Get your blanket and snuggle up with a rich and inviting murder mystery
I sit waiting in a damp, quiet apartment. It shouldn’t take this long, I think. Something must have gone wrong. Then, I hear a knock at the door. I have nowhere to run. All I can do is answer it.
These moments of tense dread were the most emotionally effective in The Flower Collectors. In Mi’pu’mi Games’ newest title—following their last, and quite strong, independent release, The Lion’s Song—players assume the role of ex-cop Jorge. An accident paralyzes Jorge prior to the events of the game, and he isolates himself in his apartment as a result, frequently observing his neighbours’ lives from the seeming safety of his balcony. After witnessing a murder one night, Jorge meets journalist Melinda, and the pair investigate the crime while navigating the climate of political violence in late-Seventies Spain. The cast of characters also includes a cabaret singer, a priest, an elderly woman, a homeless man, a politician, and more.
Is it a cloud?
The gameplay of The Flower Collectors is minimal—a fairly standard one-location point and click, basically I Spy but with neighbours’ windows. From his balcony, Jorge directs Melinda to interrogate witnesses and gather leads on the ground. Practically, this means that players are always distanced from the action. Players never hear Melinda’s conversations directly, only what Melinda reports. This minimalism and lack of physical mobility challenges players to feel vulnerable, like in the aforementioned suspense scene, and solve problems within Jorge’s available means.
The easiest line about The Flower Collectors is that the game’s narrative setup—man in wheelchair spying on neighbours—is Hitchcockian, evoking the characteristic voyeurism of Rear Window and Vertigo. When players first meet him, Jorge resembles Hitchcock’s heroes as Jorge berates the people he observes: he dismisses the ability of mechanics that move in next door, because they’re women, and he screams at a homeless man to “Get a job!” However, pleasantly, The Flower Collectors subverts entirely replicating the impotent misogyny of Hitchcock’s leading men as Jorge—if players choose—grows through his relationships with the other characters, namely Melinda. The duo’s friendship moves through several surprisingly compelling emotional beats, again, if players choose.
Indecisive at best
It’s difficult to discuss the sense of choice and consequence in The Flower Collectors because I struggled to know when I’d made a choice the game recognized. For example, the game includes a crime board element that allows Jorge and Melinda to make sense of the case as it evolves. However, players can place different clues on different parts of the board; there isn’t one correct solution. Yet, I was never clear whether my choice of which clues to place where had impacted the events of the game or the way Jorge and Melinda approached the case. Another example, during a climactic confrontation, I went for a previously established Chekhov’s gun, but the game quickly denied my ability to use it with little narrative reasoning. Overall, I was satisfied with the more clearly telegraphed choices that The Flower Collectors recognized and the ensuing development of Jorge’s character through those choices.
The Flower Collectors is also sometimes unclear in its instructions. The UI cues in the upper left corner can be confusing, and certain tasks that were timed, while their success usually wasn’t required to proceed through the narrative, were frustrating nonetheless due to the lack of clarity. As a result, while most of the puzzles are cleverly designed, a rare few are pixel hunts.
These aren’t seeds at all
The Flower Collectors leans into its turbulent setting. On multiple occasions, I witnessed in horror as the police beat suspects in their own homes. In one particularly tense moment, I watched them ransack the home of an old woman through my binoculars, holding my breath, powerless. The Flower Collectors isn’t shy about explicitly addressing issues of police corruption and the violent oppression of marginalized people, queer folk and those with disabilities, by political and religious institutions. Jorge’s growth as a character largely emerges from his understanding of his own position within these systems and reckoning with his own past of violence and oppression.
The visuals, like the gameplay, are minimal. In fact, characters emote through exaggerated Sims-esque expressions, but that never distracted from the emotions of the characters or narrative. In fact, despite featuring blocky, anthropomorphized critters, The Flower Collectors remains grounded, even quite realistic, in tone, and its period setting is convincingly captured. While The Flower Collectors doesn’t reinvent or radically reenvision detective fiction, and the plot never twists in very shocking or particularly exciting ways, it’s a sophisticatedly told, cosy murder mystery. In these times, that’s exactly the kind of entertainment I need to get through the day.
[Reviewed on PC]