by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Ground Control to Major Bud
Iíve played through Grow Home to completion and Iím still not entirely sure how I would describe it. It doesnít really fit into many of the accepted video game genres. You control the Botanical Utility Droid (BUD for short) on a quest to grow a giant plant from the ground up to the stars. Once it grows beyond 2000m, the flower will bloom, and BUD will be able to harvest the seeds needed to save his planet.
BUDís animations are procedurally generated, which means that you are able to control each of his arms individually, and the rest of his robot body will keep up any way it can. It follows in the footsteps of games such as QWOP and I Am Bread in this way, but here in Grow Home the controls are slightly more responsive and easier to control, if only by virtue of having two fewer limbs to manage.
That said, the controls still fall short of being entirely intuitive, and the first twenty minutes or so will be rife with flailing. The point of the game is to get as high as possible without falling off, because it is a long way down. You start on an island, so falling into water is a high possibility, which is of course a bad thing for a robot. A bad thing for anything is a high velocity impact, so even if you avoid the water, you still donít want to be falling off the massive plant.
There are tools to help you though. Huge alien flowers can be picked and used as a sort of parachute to slow your descent. However petals will fall off as you glide downwards, so you will need to make sure you reach solid ground (or plant) before your flower fails you. As you reach higher levels, larger leafs can be found which can be used as a proper glider. This helps you get places faster without the danger of falling to your doom. However if it clips anything in the environment youíll become detached.
You grow the plant by climbing up to shoots and hitting a button. From here you ride it outwards and upwards, and you can control where it goes. There are floating islands glowing with energy that you generally want to aim for. Connect the central stem to enough of these island and the plant will suck up enough energy to burst upwards. The higher you go, the more diverse the flora and fauna become. Youíll find spiked plants which bounce you around if you get too close, or plants which lay in wait for you to come close before snapping shut on you.
Thankfully, the penalty for death is not severe at all: you simply lose time by having to climb back up to where you were. To aid you with this, there are teleportation devices scattered around, which can send BUD between them via wi-fi. Itís in your interest to open up as many of these teleporters as you can. Complacency can be fatal in Grow Home. Once you get the hang of the controls and you begin to jump and climb around faster and faster, it can be tempting to avoid going out of your way to unlock a teleporter. This is usually moments before falling hundreds of meters to your death and having to begin your laborious climb anew.
Scattered around the world are crystals embedded in rock faces. Collecting these grants you access to new abilities, making the risk of attempting a dangerous climb to get them worth the reward. For example, an early unlock gives BUD a jetpack which provides a mini boost in the air. It doesnít last for long, but can often be the difference between landing safely back on the plant and falling hundreds of metres to earth.
None of the mechanics in Grow Home are particularly engaging. The way the climbing works is novel but not exactly revolutionary and thereís no real penalty for failure. However everything somehow comes together to create a game that is more than the sum of its parts. Once you get the hang of the controls and you have got a few extra unlocks, getting around is good fun, and exhilarating in places where you get a bit too big for your boots. Knowing you can teleport back up to where you have come from often makes the simple act of jumping off the plant and skydiving back to ground great fun.
B.U.D. Grow Home
The visuals are wonderfully endearing too. Simple, yet effective. The way BUD flails around as he tries to get back to his feet after a fall is super charming, and the world is vibrant and nice to look at. When you get up really high and see the world and the plant you have helped grow sprawling beneath you, there is a real sense of wonderment. Especially considering the branches can be grown out in any way you wish. The knowledge that you have helped create what is now a large part of this world is quite something.
Once you get over the initial control hump, Grow Home isnít that hard, and youíll be able to finish the game within a few short hours. From there you can go back and collect all the crystals you missed if you wish, but by this point I was happy to leave the world as it was. Grow Home is something a little different, and although thereís nothing groundbreaking, it doesnít outstay its welcome, and I certainly enjoyed the ride.
A wonderfully charming character and world, traversal quickly becomes fun.
Controls are frustrating at first, gameplay isnít all that interesting.