Experimental games can go either way, but I suppose that’s the point of it being an experiment. What it’s trying is new and could either be great or a failure. Ubisoft seems to be the company lately that’s not only willing to put out big budget sequels, but also to try new and unique experiences. Grow Home is their latest attempt and while not lasting very long, it did leave a very lasting impression on me that has kept me thinking about it days after finishing it. The game sprouts early, and ends up blooming into a memorable experience by the very end.
Grow Home is a game developed by Ubisoft Reflections which started as an experimental prototype until being pushed for public release on the PC. The player controls B.U.D., which stands for Botanical Utility Droid. B.U.D. has been sent to a planet in order to find a source of oxygen for his home planet. To do so, B.U.D. must grow the planet’s Star Plant until it blooms and produces seeds to take home. B.U.D. must started at the base of the planet and make his way all the way to the stratosphere.
The presentation of the game is marvelous. The graphical style features simplistic, cel shaded environments and models, which are very striking at first glance. The game takes the slight boxiness of Minecraft, and smooths it and brings out the colors like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker‘s style. The low polygon art style is memorable, to say the very least. Everything is vibrant and pops. There were very distinct moments when I sat back and was amazed at the world Reflections had created. The vistas and environment were breathtaking at certain points in the game, and I commend the team on that. The brilliant lighting also adds to the scenes, as the color palette varies from the dynamic, warm oranges and greens down on the beach to the dark, cool blues of the caves. The sound design is also top-notch, with satisfying atmospheric noises such as B.U.D. beeping when he grabs a crystal or the wind rushing by as you soar on a leaf. There isn’t much music to the game, but that just helps to set the mood of the adventure, and I feel it was done effectively. I was drawn into this world, and very rarely did I want to leave. It’s pleasant and calming to be able to explore this world and have no worries.
As stated before, your goal in the game is to grow the Star Plant up into space, and so that alludes there will be a lot of climbing. B.U.D.’s movement is very straightforward, but is largely affected by the physics engine of the game. He feels heavy, yet floaty. Jumping feels like it has a good, light weight, yet B.U.D.’s momentum when moving around is frustratingly heavy. Sometimes I’d run straight off of a cliff because it was so difficult to become accustomed to the momentum. It was annoying, but manageable most of the time. B.U.D.’s movement also is procedurally generated, meaning his walking animations are created on the spot in the situation. It’s a neat touch, but it loses its charm a ways into the game. The game recommends the use of a gamepad, so that’s what I used. Players control B.U.D.’s movement and individual arms when climbing with the analog stick, and bumpers or triggers are used to grab and climb. While you’ll be clicking back and forth between the two sides of your controller constantly, as climbing and grabbing is a good majority of the game, it always feels best for what is given. The actual mechanics of the game with the physics involved are questionable, but the controls do their best.
Grow Home is an exploration and climbing game. There are no enemies, there is no health bar, and there are very few goals. Death only comes if you fall too far, or decide to self-destruct, and both cases return you to your last teleporter, which act as save points and ways to fast travel up and down the world. Your main goal is to just go up. You’ll start by climbing a mountain up to islands high in the sky full of caves and rivers, and finally all the way up to the asteroids in space. Getting you this high is the Star Plant. To grow and traverse the many floating islands in the sky, B.U.D. can ride vines, or Star Shoots, off the side of the Star Plant and create bridges to these places, as well as into the green floating islands, or Energy Rocks, which are necessary to growing the Star Plant. Along the way, you can find power-up crystals scattered around the world, and often in difficult to reach places. These crystals, when you collect enough, will give B.U.D. extra abilities. These abilities will become very useful later on in the game, so it’s highly encouraged that you pick up any you can.
All of this is a bit complicated to explain, but that’s basically it for the gameplay. Climb, ride Star Shoots, grow the Star Plant, collect crystals. This leaves you open for the entirety of the game to do what you’d like. You can stand around, try and ride the sheep on the beach, hop on mushrooms, or just explore and find hidden islands. This gives Grow Home an extremely relaxing attitude. I’d come home from a long day at school, only to turn my game on and be lost for a stretch of time in the bright, colorful world with no pressures to do anything I didn’t want to. Climbing to new heights was exciting, and I always wanted to see what was further up. I’d search every nook and cranny for a crystal I missed. You can even pick up leaves or flowers to soar through the sky, which is an exhilarating feeling to be able to look down and see the distance you’ve reached on your own. The pacing is phenomenal, allowing any player to take their time or just speed right up to the stratosphere. However, the game’s length is short. Very short, in fact. The game will last about 3-5 hours depending on how much you explore outside of the main climbing. While this is the perfect length for being able to climb and see the world and do what you want, I can’t help but want more. Another planet perhaps. It was all so amazing that I wasn’t ready to put the game down. This might turn some people off, but I personally like to think that it left on a high note.
Grow Home is a special game that hit its targets and was an effective experiment. The excitement of climbing and the sense of wonder never left me, and, though short, the relaxing and unique adventure left me begging for more. The climbing mechanics were solid, with very few hiccups along the way. While not a must-have title in this new year, Grow Home is definitely a game to pick up if you have a few spare dollars and are looking for a relaxing and genuinely fun experience. For that, I decided to give Grow Home an 8 out of 10 and the more important rating of “enjoyed it”. This system allows for a numerical scale to stack it against similar games that I may review, as well as a straight opinion of whether the game is worth playing.
- Beautiful yet simple art style
- Relaxed pace
- Exciting exploration
- Solid climbing mechanics
- A bit on the short side
- Sometimes frustrating momentum
- No replay value