Regular visitors to this blog will know that we are suckers for games with a bit of heart. That is not to say that we hate games that involve mindless blowing up or shooting of things - we play them all the time. We're also not adverse to some cold-hearted logical puzzle solving. Or frantic time management simulations. But if you really want to get on our good side, create a game that is not only great fun to play but also communicates something about the human experience. Think games like Immortall or Loved.
Thankfully, we are not alone in this passion for games with some soul. As the popularity of our list of Games that make you think proves, there is huge demand out there for arty, philosophical games. More than 150,000 people had read the list at last count, making it by far our most popular article.
If you share our affinity for such games, then we are sure that you will enjoy the game we are reviewing today. Flock Together ticks all the boxes of what we like in games. Graphically, it is impressive, featuring a quirky paper cutout style aesthetic. The serene music works well with the graphics and the slightly melancholic storyline. The game play is original; both fun and challenging.
And the storyline is nothing if not charming. How can you not be drawn in by the tale of lonely little girl who has lost her best friend through her own carelessness. The best friend in this case is a sheep, which just goes to show how lonely this little girl is. Somehow, her sheep chum has become tethered to a balloon, and has drifted off into the sky. This could almost be comedic if it wasn't for the sadness of the little girl. She really loved her woolly friend, and desperately wants him back.
The sympathy you feel for the little girl lends the game an emotional resonance. You are not playing simply to achieve a high score or complete a level but to help her get her best friend back. And how you go about finding her pal involves an innovative - and hugely enjoyable - game mechanic.
You start the game on an island. It seems that you are trapped there, exploration (using the arrow keys or WASD) to the left and right being blocked by water. But a little investigation reveals that you have at your disposal a number of ropes. You also notice that there are lots of doves flying around. It doesn't take much experimentation to realise that you can capture a bird by throwing a rope at it.
When you have enough birds attached to your ropes, you start to rise from the ground - you are floating. You can then begin exploring the game world further, using the up and down arrow or the W and S keys to change your altitude. Eventually, you come across a hot air balloon. This is the game's shop. Here, you can buy new ropes or even sell the birds you have captured.
The more birds and ropes you have, the higher you can go. You quickly learn that the different types of birds in the game have different attributes. Some birds allow you to move around quickly, others provide extra lift, allowing you float ever higher, while others still are simply worth a lot of cash and should be traded in at the first opportunity for more ropes.
The higher you go, the more powerful and exotic birds you will come across. The little doves that you originally harnessed will no longer meet your needs, so you let them go to free up some ropes, and try to capture bigger and stronger birds.
Flock Together reminds me a lot of Fishing Girl, a fun angling game that featured in our popular list of The Most Relaxing Online Games. Both games challenge you to steadily increase your capabilities by trading up your equipment. In Fishing Girl, you are constantly trying to get better rods, allowing you to catch bigger and rarer fishes further down in the ocean depths. Similarly, in Flock Together, you are constantly on the look-out for more powerful birds, so that you can reach ever greater heights and find even stronger birds.
Both games also possess a relaxing, almost mesmeric quality that make them the perfect come-down after a stressful day in the office or to play just before going to bed. If I were to have one criticism of Flock Together, it is that it is too short. The game ends just as you are beginning to get into it. The game would also benefit from a few more varieties of bird to spice things up. But these are minor gripes.
Flock Together was developed by Armor Games' head of development John Cooney, or jmtb02, as he is better known in the gaming community. John is responsible for a ridiculously impressive list of gaming hits, including such masterpieces as Balloon in Wasteland and Hedgehog Launch.
We'd love to hear what you think about this game. Please tell us in the comments section below.