The lights are on
Many PlayStation 3 owners already own Journey, Flower, and Flow. Did thatgamecompany add in enough juicy extras to warrant a re-buy?
First off, these three games are some of the best downloadable titles of this generation, so if you haven't played them, then stop reading this and buy this collection instantly. If you have played them, you're probably wondering what's on here and how it all works. I've checked out all of the features and prepared a full report so you can make the call without simply relying on the bullet points on the back of the box.
Journey, Flower, and Flow appear with no new content. You actually don't play the games off the disc itself; when you're in the game menus, it instructs you to exit out to the Cross Media Bar and install each game individually. You should budget 2GB of space on your hard drive for this collection due to these installs and others. [UPDATE] It's weird to have to jump in and out of the disc to blend gameplay and bonus features, and you have to have the disc in your system to play these installed titles so there's no convenience factor to offset this hassle.
The three additional games in this collection, Gravediggers, Duke War!!, and Nostril Shot, are nothing to write home about. This is completely understandable, as they were each created in 24 hours as part of thatgamecompany's annual Game Jams. They're more tongue-in-cheek concepts than actual games, and are all multiplayer-focused. They stand in stark contrast to the arty, single-player primary games and are worth a look with a few friends, but they won't threaten to take over your playing schedule. They require installs as well, which is strange since all of the instructions are over on the disc. You might want to take notes before firing them up or risk having to bounce back and forth.
When I heard that there would be commentary on this collection, I assumed the creators would be chatting in the background while I played. Instead, the developers decided to film themselves playing all three games all the way through while recording their commentary over the top. At first I was skeptical of this choice, but after I started watching, I was convinced this was the way to go. With a video you can focus more on what creative director Jenova Chen and company are talking about (cut concepts, inspiration, and hidden bugs) than if you're trying to beat the games at the same time. I love the commentaries themselves, but the limited playback controls are a disappointment especially when the PS3 has so many excellent built-in options. All you can do is play/pause, toggle subtitles (which are poorly transcribed), and skip ahead to undefined chapter breaks. There's no indication as to how long the video you're about to watch will be and you can't hit the select button to see a timeline progress bar (no fast forward or rewind either). If you leave and come back, you can't pick up where you left off so set aside plenty of time to watch these lengthy videos (ranging from slightly under an hour to around 90 minutes). It's baffling why the standard PS3 video options are absent here, making it more difficult to enjoy the great commentary.
Behind The Scenes of Journey
This roughly half-hour documentary is more focused than the commentary and shows the creators frolicking in sand dunes, discussing the character design, recording the soundtrack from halfway around the world, and much more. Unfortunately, it shares the same playback control limitations as the commentaries.
Soundtrack, Art, And Screens
A complete collection of stunning imagery and music for all three games is showcased here. Rather than remaining trapped on the disc, all of this can be exported to your PS3 hard drive as JPEGs and MP3s (256 kbps). While it's a slight pain to have to rip these assets in several different batches, it awesome that you can transfer everything to your computer via a USB thumb drive and enjoy them anytime. Plop the songs on your MP3 player of choice, or make your own wallpaper out of concept art.
Watch the final sequence of Journey without credits on the screen. Kind of neat, but not mindblowing or anything.
Old trailers for each game. Just here for the sake of completeness.
This is a download code for 24 different PS3 avatar pics related to all three titles on this collection. Lots of options to replace that yellow Locoroco creature I've had forever.
Download code for one free month of Sony's premium service.
Warning, the following is extremely nit-picky, yet needs to be said. Since this is as much the story of thatgamecompany as it is about these three games, it would have been cool if the founders' school project, Cloud, was on here or at least shown in video. I also would have enjoyed seeing the initial Flash version of Flow somehow. Both of these are referenced several times, so it would be nice not to have to go online to check them out. It also seems strange that there's absolutely no reference to the departure of co-founder and former president of thatgamecompany Kellee Santiago. Maybe this isn't the forum to discuss it, but she appears in most of the old footage and none of the new commentaries and it seems like an elephant in the room that no one's willing to address.
The special features are targeted at the very thatgamecompany superfans who already own all of these games. That said, I think the hours of insight and discussion on these three classics is fascinating. Add this in with the complete soundtracks and I'm sold. The purposely hurried minigames are simply not good, but they provide a lighter look at a company that normally make focuses on lofty concepts. Journey Collector's Edition is great for anyone who has ever enjoyed any of the games collected here. I guess if you don't like these games in the first place, this isn't going to change anything. But then why would you read this whole story?