Survival games might be a little played out these days, but they can still be fun to play. As long as care is taken to make them feel distinct and the world feels like one you want to spend some time in. Luckily Grounded comes out of the gate swinging by being a survival game staring shrunken children fighting off hordes of insects. Not only does that sound like a combination of The Forest and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, but it also plays into my obsession with games where you play a small being in a human-sized world. As the Steam Game Festival was in full swing, I just had to get hands-on and see how this game was shaping up.
Grounded puts you in control of a child who accidentally gets shrunk down to a tiny size. You have to explore your suddenly-massive garden and survive long enough to make it back to being full-sized again. To do this, you have to defeat bugs, find resources, and fix the machine that started it all.
Grounded has some very familiar survival gameplay. You have hunger and thirst meters you need to keep filled, you have to construct different levels of equipment to hunt resources, and the world is filled with monsters that want you dead. The only difference is that in this particular scenario those monsters are ants and ladybugs. On that note, the first thing that greets you at the start screen is a warning message. Since the game features giant killer spiders, there's an arachnophobia option that stops you from having to look at giant killer spiders. That's a real nice touch for those that want it.
My earlier comparison to The Forest was about more than just Grounded's survival nature. The way you plan out and construct buildings and items is very similar. First, you select a design and pick where it'll go, which creates a glowing blue outline. Then you must run around collection resources to finish it. This includes chopping down tree-like blades of grass and hauling them across your back. The only difference is that you're doing this with grass, twigs, and leaves rather than full-sized logs and boulders when you construct a shelter.
Since the gameplay isn't anything to write home about, Grounded has to rely on visual style and story appeal. The visuals have a very cartoony vibe to them, very soft lines and vibrant colors. You could almost imagine this as the setting to a Saturday morning kid's tv series. Even the, frankly terrifying, giant bugs are brightly colored and explode in a neon green when you smash them apart. It almost feels quite nostalgic, like the way you always remember the world as a kid, no matter how grim or realistic it was at the time.
Grounded's story is still mostly a mystery, all I know is that it'll have one. In the 30-minute gameplay demo, you only get a few story beats, but I know that you're trying to fix the shrinking machine so you can go back to being a full-sized child again. Things don't go so well and neon purple explosions signify that you've got a long road ahead of you. It seems like there might be some intentional mystery elements going forward, but right now I have so little to go on that I'm not even 100% prepared to commit to that.
So far, Grounded is shaping up to be one hell of a title. It takes survival games back to their basic roots and then presents it in a very appealing way. If you're into the genre and searching for something that looks, sounds, and feels a bit new and different, Grounded might be your best bet. Especially if you like the idea of exploring normal-sized locations as if you're an insect-sized human. That's a survival theme that hasn't been tried before and I can honestly see myself sinking hours if not days of my life into this one.
TechRaptor previewed Grounded on PC via Steam with a freely-available demo.