The latest game from Monument Valley designer Ken Wong doesn’t have much in common with the brilliant pastel puzzler, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experiencing. Florence, available now in the App Store, isn’t really a game so much as a graphic novel strewn with a few interactive moments, kind of like quicktime events but pleasant instead of annoying.
You’ll brush teeth, organize records, and populate conversation bubbles, and those events just lead to the next chapter of the story, like turning a page. Florence doesn’t offer whimsical puzzles, new worlds awash in color or angular, ambiguously benevolent crows, but it’s an entirely different category of app, so why would it? (Mild spoilers from here on out.)
Florence is bite-sized, lovely and not particularly profound. In the game, you’ll play as a young woman moving into adulthood. You mom will call and badger you about getting a boyfriend periodically, and lo, one day you literally run into one. These events all play out with swipes and touch-based interactions that make them feel more like an innocent adult storybook than anything as deep and interactive as the material the creator is known for.
Florence’s storytelling is quiet and reflective, capturing the arc of a relationship in all of its acts. You’ll go on some dates, fall in love, and move in together (that was fast), transitioning to the mundane routine of cohabitating before things start to grow stale. Since I was hoping that the game would offer more in the way of choosing my own adventure, it was disappointing when my in-game relationship with Krish suddenly fell apart when it still felt salvageable. The story marched on, but I really thought we had a shot if a branching path might lead us off to couple’s therapy or even an erotic third to spice things up. Maybe a puppy? Alas, there was no such path.
It’s not clear that my character ever had sex with her Krish (the whole thing is very PG), so I worried about that too. Maybe if you guys had spent more time making out and less time reorganizing your shelves, this could have worked out! Krish also didn’t seem to foster the main character’s artistic inclinations while fixating on his own music career, so I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be a jerk or not. Men are confusing, but at least he was cute. I digress.
The moral of the story works out to something like “you don’t need another person to be happy, but you probably do need a cat.” Florence might be a nice suggestion for friends going through a breakup, a kind of thoughtful salve that reminds them that the hard parts won’t last forever and at the end you’ll be painting with watercolors in your cute studio with a cat named Loaf. Loaf!
The scope of Florence is so small that it’s truly not fair to compare it to Wong’s best known work, though as a Monument Valley fan, I too could play endless variations of that game for the rest of time and be happy about it. What Florence does share with Monument Valley are its best qualities: thoughtful design, beautiful art and a serene gaming experience. Florence isn’t a revelation, but it’s very lovely when judged on its own merits, just adjust your expectations accordingly.