, the game offers a fair amount of difficulty and a fun experience to have on the go.

The PlayStation Vita Review Network rates flOw an 8/10.

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