Review: The Flower Collectors
Alfred Hitchcock – one of the most famous film and TV directors of all time, whose influence on media can still be felt to this day, despite recent revelations of his history casting him in a controversial light. Despite his most famous works being produced in the 50s and 60s, people to this day still recognize and take influence from his productions.
Although it seems most people recognize him today for the classic Psycho, the film I want to bring up here is one called Rear Window. Released in 1954, this film follows a journalist who broke his leg on assignment and is now stuck at home. To put things incredibly simply, he begins to spy on his neighbors out of boredom, spots some suspicious activity, and begins playing detective.
This may be a familiar plot setup to some in more modern films and TV shows, but developer Mi’Pu’Mi Games has decided to adapt it to the video game format. With their latest release, the backbone of Rear Window is transported to 1970s Spain, set against the backdrop of the Spanish Transition to Democracy.
Developed and published by Mi’Pu’Mi Games, The Flower Collectors was released on April 21st, 2020, for PC.
Looking Down on Others
Barcelona, Spain, 1977. Dictator Francisco Franco has passed away a few years ago, and under its new leadership, the country is beginning a transition toward democracy. An election is approaching – the first since 1936 – and the people who are elected will be shaping the future of Spain.
The Flower Collectors puts players in the shoes of Jorge, a retired policeman confined to a wheelchair. He’s content to let the days pass by, watching the goings-on outside his window through his binoculars. One evening, though, he hears a gunshot ring out, and goes to his balcony to find a body lying in the town square. Shortly thereafter, a knock at the door – a young journalist desperately looking for somewhere to hide, as she’s running away from…someone.
The story here is, of course, a murder mystery, but with some historical and political overtones. The core cast is small, with only two characters – Jorge and the journalist, Melinda – receiving any real characterization. Everyone else is just people that Jorge sees through his binoculars.
90% of the story is experienced passively, watching the goings-on of people from Jorge’s balcony and piecing together their lives…as well as possible connections to the murder. The player never gets to actually meet most of these characters; their entire characterization and roles in the story are told to the player either through Jorge’s inner monologue or Melinda communicating to Jorge from street level.
On one hand, this makes sense from a storytelling standpoint. Jorge doesn’t actually know most of these people, he’s just learning about them passively, like the player. On the other, this makes it hard to actually care about any of these characters…including the victim and potential murderers. The Flower Collectors attempts to weave a tale for each of the characters the player can observe – mostly tragic – yet I couldn’t get myself to care about any of them. Each of these characters were simply icons I had to look at through my binoculars to advance the plot.
Jorge and Melinda’s development isn’t exactly notable either. Their relationship is here to bring the overarching story of the game to a personal level: Jorge, part of the old guard, an ex-cop, questioning the direction society is moving; and Melinda, a young journalist who sees the potential for change, fighting against political forces that are crushing those they see as going against tradition. Melinda never really develops or changes, her character is the same at the endgame as it is in the beginning. Jorge’s development depends on some player choices, although it feels that the game really wants you to make certain selections in these moments.
Overall, despite the interesting setting which introduced me to a historical event I’ve been unaware of, the core storytelling fails as the game is unsuccessful at getting me to actually care about of any of its characters.
A Guiding Eye
With the story of The Flower Collectors confining Jorge to his apartment, you won’t be doing much exploration here. The core gameplay involves binoculars or a camera to observe what’s going on near Jorge’s apartment, occasionally telling Melinda to move to different locations to investigate.
Boiled down, this game feels like a point-and-click adventure game. Each chapter of the story offers up a list of places you need to check (i.e. “There’s a mysterious sound coming from the caberet,” so you need to look for something in the nearby cabaret building). The tasks are occasionally timed, although these portions usually give you much more time than you actually need.
The gameplay here presented two massive issued to me. First off, pixel-hunting. A number of the things you’re supposed to spot in the environment are extremely small – torn cloth on a fence, a scooter’s handlebars in a garden – with the often vague tasks offering little clue as to what specifically you should be looking for. There were a few moments where the only task was “observe the square,” which led me to minutes of methodically sweeping through every inch of the environment I could see to find the singular object out of place.
The second issue is how strict the game can be with the order specific tasks have to be completed. In one of the aforementioned “observe the square” tasks, there was a number of incredibly obvious differences in the environment…but I was, apparently, not supposed to notice them yet. I had to locate something else, be led through a few other tasks, and then suddenly Jorge realized there’s a ton of suspicious objects scattered around that he somehow was blind to moments beforehand.
A few missions task you with helping Melinda sneak through a part of the environment without being seen, accomplished by pointing your binoculars at hiding places and clicking on them to send Melinda to them. Unfortunately you can’t just send her to any area that looks safe – these routes are predetermined, and you have to select specific objects in a specific order to accomplish these tasks.
The only saving grace of the gameplay comes at the end of each chapter, when the “solving a mystery” aspect of The Flower Collectors comes in to play. Jorge caps off each chapter by sorting out the clues he found observing the town, having to match photographs and drawings of the chapter’s events to spots on a timeline, somewhat reminiscent of the Danganronpa series. These moments actually do require some thought, and are a nice (if quick) change of pace from the monotony of staring at objects through a camera lens.
It’s often that I reach the presentation portion of a relatively negative review and I can say “at least the graphics are nice!” Unfortunately, I can’t really say so here with The Flower Collectors.
While the environmental design is average – blocky, undetailed, but not what I’d call painful to look at – the character designs and animations are extremely lacking. Perhaps it’s because Melinda is really the only character model we see up close, but it just doesn’t feel like Mi’Pu’Mi put much effort into creating attractive models.
Aurally, the game is similarly lacking as well. The voice acting is…not good. Jorge and Melinda’s performances are underwhelming, with the more emotional moments of the story coming off forced. The other voices don’t fare much better, as I could practically hear the script the performers were reading off of.
Blurred View of the Past
By its description, The Flower Collectors seems like a game that should have worked for me. A mystery story taking place during a historical event, with themes that feel apropos to the modern day. However, it feels that Mi’Pu’Mi was holding itself back in nearly every aspect of the game.
The story falls absolutely flat, as it can’t be carried by core characters that receive little development and secondaries that I couldn’t bring myself to care about. The gameplay is exceedingly dull, somehow finding itself in a horrifying fusion of too vague and too specific. The visuals, despite the entire game taking place in a singular environment, are underbaked and unattractive.
If the developers could remove the tedious gameplay and bulk up the story more, The Flower Collectors likely could’ve struck a better chord with me. I can appreciate the experimental gameplay, but it is an absolute drag on what could have been a much more powerful plot.
Review copy provided by Mi’Pu’Mi Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image assets courtesy of Mi’Pu’Mi Games.