When the late Kevin Spacey (ok, he's not dead, it's just his career that's pushing up daisies) played Monument Valley in an episode of House of Cards, the game's success was assured, and an already popular mobile title saw its status elevated beyond recognition. That game was designed by Ustwo Games, with Ken Wong chief among its architects. With things as they were, Wong decided that instead of staying where he was, he'd walk his own path from there on in and for his next project create something entirely different. That "something" is Florence, and it's a beautiful interactive story that's miles away from the eye-melting puzzles found in his previous work. Happily for everyone concerned, however, it's just as good.
Florence is short. Perhaps too short. It's that brevity that means we're going to tread carefully around this review and avoid as many details as possible, because a big part of the game's charm comes from the little details, and we don't want to spoil those moments for anyone. You'll complete the game in around 30 minutes or so, and for the £3 price tag, and given there's not much incentive to go back for a second run, some people are going to be critical of that. We're not so worried about the value proposition, however, because as far as we're concerned the 30-40 minutes that we spent with it were enough to leave us utterly charmed. This is a special game, and if you're happy with the setup as outlined above, don't think twice about picking it up.
It's one of those titles that walks the line between game and interactive entertainment, and your actions don't affect the story at all, rather they nudge it forward as your inputs merely usher in new scenes. It's a tactile experience that involves you tapping the screen, swiping this way and that, not to run, jump, and shoot your way through action-packed scenes, but to progress the narrative and reveal more about the characters in it.
Florence Yeoh is 25. At the start of the game she's single, talking to her mother on the phone, batting away questions about her love life and getting on with her office job. Then she meets a boy, and her life is transformed. We're not going to mention anything else about what happens, because experiencing this heartwarming short story for yourself, layering on your own personal experiences to enhance its emotional impact, is at the heart of it. What we will say is that while the story is touching, engaging, and full of lovely moments, we would have liked more of it, and there are certain elements that we felt were undercooked, especially during the scenes where we explored the relationship between Florence and her fella, Krish.
But that's where our criticisms stop because, apart from the aforementioned absence of depth, we spent a lovely half an hour in the company of Florence. Whether we were helping her converse by making puzzles in speech bubbles, or simply moving our finger around the screen to progress daily chores, developer Mountains did an exquisite job of connecting us to the action, creating a tactile experience that had us deeply immersed in the moment. We found ourselves frequently smiling at the clever ways in which we were asked to interact with the story, drawing huge satisfaction from the way clever design is used to maximise the impact of key moments. This isn't a flashy, grandiose adventure, but rather an honest tale of love and everyday life.
The artistic style of the game is pitched perfectly too, and the comic-style art does a fine job of communicating the story and all of the emotions you and Florence experience together. Indeed, the art itself is often entwined with the mechanics, creating a holistic experience so honed and deliberate that it's hard not to be impressed. Similarly, the soundtrack flows effortlessly in and out of the narrative, and it's a beautifully composed score that accentuates the story, adding to the narrative in ways we'll not spoil here.
As you might have noticed by now, we were captivated by Florence and the experience it gave us. In nearly all respects it has been perfectly put together, creating a rich and rewarding narrative experience that effortlessly engages the player throughout. Our main issue, and the reason we've not scored it higher, is the length of the story. Not because it's short, but because it felt a little rushed, especially in the middle section. We think a few more minutes of story, just a couple of extra scenes to really delve deeper into events and the motivations of the characters we met along the way, would have made this an essential narrative experience and an unequivocal recommendation.