Friday, March 12, 2010

WiiWare Review -- FlowerWorks

There are two kinds of cute in this world: "kittens" and "flowers". I'm guilty of having "OMG SO FREAKIN' CUTE!" moments when I see adorable animals. Or when I'm playing through 90% of any Pokemon game. This may be a problem that requires medical attention, but let's move on for now. That, obviously, is kittens cute, and something even the most cold-hearted son of a gun can succumb to. The other is flowers cute and can best be described as the aisle in Target that has all the Polly Pocket crap. If you need a good example, go there and study it. Just don't linger for too long if you're my age or they might call the authorities, ya creeper. A safer example is loading up Nocturnal's Flowerworks on the Wii.

Flowerworks is a puzzle game with a very arcade-y style. You control a little flower-like creature named Follie with the goal of planting seeds, growing flowers, and making everything unbearably cute and colorful. There's some storyline that involves a crashed UFO and some garden gnomes but even thinking of the gnomes right now (their faces remind me of the old crazy-haired Trollz) gives me the willies so we'll skip that. Your cursor is your character and, in order to make the flowers grow, you need to collect colored pollen and give it to the appropriate flower, either by clicking on the flower (quick, easy and unrewarding way) or by shooting it across the screen and possibly picking up other pollen along the way (more difficult but very rewarding). The latter is also the only way on some stages to make certain colored pollen for the flowers. For example, some stages have purple flowers but only red and blue pollen. Collect blue pollen, shoot it at the purple flower, hit red pollen on the way, and you have the appropriate pollen for said plant. Early stages have a few examples of this while later stages do fun things like have purple AND green flowers with only the three primary colors as your pollen palette. There are some extra abilities you earn and a few hindrances along the way but the core of the game remains the same throughout: make the flowers grow.

Arcade puzzle games normally have a problem keeping your attention when they get over quickly, and replay value is usually based strictly on how much you either enjoy those short sessions or if the game has any multiplayer. This game, a completely single-player experience, tries to remedy that with the rather large Adventure mode that involves the aforementioned spaceship and nightmare-inducing gnomes. Upon completing each stage you're given a certain amount of stars (up to five) for your score, and the only way to get by the gnomes is to have a lot of stars. Early in the game you can get one or two stars on each stage and be fine but a little bit in and you'll probably be going back to get better scores. This forces you to get better at the game and, in a gaming world where grinding is usually the remedy as opposed to trying to get better, that's an idea I can get behind. There's also a Quick Play mode if you're looking for more of the traditional eye-drying play-until-you-fail puzzle experience instead of the more goal-oriented stages and overly cutesy storyline you'll find in Adventure mode.

Speaking of which, make no mistake about it. Flowerworks is loaded with more colorful flowery cuteness than Rainbow Brite throwing a birthday party for the Care Bears and inviting every version of Barbie imaginable. Finishing a level results in your overworld map getting turned from a normal desert or hedge maze into a garden or a flower-filled meadow. Follie even chimes in every now and again, saying the place needs more color or flowers. Some giant mushroom with eyes gave me a goofy ability, creepy pastel garden gnomes smile at me as I "pacify" them into the ground, hungry flowers yelp and mew at me before they die, and Follie cries a lot. There's a fine line between cute and creepy and Flowerworks will ride this line like that's its job, making the grown man in you uncomfortable from start to finish. It's kind of weird because, shortly into the game, things become pretty difficult and make the appeal toward little children the game has seem somewhat misplaced. Other than all that, the game actually looks and sounds pretty good. There are times I forget it's a WiiWare download as it outdoes many of the budget Wii disc titles I've seen over the years.

The control of the game, though well thought out, can get quite frustrating at times. You could be about to shoot a red pollen piece at a flower and a blue piece can come out of nowhere and force you to shoot the wrong color. The game's auto-targeting system for deciding what flower to shoot at makes me a little angry as well. It'll target the closest flower but I'd much rather have it stay on the same flower I just shot at and let me switch with the B button. Outside of this, the only other limitation is in how steady of a hand you can keep, and when the screen is filled with wrong choices (and Follie is HUGE) this can be a big limitation. It's weird knocking it so much when, really, the control itself is pretty responsive, but the precision needed paired with Follie's gigantic head and random flying stuff made for some of the more frustrating gaming moments I've had in a while.

My own issues with the controls aside, one large thing against this game is that it can get somewhat boring and repetitive. The main thing that kept me going was wanting to get to the next level, not the enjoyment of playing. This can definitely vary from gamer to gamer but when completion becomes more of a driving force than the gameplay itself I will want to play something else. A minor gripe also deserves to be said in that wandering around the map is one of the most boring things I've done in a game, period. This includes every RPG I've ever played. The map feels like a bad mini-game that prevents you from playing the actual game. You can teleport between levels once you've played them, making this much less of an issue, but it's still there. And, finally, I feel there's a certain cap you can get to in terms of skill and the rest is just luck with what pollen appears and whether or not things appear in the right spot. After a couple hours I couldn't see any way to improve. This gets to be a problem when you need stars to continue and, though I praised the idea of forcing you to get better, it might not fit that well in this game.

All in all, there's a lot to do in Flowerworks with the Adventure mode taking up 10-15 hours, probably more if you try to get every level, star and coin on the map. And, as with any puzzle game, your mileage will vary on how much enjoyment or replay value you'll get out of the Quick Play mode. WiiWare, unfortunately, doesn't believe in the wonderful idea of demos, but there is a PC demo of the game that I'd recommend trying before you commit to purchasing the game. As harsh as I may have sounded, I do believe this game deserves a bit of love and for some puzzle fans this could be a fun game and a great value for ten bucks. For someone used to a less random environment and a steadier learning curve, however, this game might leave you wanting something else.

Flowerworks is available on WiiWare for 1000 Wii Points (I won a copy of the game via a giveaway). Played through 25 levels (roughly six hours) of the Adventure mode, tried out Quick Play mode, and thought of the overworld map last night to help me get to sleep while hoping no gnomes would eat my soul. Seriously, the screenshot above haunts my dreams.

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