Friday, March 6, 2009

Flower and WiiWare's Woeful Wilting

"What do I do?"

"Just press any button and the wind will carry you forward," I replied.

"How do I steer?"

"Tilt the controller in the direction you want to go," I explained.

After a few minutes of stuttering gusts and uncertain turning, my dad was comfortably soaring over the gentle hills of Flower's first stage. Soon he was experimenting with the game's controls; swooping through the grass and spiraling back up towards the sun. He tested the limits of the level barriers, how tightly he could turn, and how quickly the wind could accelerate. At one point he held the controller with one hand, rotating it to send the petals into a corkscrew maneuver. I had never seen that before.

"So does it kick you out after a certain length of time?' he asked.

"No, you can stay in the game as long as you want to. If you want to end the level you can open enough flowers to reveal the exit. Even then, you don't have to go to the next level right away."

"There are more levels? This one is all you'd ever need! It's relaxing just to fly," he proclaimed while turning the stream of petals back towards itself, like a dragon chasing its own tale.

"Believe it or not, Dad, there's actually a story," I laughed.

"Hmmm. Well, next time you're home visiting Mom and me, download this to our Wii."

A sudden melancholic weight made my eyes droop, but my smile, now a wistful one, rose to catch them. How does the saying go? "It's better to have loved and lost..."

That Flower does not exist on the Wii exemplifies the console's biggest weakness. Of course, the game would have to be endure some technological changes in order to exist on the Wii, but its spirit (probably the hardest part of a game to make) fits perfectly with the Wii's ethos. Both Flower and the Wii approach games and players from a unique angle; an angle focused on physical interaction, on shepherding both new and experienced gamers into a space where "game" and "play" are linked in a simple, elegant way. It is shame that they cannot exist in the same space.

In my review of Flower, I argued that the game was a sign of the medium's growing maturity. Eschewing the violence and swearing that usually denotes "mature games," Flower finds sophistication in shedding the complex control schemes, didactic tutorials, and cluttered HUDs of modern games. The game relies on the idea that people want a new experience, rather than just a simple one or a pretty one.

The PS3 and the PlayStation Network are quickly carving out a niche by providing imaginative, experimental games that utilize new ways of player interaction, while doing so at a relatively cheap cost. Is this not what Nintendo is attempting with the Wii? I have not bought anything on WiiWare since World of Goo, my Dad has little idea that the service even exists. Worse still, even if he did know about WiiWare, he probably would pass up most of its games.

It is easy to why WiiWare has literally become a joke: for every World of Goo there seem to be five Big Kahuna Parties. WiiWare's glut of graphically simplistic, thematically stale party games undercut the Wii's genius. While the Wii can be successful at repackaging old concepts for new players, I believe my dad's reaction to Flower is more indicative of WiiWare's unrealized potential.

In my Dad, Nintendo has managed to recapture someone who, at the launch of the Nintendo GameCube, commented: "It's the last system I'll ever buy." At the time, he still had kids living in his house, kids he spoiled by buying them Nintendo systems he never even touched. By now, his return to the console market is a familiar story: the Wii's low price point, ingenious marketing, and revolutionary design philosophy prompted him to give games another try. The Wii has infiltrated millions of living rooms, and brought with it two of the most disruptive forces in the gaming industry: downloadable content and motion control. Nintendo is sitting on largely untapped potential: By allowing an unbroken tide of cheap Wii-waggling, re-hashed, Mario Party clones to muddle its library, it is allowing the mantle of innovation to shifts to its rivals.

I love Flower and am glad to own a PS3. However, it disappoints me to see games that would benefit from a broad audience end up stuck in the console with the lowest install base and the highest retail price. Thatgamecompany and Sony should be commended for releasing Flower, but without Nintendo's help, I fear they are simply shouting into the wind.


  1. Brevity is soul of wit, eh? ;-)

    Do you have a Wii? I'm looking for a good WiiWare game to buy, but it's slim pickings. I'm thinking of Lost Winds, but do you have any suggestions?

  2. I don't have a Wii, but Steven Spielberg played a part in a game called Boom Blox that is supposed to be a pretty good puzzle game.

  3. @csecrist

    Boom Blox gets quite a bit of play around these parts. It's really fun and makes great use of the Wii's technology and philosophy.

    Boom Blox suffers from the same problems as WiiWare: it was poorly marketed and was presented in such a way that might turn away folks looking for something "mature."

  4. the wii's actual accelerometer isn't sensitive enough to reproduce flower's controls; the wii relies on its ir sensors to give it better motion control. Do you want too guide the petals with a pointer or actually FLY them.
    I own a ps3 and a wii and the only thing that stopped me from selling wii was homebrew