Grow Home Review
I don’t really know what to call Grow Home. A platformer? That may technically be true in the sense that you’re trying to get playable character BUD to the game’s many floating sky islands, something that occasionally requires jumping and floating and falling, but that doesn’t really capture the spirit of what the game is. In fact, the goal isn’t even to get BUD to these places, but to use growable parts of a giant plant to attach it to islands with glowing parts, giving the plant nutrients (or something) so that its base can grow higher. There are also a bunch of crystals that unlock upgrades when you collect enough of them, so there’s a collectathon element on top of that. What does that make the game, though? A platforming collectathon plant-based escort quest? That doesn’t sound quite as entertaining as Grow Home often manages to be. Then again, I was less enamored with the actual growing and climbing and all of that than I was with jumping from high altitudes and falling, watching the pretty lighting and colors that preceded BUD hitting the ground and exploding into several pieces. Maybe the best description for this game is actually just “colorful vertical sandbox.”
Grow Home is playable even by the absentminded
This is one of those weird types of games like Terraria that can be easily described (“that game where you jump onto certain parts of a giant plant and direct its growth to glowing islands/generally upward while collecting crystals”), but that requires more of a story format to truly understand what it’s like to play. Let’s start at the beginning—I decided on this game because it looked colorful and cheery and was considered by many to be short. That may be a negative for some, but given the fact that I’ve spent almost the entire month playing through long strategy-RPG games that were mostly of the devastatingly terrible variety, a pretty distraction that doesn’t require a week of obsessive playing to get through sounded like just the thing to snap me back to reality and rinse out the taste of those bitter gaming disappointments.
Grow Home’s main menu is awash in blue, with pumping, happy-sounding music playing in the background, and it was hard not to fall in love immediately. Starting a new game, a cutscene played that proved to be the closest thing to story that exists in the game, with main character BUD—short for botanical utility droid—being part of a “star plant expedition” that finds what it’s looking for, dropping him onto a planet to explore the ecosystem and grow the star plant present there.
Starting on the beach all the way on the ground next to a strange piece of technology, however, I immediately realized that the barrage of objectives and unfamiliar terminology hadn’t sunk in at all. The first thing I tried was throwing random plants into the strange machine, which unlocked details about those plants. In doing so, I realized that the movement controls were less than ideal; I haven’t played Octodad for myself, but the controls here were so jarringly loose at first that it immediately brought to mind videos I’d seen of its gameplay. There’s just something about the game’s momentum and your inability to counter it in any meaningful way that makes moving BUD around frustrating when you’re first getting used to the game. This is doubly true for the climbing mechanics, which seem simple enough (right trigger/bumper/click for Bud’s left hand, right trigger/bumper/click for his right hand, with climbing being as simple as alternating between the two), but sometimes don’t work the way you’d expect. This becomes most apparent when you try to climb under a floating island, at which point you’ll sometimes press the button to grab with BUD’s left hand (for example), only to have him fall as soon as his right hand lets go because the left hand never actually attached like you expected. If you want to be absolutely certain while climbing, then, you have to wait and listen and move incredibly slowly to give the game ample time to actually attach his hand to whatever you’re climbing. Even climbing vertical slopes isn’t wholly immune from problems; on a number of occasions, BUD proved maddeningly unwilling to climb over ledges.
I eventually figured out what I was supposed to be doing!
Mitigating the annoyance of falls is the fact that there are no lives; if BUD is destroyed (whether it be by a fall, one of the rare hostile enemies, or exposure to water), he simply spawns back at a nearby machine thing. Little game details like this became more and more apparent the more I played. For example, it wasn’t long before I actually took the time to read some of the text on the screen to piece together that the strange machines were teleporters. These also act a bit like waypoints, with you finding/activating them on islands higher up and being able to conveniently teleport back up there from the ground rather than having to climb back up whenever you fall.
There are also two items that BUD can pick up and store for later use that help with falling: the aptly-named Fall Flower that loses petals as you use it to float, disappearing once the petals are gone, and the Glide Leaf you gain access to later in the game that allows you to paraglide until you hit an object while holding it. In addition to the items, you unlock useful upgrades for BUD by collecting crystals. These include an occasionally useful rocket pack upgrade (and some increases to its power once obtained), the ability to zoom the camera out to get a better look around, and a detector for crystals. You apparently gain infinite jetpack usage once you collect all 100 crystals in the game, but I got tired of hunting them down around the 83rd one and decided not to bother. Hidden collectibles are tedious.
The last thing I figured out was what I was supposed to be doing to progress the game, which I would have figured out much earlier if not for being half-asleep while playing and missing almost all of the popups. As I mentioned before, this is a game about a giant plant. At first, there are a few red buds (I don’t remember what they’re specifically called, but they look like flower buds) that you can climb onto and then activate to grow them out. Growing one out causes more buds to appear, so by the end you have a seemingly endless mess of vines that can be grown out even further if you so desire. The point of the game is to connect these growing vines with the islands that glow yellowish-green. Doing so enough times grows the base of the plant, and you do this until it produces seeds that you can throw into a teleporter at the very end. This completes your mission, and while you get the option of running around collecting more seeds after the credits, doing so is about as tedious as collecting crystals, so I didn’t really bother. Collecting them all apparently unlocks a special skin for BUD that doubles his jumping height, though, so there’s that.
This is more of a skydiving simulator than anything
Sure, you can go along and help BUD complete his mission, but the more I played, the more compelled I felt to instead mess around, bouncing on mushrooms and skydiving rather than fulfilling the mission. Once you’ve reached the highest teleporters, you can easily jump from there, which is a weirdly entertaining thing to do because of how pretty this game is. There’s a surprisingly quick day/night cycle, so you can watch the sun go down while falling and hit the ground once it’s night, and all of the lighting changes as the time does, with deep purples and blues making up the background a lot of the time and contrasting the knotted green mess of vines you’ve created. Really, the only disappointment presentation-wise is the music, which isn’t quite as present as I had expected. The interesting music at the main menu made me think that the entire game would follow suit, but most of the game is made up of something more ambient and forgettable. It’s equally cheery and suits the game, but I wanted more.