I watched the credits roll on Florence, the debut game from Australian-indie studio Mountains, which includes Ken Wong from ustwo, Kamina Vincent, Sam Crisp, and Tony Coculuzzi. I sit in silence and breath heavily for a few minutes and stare at the wall in front of me – my anxiety comes rushing in momentarily, and I can’t catch my breath.
This game has left a mark on me and I can’t stop thinking about Florence.
Mountains creates magic with their first game and also created a unique experience on the iPhone. This is a marvel itself today as everything I play on my phone feels and plays the same. The studio took a gamble on their game and paid off in spades. Nothing in Florence is particularly difficult, puzzles are here to move the story forward. You’ll line up pieces of a puzzle, some dressed up as a piece of a text conversation, others as emojis. The ingredients chosen here intricately put you in a certain position, one that puts you in the shoes of Florence as you help her paint, text and engage the world around her. You rarely see video games today where love is the selling point, and reading about how Wong uses his own life experiences to blend into the game is seen and felt, far more than a soldier in the heat of battle could ever do in any game.
Florence tells the story of a young woman and a budding romance with a man she accidentally bumps into. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but it’s something that hits close to home for me and immediately I’m enthralled what I’m witnessing happen to the eponymous Florence. This game is a highly interactive game mixed with elements of a comic book, we watch as Florence hits snooze on her alarm, brush her teeth with no enthusiasm for the day ahead, and get to work to feel the dreariness of working 9-5. Florence deals with her overbearing mother, a figurehead that from a young age, did not affirm and encourage her daughter to pursue what she truly wanted to be – an artist; instead, she is now an accountant and living with no passion for what she does.
Things shortly change for Florence as one day she happens to come upon a young man named Krish, a budding musician and Cellist player. This game is about their relationship and the ups and downs a couple experience together. As you learn more about Florence and Krish you’ll soon feel pangs of familiarity; this is how you felt once before, and while you don’t have control over the events happening to Florence, touch is wonderfully used to bring you closer to our protagonist, as well as establish empathy for the couple.
In a short but sweet experience, the power of interaction is used to drive home the relationship between these two characters creating powerful moments for us to experience. It’s a wonderful spin on the popular WarioWare titles from Nintendo, and it works well for Florence. Something that stuck with me is lack of any dialogue being used throughout the game, the game is devoid of any language, instead, Wong pushes boundaries by escalating the pace of certain events unfolding in-game. As Florence and Krish engage in an argument, we only see the music proceed to speed up while the puzzles used to communicate the fight progressively get faster. If you miss a beat, the fight shifts in favor of Krish and things shift to his side, it’s a neat way to explain who is winning the fight without a word being spoken.
Most mobile games are meant for a quick burst of consumption for the majority of the market today, and for good reason – our attention spans have significantly shrunk with the amount of content readily available in every corner of the globe. Wong and his team believe in the power of touch, and it is with that power that we are drawn in. Touch bridges the gap and personifies the experience, replicating the relationship in small and significant ways. How many of us have sent out significant others a number of texts full of emojis? We do it without thinking, just as we go about our day dealing with life as it comes at us from every angle. We hit snooze on our alarms, we brush our teeth, some of us even have been able to move with our partner and share the wholly new life-changing experience of living with someone who isn’t your immediate family. In a way, this is a mimic of one’s life, but the way it comes across is special and it’s like it is happening to us. There’s a tangible context in what we’re doing onscreen, not just mindlessly tapping while playing a soulless game that has your attention for the next 5-10 minutes.
The inspiration behind Florence can be seen in movies like 500 Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a pair of films that are special to me in a few ways. These films portray love in a realistic way, love is messy and love is hard and that’s why it’s worth it when you find that person who keeps you on your toes. It’s exciting but it’s infuriating, it’s an experience unlike any other we as humans are blessed with. Florence captures this feeling, that raw, sensual, and special feeling so well, it left me reeling by the end of it. So much so, that the anxiety of my last major relationship came flooding back, albeit momentarily. By the end of it, I came out a bit stronger, focusing my energy on things I can control and things I feel need my attention.
My renewed sense of optimism comes from such an unexpected source – Florence does more than just sell me on being able to find love, it allows me to realize that it’s okay to be hurt and learn from the experience. In the words of the late Carrie Fisher, “take your broken heart, make it into art.”
Florence is exactly what I needed to find myself again, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.