Florence originally came to Switch back in February 2020, but we didn't manage to review it at launch. Following several reader requests, we're pleased to say we found time to catch up with it over the holidays...
What is Florence? It could be described as an interactive novella or a visual novel, perhaps, although those are pretty dry descriptions of this delightful, evocative nugget. Coming from indie developer Mountains and the artist/designer behind Ustwo's minimalist mobile hit Monument Valley, Florence's short story is another wonderful addition to publisher Annapurna Interactive's impressive indie catalogue, and one that's absolutely worth your time on Switch.
The story follows a period in the eponymous protagonist's life as she begins making her way in the world, embarking on a new relationship and discovering what she wants to do with her life. It's a cute tale that mingles the excitement of dreams and new love with inevitable external pressures and the honesty and wisdom that comes with age.
To reveal any more of this short game's story would rob you of a touching encounter or moment of realisation, so we'll keep totally shtum. Florence is perhaps best compared to other short-and-sweet titles in Annapurna's enviable line up; there's something of Gorogoa in its artful, mobile-friendly presentation, although it lacks Buried Signal's mind-expanding puzzles.
Florence is much more directly concerned with evoking emotion and recognition through its clever use of mechanics which replicate her mindset during everyday scenarios. Again, we're dancing around specifics here, but the game does a wonderful job of conveying evolving social dynamics through elegant little gameplay interactions.
Like Gorogoa, it's a game made for mobile that has been sensitively ported to Switch, and console controls are beautifully implemented here. Likewise, Florence can also be experienced on other platforms at a lower price if you feel that the extra cost of the Switch version isn't warranted. The Switch release (which includes optional touch controls in handheld mode) is excellent, though, and it looks beautiful on a large TV screen.
The game also sounds lovely, with strings and elegant piano that compliment the mood. Florence is a clean, classy affair that doesn't trade in the sun-tinged, ukelele-infested tropes you'd expect were the game's squiggly font to appear on the title card of a navel-gazing Netflix series. Even if its delicate score isn't your cup of tea, it doesn't stick around long enough to pall. You'll work your way though its twenty short chapters in under an hour, after which you can choose to play any of them again and peruse a small gallery of lovely concept and developmental artwork.
Under an hour?! Yes, but worrying about value for money is really missing the point. If you've read this and you're still on the fence, probably best you steer clear: Florence simply isn't for you. If, however, any single part of the game sounds interesting — characters, art style, story, mechanics, score — we'd urge you to give it a try.
But, what is Florence? It's an evocation of the beauty, sadness and hope that comes from any human connection we make in our lives, whether with art, nature or another person. It's a succinct and incredibly successful exploration of moments you'll recognise from your own life, and the way it mirrors thoughts and feelings through small gameplay mechanics makes it one of the most affecting experiences we've enjoyed on Switch, or any other platform.