Florence Review: A Look at 2018’s Bittersweet Mobile Game of the Year

I am not a cell phone gamer. When a new, big game hits iOS, sure, I’ll download it and try it out, but rarely do I invest any significant time into the platform. Growing up with complex console games, I’ve found that there are very few mobile games that get their hooks in me.

Florence, published by Annapurna Interactive and developed by Australian studio Mountains, is the rare mobile game that caught and held my attention. The cynical might say that the game’s length allowed for this; it clocks in at under an hour to complete. However, I disagree with that assertion. I would have played Florence for hours if I could. It’s to the game’s credit that it manages to be so impactful in so short a time.

In Florence, you follow the titular character, Florence Yeoh, as she goes about her boring and uneventful life until one day meeting Krish, a cellist with whom she falls in love. The plot then carries us through their relationship, with all its ups and downs. Gameplay-wise, there are no enemies to defeat, no violence of any sort; instead, interaction takes the form of simple puzzles.

One of my favorites is conversation. There’s no text displayed to show us what Florence and Krish are talking about on their first date. Instead, you’re initially given a speech bubble broken into several pieces. Your struggle to fit them together mirrors Florence’s struggle to overcome her awkwardness and figure out what to talk about. As the date progresses, these puzzles get easier and easier until they’re no trouble at all. It’s a brilliant use of a game mechanic in conveying story.

Another puzzle involves trying to fit Krish’s belongings in with Florence’s when he moves in with her. There doesn’t seem to be a “wrong” way to do this. You’re not looking at a Game Over screen if you accidentally throw out Krish’s favorite shoes. Instead, you’re motivated to make things fit the best they can because you’re invested in the story and the relationship between these characters.

You’re rarely given explicit instructions on how to perform any actions in the story. Instead, you’ll intuit each step. The game is so tightly designed that not a tap is wasted.

It’s beautiful to look at, too. The comic book-style visuals are brightly colored and manage to convey a ton of emotion without a ton of detail. Animations are limited, but the few present fit naturally into each scene.

And of course, the music is gorgeous. Kevin Penkin composed the score and filled it with exquisite piano and cello melodies. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and iam8bit recently announced they’re releasing the soundtrack on vinyl. See if you can resist picking it up after giving it a listen.

Florence took home The Game Awards’ 2018 Mobile Game of the Year trophy, and I can’t think of another game more deserving. In the neverending argument of “Are Games Art?” it helps to have an example like Florence to point to. While the story is simple and certainly nothing you haven’t seen before, it’s the manner in which it’s told that captures the imagination.

The game’s designer previously created Monument Valley, another of the rare mobile games to catch my interest. It’s clear that Mountains is a developer to keep an eye on, if they can charm even a curmudgeonly old non-mobile gamer like me.