Announced just 2 weeks before release, Grow Home came as a delightful surprise to many PC gamers when it hit Steam on Feb. 4th. It was developed by Ubisoft’s Reflections studio, a small team that was purchased from Atari in 2006. Reflections is responsible for helping with the development of Watch Dogs and Far Cry 3, but Grow Home could hardly be more different than those titles.
When starting a new game, players will find themselves assuming the role of an endearing robot named B.U.D.(Botanical Utility Droid). BUD is a pretty likable character. He’s always smiling and his procedurally generated movements are often worth a chuckle, if sometimes a little glitchy. As he goes about his work he often emanates cheerful robotic chirps and static.
As the game begins, BUD finds himself being lovingly jettisoned from his mother-ship high above an unknown planet. As he falls, he is given the mission of cultivating the growth of a giant “star plant.” This is where some immature-giggles might enter the picture. The star plant bears an uncanny resemblance to a giant, ever-growing d*ck. At first, I thought this was a manifestation of my own personal immaturity and toilet humor, but everyone who witnessed me playing this game could not help but jokingly mention this observation.
Apparently, to grow a star plant, water and sunlight just won’t do. No, in order to meet his objectives BUD must climb all over this sexy botanical wonder. Players use the “L” and “R” triggers to grasp and climb, and will need to crawl over the surface of the star plant until they find a blossoming stalk. This climbing feature is pretty satisfying, if a little bit hard on the old trigger fingers. Long periods of play often made me a bit sore.
Once BUD finds a bud he must straddle its stalk and activate it with the “X” button which will cause the protrusion to grow and extend. The growth of a stalk is guided with the analog sticks. To achieve his mission of growing the star plant, BUD must satisfyingly plunge these stalks into glowing floating islands. The star plant will then suck nutrients and energy from the tethered island, causing it to grow and extend.
Riding these vines seems to be the most efficient means of transportation in Grow Home, and accomplished players will soon find their world decorated in a beautiful and abstract tangle of tentacle-porn.
While a player may go straight to the task of growing their star plant, there are benefits to exploring the world. BUD may also collect crystals which are littered about the scenery. Doing so will grant him additional abilities, such as rocket-powered jumping and better camera and zoom features. These crystals are peppered about the world, on lonely floating islands, cliff sides, and in secret caves.
The game-world seems extensive at first, especially in the area of height, but I beat Grow Home in about four hours. After the credits rolled, I was happy to be given more objectives, but they were a bit tedious. I decided to start a new game with hopes of being greeted by a brand new world to explore, but was very disappointed to find that I was placed in the exact same world as my first game. It seems like such a waste to not have some procedurally generated level design at play here. Indeed, when I started the game, I was certain such a feature existed, but I was sadly mistaken. After a second play-through, I had explored nearly everything, and the fun factor quickly began to diminish.
There are a couple of botanical power-ups BUD can make use of. Large daisy-like flowers can be used as parasols allowing BUD to slowly descend or glide. There is also a wide leaf that can be used as a hang-glider. Unfortunately, neither of these items are very good at gaining altitude, so BUD will still be forced to do a lot of vine riding and climbing to achieve new heights. This isn’t really a bad thing though, riding the vines and creating your beanstalk masterpiece is a large portion of the fun
Grow Home presents little story or narration, but BUD is accompanied by M.O.M., the AI of his mother-ship. M.O.M. will occasionally chyme-in to offer encouraging words, instructions, quips and comments. She’s a pleasant voice in the otherwise lonely world, but she doesn’t add a lot to the story. It would be interesting to better understand how and why BUD is doing these things, but such details are left fuzzy.
There are things that pose a hazard to BUD, chiefly of which is falling from too great a height, but traps or a hostile critter or two can also destroy him and send him back to his last checkpoint. When this happens M.O.M. will offer a few words of encouragement, but no real progress is lost beyond having to re-traverse whatever heights and distances you might have lost.
BUD’s movements and controls are a tad unwieldy and highly susceptible to physics. Inertia is the biggest foe, as it often takes a bit of effort to get BUD to come to a full stop. Once players become used to aiming the camera at the nearest surface and grabbing on with the L & R triggers, this becomes more of a feature than a hindrance.
The graphics are rather too simple for my tastes, but they are by no means ugly. They remind me of Wind Waker, if Wind Waker had fewer polygons. From extremely distant zoom levels, they may even appear beautiful and majestic.
Music and sound effects are pleasing. The sound effects are especially well done, and seem to add another layer of depth to our main character, BUD. The music is mostly of the electronic/ambient variety, but manages to be a little catchy or exhilarating at moments.
In the end, as a rather cynical gamer, I had major doubts about this title, but it surprised me by being more enjoyable than I anticipated. Playing Grow Home is a low maintenance and relaxing endeavor that is rather easy to pick up and put down. While it does grow wearying after a couple hours of play, I still find myself going back every now and again for a quick bit of vine-riding or collecting. Even though Grow Home offers an enjoyable experience, I can’t give it extremely high marks. The lack of narrative and having only a single small game-world to explore make it seem more like a polished demo than a real game, but for only $8.00 I won’t judge too harshly.
This game was purchased by me and reviewed on PC using an xbox 360 game pad.
Grow Home manages to bring something new, relaxing and polished to the table, just not nearly enough of it. Feels like an excellent demo of a bigger game.