You're a pint-sized explorer that's crash landed your spaceship on an alien planet dominated by vegetation, where flowers are your greatest ally. No, it's not Pikmin, it's Flowerworks HD: Follie's Adventure. A high-def remake of the well-received 2009 WiiWare title, Flowerworks HD is a floral-themed action puzzler from Australian studio Nocturnal, joining a small group of download titles to make the generational leap.
When the eponymous hero Follie arrives on planet Elilia, players get a surprisingly meaty overworld to explore. There's not much to do but get from Point A to Point B, but it's a relaxing zen-like experience simply to walk (or hover?) around the lush locales listening to the smooth electronica soundtrack. The music is one of Flowerworks' strongest points; electronica isn't the genre you'd typically associate with a game about nature, but it fits perfectly. The developer even toys with the concept of dynamic music — areas you've conquered have a light, happy sound, while uncharted territory is accompanied by mysterious, foreboding music.
As for controls, the eight-directional movement is slightly outdated, but Follie moves fluidly enough around the environment that the player feels liberated to explore every nook and cranny of Elilia. You can tell her where to go using the touch screen, but the control stick and D-pad feel much more natural. There are no enemies trying to attack Follie, so there's no tension in the overworld gameplay; some players will find wandering around the overworld to be a tad boring, but in the over-excitable landscape of the modern games industry, this is a breath of fresh, therapeutic air.
When Follie's spaceship crashed on Elilia, the seeds she was transporting got scattered all over the planet; Follie is on a mission to find her missing seeds and use them to beautify Elilia's withering foliage. This is when we get to the core experience of Flowerworks. Once you find a predetermined location to plant seeds, you leave the overworld and enter the action-puzzle gameplay. Flowers are growing in the soil, and since Follie is roughly the size of a bee she must fly around the screen catching pollen to deliver to the flowers and make them germinate. It's easier said than done; red flowers require red pollen, blue flowers require blue pollen, and so on. Later in the game, you're introduced to obstacles like black pollen that you must avoid. You control Follie either with the control stick or the touch screen, she automatically picks up pollen, and you press L or R to deliver pollen to a flower. When she's far away from a flower you can still deliver pollen by holding down L or R; Follie will shoot the pollen through a beam of fertilising light at the nearest flower. You can switch the flower being beamed with ZL or ZR.
This is where the game gets more complicated. If you shoot pollen with your fertiliser beam and the pollen spore hits other spores along its trajectory, you rack up points for bonus fertilisation. And if your red pollen collides with blue pollen or vice versa, it turns into purple pollen, which can be used on red flowers, blue flowers... or purple flowers. It can feel overwhelming, though there's a visual burst of colour when hese double- and triple-pollen combos cause seeds to shoot up in the air and explode like fireworks (hence the game's name, Flowerworks). In addition, hitting at least two pollen spores with one beam shot makes the flowers release bubbles into the sky. If you pop the bubbles with pollen from your fertilisation beam, you get even more points; as you reach later levels, the screen is littered with pollen and combos are shooting up left and right. All the insanity makes it tough to keep track of which pollen is going to which flowers. Depending on your score, you gain a star ranking between one and five for each level, and you use these stars to bypass garden gnomes blocking your path in the overworld.
The flower-pollenating levels are the bread and butter of Flowerworks, but they're also the game's weakest point. Clunky controls hold the whole game back — you can tell Flowerworks was originally built for Wii and shoehorned onto Wii U controls. This hardly hurts the overworld gameplay since the overworld is so stress-free, but in the reflex-based pollination sequences, poor controls make Flowerworks a hassle to play. Pressing a trigger to switch your target while you're already holding down a shoulder button isn't ideal. Compounding the issue is the fact that Follie automatically targets whatever flower is closest to her, which can be infuriating when you're trying to shoot pollen into a flower on the opposite side of the screen. You can adjust Flowerworks' difficulty any time, but even on "Easy" it takes frustratingly high scores in the pollination levels to progress in the overworld. At the end of the day, the pollination gameplay is not varied or deep enough to motivate players to retry levels over and over like the game wants them to.
A nice addition for this Wii U version of Flowerworks is a two-player mode where you and a friend can fertilise flowers together. The unsatisfying single-player germinating experience becomes much more engaging when there are two people scrambling for pollen; the second player can use either the Wii U Pro Controller or the Wii Remote. The Remote is by far the best control option, as it lets Follie move much more quickly and precisely around the screen during the pollination levels — this makes sense, considering Flowerworks was originally developed for Wii. It seems it would've been simple for Nocturnal to let all players use the original control scheme, but disappointingly the game doesn't let you use the Remote in single player at all, unless the option is cryptically hidden. Wii controls are relegated to Player 2 only, and can only be used within the pollination levels; the player using the Remote can't navigate menus or control Follie on the overworld. With Flowerworks HD's subpar GamePad controls, Remote support for Player 1 would've been a huge boost.
Flowerworks utilises a simple, clean art style lacking in personality. The photorealistic garden gnomes blocking your way are a nice change of pace, but everything else sports the ubiquitous family-friendly look popular in today's casual and mobile games. Follie doesn't even have separate sprites for facing different directions; she's permanently facing forward. The 2D overworld map uses the space behind trees as invisible walls everywhere, even though it looks like there should be enough room for Follie to go behind them. There are some friendly plant NPCs Follie can purchase power-ups from, meanwhile, but their dialogue is generic and forgettable.
From Flowerworks HD's main menu, you can select Quick Play which gets you straight into a pollination level, or you can choose the fairly competent Tutorial which teaches you the basics. The meat and potatoes of Flowerworks, though, is the Adventure mode. Within Adventure mode, Follie moves around the map swiftly, but if you're impatient you can teleport around the map to different seed sites and retry previous levels anytime... assuming you actually want to retry the levels. Of course, the HD update also means a nice 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. If you already own Flowerworks on WiiWare, these minor upgrades may not make the Wii U iteration worth a second purchase, but it's still nice to see some WiiWare developers taking the time and effort to upscale their products for first-time players on a new generation of hardware.
On paper, Flowerworks is an intriguing 2D action-puzzler spin on the Pikmin aesthetic; the dialogue text even blooms onscreen letter by letter, the same way it does in Pikmin. The Adventure mode features a satisfyingly huge overworld and a soothing electronic soundscape. And for $6 (or $3.50, if you're quick), Flowerworks is a good deal, with a surprisingly lengthy run time that will take you between 15 and 20 hours to complete. But the overworld and soundtrack are merely scrumptious side dishes accompanying an unsatisfying main course; the action-puzzle pollination levels feature clunky controls and not much depth. Aside from adding a second player for double-fertilisation shenanigans, the core game mechanics quickly wear thin. Despite the pleasing coat of HD paint, Flowerworks' last-gen roots are in full display with Follie's Adventure.