Review: SunFlowers

SunFlowers

To some people, gardening is a therapeutic hobby. To others, it’s nothing but tedious hard labor or a dreaded weekend chore. SunFlowers for PlayStation Vita (and iOS devices) takes the joy of growing a vibrant flower garden and turns it into an activity everyone can enjoy. For only $4 at that, and without any of the back and knee pain.

In SunFlowers, you aren’t the human hunched over digging at the earth with shovel and trowel. With finger swipes and taps on the touch screen–Vita held in vertical orientation–you control the scrolling sun high up in the sky, blasting rays of sunlight through happy clouds that float horizontally across the screen in different patterns, and at varying heights and speeds. As sunrays pass through clouds, droplets of rain form and begin their descent to seedlings sprouting along the bottom of the playing area.

The objective is simple: drop rain on the seeds below until they’ve been watered enough to fully bloom into beautiful flowers. Once a flower blooms, it is transplanted from the screen to your personal garden collection and two additional seeds bound off to either side in its place. Like any puzzle game, the whole point to all of this is to keep growing flowers in an endless cycle of levels and amass the highest score possible.

Standing in your path are angry storm clouds. If you shoot through one of these (or have a sunray reach the bottom without passing through any clouds at all) instead of a rain droplet a bolt of lightning is generated which lights the sprouting flora on fire. If a seed/flower is hit twice by a lightning strike or sunray, it burns to a crisp, and you lose one of your three lives. If certain flowers go too long without being watered, they will wither and die, also resulting in a lost life.

As your score reaches certain intervals, the level increases, the season changes, and the difficulty steadily builds. With the changing of the seasons also come additional weather related challenges, and overcoming Mother Nature’s hurdles requires using the Vita’s myriad inputs. During winter for example, flowers can freeze and need the warmth of the sunrays to first thaw out before you can begin to water them. The view occasionally fogs up as well, requiring a quick squeegee of the screen with your finger. In autumn, falling leaves create an impenetrable barrier above the flowers until you shake the Vita to rake them out of the way. In another level, day turns to dusk and you need to hold the Vita near a source of light to brighten the view, otherwise you won’t be able to differentiate the nice clouds from the evil ones.

Developer The Game Atelier thoughtfully tailored the game around the Vita hardware, providing silky-smooth touch controls and a clever array of other mechanics like those I’ve described. Really the one thing missing is an optional buttons-only control scheme for players who don’t much care for tapping and swiping. Options are available to use the L and R buttons for shooting sunrays instead of tapping, but doing so while still sliding the sun across the screen (and/or the rear touch pad) with your finger feels awkward. This scheme would work a lot better had there been the option to scroll the sun with the analog stick. I guess with the game also being made for iOS a more universal system of control was developed.

That’s about the only nit that I can pick here, folks, as this game has pretty much everything else a gamer could ask for. Two world themes are provided–Classic and Tropical–each with online leaderboards, three difficulty options, and saved progress intervals at levels 1, 21, and 41 so you don’t have to start from the very beginning every time you play. Each stage theme also consists of 165 flower varieties to collect in the My Garden menu, where flowers you’ve unlocked can be cross-pollinated to create different flowers or placed into gift baskets to send to friends and other players through Near. Remember, sharing is caring.

In every way imaginable, SunFlowers is as bright and cheery as you would expect a game with a grinning sun and rows of blooming flowers to be. Vibrant pinks, blues, purples, yellows and oranges blossom across the screen like a rainbow of flower petals, and the delightful “boing, boing!” sound of newly produced seedlings bouncing across the ground never gets old. This is also one of the most addicting games you’re going to find on the Vita to date, striking the ideal puzzle game balance of simplistic play mechanics that everyone can learn yet also demand quick thinking and practiced finger agility to master at the highest difficulty levels.

The Vita has already proven its capabilities as a pocket-sized PS3 lite; with SunFlowers it shows significant growth as a potential force in the snack gaming market currently dominated by smartphones and tablets.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Smart, effective use of Vita’s touch screen and other inputs
+ Addictive puzzle mechanic is easy to learn, hard to master
+ Gifting flower baskets through Near is a nice touch
+ Super-bright graphics light up the Vita screen
+ It’s only $3.99!

Cons:
– No button and analog stick control option

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation Vita, also available for iPhone/iPad
Publisher: The Game Atelier
Developer: The Game Atelier
Release Date: 10/9/2012
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!