Game Diary - December 11, 2008: The First Must-Play Game Of 2009

I feel confident calling "Flower" the first must-play game of 2009 because...

I've now played what I think is about half of it...

because it's different and fun -- and differently fun -- from the other 2009 games I've had early trials with...

and because it's not being sold in a box, so I don't have to worry that its creators will slap such cliched praise on the back of a Blu-Ray case.

Yesterday, Sony provided gaming reporters downloadable copies of development studio that game company's early 2009 PlayStation Network PS3 game "Flower." Playing it last night, I was reminded why I nominated the game for best graphics of E3 and why I'm so excited to play the finished thing. It's a wonderful flight game with low-stress goals set across an evolving landscape of rewarding beauty. The game's lead creator, Jenova Chen, has described it as a personal poem brought to us in gaming form.

I sympathize with anyone who can't discern what the game is by looking at screenshots. Forget what you see in them for a moment and picture a flight game, be it "Lair," "Rogue Squadron" or the biplane stages in "Pilotwings 64." Now, replace the dragon, X-Wing or plane you're visualizing with a single flower petal. Imagine flying that wind-swept petal across grassy fields.

Your controls consist of one PS3 controller button for the throttle and the tilting, turning movement of the controller to fly the petal through the air.

The levels are landscapes. Flowers are spread across vast fields, buds closed. Flying over them with your petal makes each one bloom, adds a note to the gentle soundtrack and a petal to what becomes a growing swirl of them under your control. The arrangement of petals encourages you to fly along paths of them, to activate clusters of them and watch what happens. The results can be the sprouting of more flowers, the greening of part of the landscape, the infusion of purples and blues and yellows to the hills and all sorts of other lovely effects.

It's all quite gentle and relaxing, possibly a bit short if the three levels through which I flew in an hour represent a little under half of the game. But it's unforgettable and tempting to revisit, a pleasing, meditative experience that uses PS3 graphical horsepower for something more enchanting than the rendering of a bloody war or perfect car fender. It will be one of those games many people will call art. Others may liken it more to a dream.

I don't know when the game will be available for people who don't get their games e-mailed to them by Sony p.r. people. I was told it's coming in early 2009, maybe February or March. I proposed that they'd offer a "Flower" for Valentine's Day. I got a laugh. We'll see.

Next: No, close readers of the Diary, I did not keep my word and play "Far Cry 2" last night. Nor will I play it tonight. But I will get more "Prince of Persia" DS played on the subway. I just unlocked the partner character.