Game Review: "Florence"

It's been a while since I've played a new game. Almost all of my game time is spent playing Overwatch, trying to master every character (I promise I'm not just promoting OW - I genuinely love the game).

However I recently finished two games which were different from each other but so innovative and refreshing in their own ways. One is a "slice of life" story and the other is a cinematic jailbreak co-op story. I'll cover the second game in a future post, but for now let's talk about:

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"Florence"
Platform: Android, iOS
Duration: ~one hour
Studio: Mountains

Created by several team members of Monument Valley, Florence is a story-driven game about a Chinese-Australian woman who goes through the familiar motions of early adulthood and establishing a life on her own. She endlessly snoozes her alarm in the morning, commutes via public transit to work while perusing social media, crunches numbers behind a computer screen, and eats dinner alone before starting over again. This certainly isn't a unique story at this point, as we've seen this routine play out over countless books and films. But this prototypical story is bellied by innovative gameplay that is both clever and necessary in pushing the story forward. It is important to note that there is no true dialogue in the game (save for some frustratingly sped-up Cantonese spoken by Florence's mother that was impossible to decipher) and also no written directions to explain the mechanics of each task. This is a testament to the developers' mastery not only of universally understood technological gestures but also of reliable storytelling techniques. The fact that this modern coming-of-age story is a familiar one is not a detriment but rather a foundation which sets an expectation for how the player should proceed through each of Florence's tasks. When you keep the story simple, the gameplay really has a chance to shine.

One of my favorite recurring puzzles of the game happens during Florence's conversations with her boyfriend, Krish. As the player you are tasked with communicating by assembling literal speech bubbles that have been broken out into multiple pieces. On your early dates with Krish there are more pieces and they are oddly shaped, making them more difficult to assemble. This in effect demonstrates the difficulties people often face when getting to know someone new, and how labored those conversations can feel. As time goes on, however, communication between the two becomes "easier" and this fact is beautifully conveyed by the gradual simplification of the pieces.

The developers also cleverly utilize shape language to convey the tone of Florence and Krish's conversations. When the two are happy and enjoying each other's company, the speech bubble pieces are made of rounded shapes. When the two are caught in a heated argument, however, the pieces suddenly become jagged. As was true with the simplified story, the lack of dialogue leads you to interpret the characters' emotions solely through visual means. 

I could go on and on about the beautiful game mechanics (I'm a professional design nerd, after all). But I will end my review by saying that few other games have made such an emotional impact on me, especially not a mobile title. It's gorgeous, concise, and definitely sets the bar high for what mobile gaming can be.