Surprise plays a huge part in anyone’s enjoyment of a game. Seeing what something you’ve never heard about actually shapes up to be can either be the reason to start humming Ode to Joy or curse the waste of time and money you’ve just started playing. In the case of Grow Home, the overpowering feeling of joy and the sheer will to just fool around were just as surprising as knowing who actually put this little game out: Ubisoft, of all places.
Speaking of weird places, there’s the world in which Grow Home takes place in. Dropped out of stratosphere as a little robot named BUD, it’s your job to cultivate a gigantic plant that will hopefully spit out a seed that just might save your home world. BUD is quite nimble. He can climb just about any surface, glide around and is able to survive falls that would prove lethal to your average videogame character.
It’s BUD’s mobility that makes Grow Home so much fun. Each of his hands is tied to a analog trigger on your controller. It’s a simple control scheme that quickly becomes second nature as you start vertically climbing and grabbing collectibles along the way. Aiming your next grab is made easy and intuitive through little paw icons that appear directly on the surface you are climbing. BUD’s body motions are entirely procedural, so at times he looks loosely in control of himself and more like a puppet, while at other moments every one of your twitches connects and he just seems like the most bad ass climber. More than once in my time with the game so far, BUD looked like he was vertically running up slopes and just barely making a jump to the next section.
The thing is that just climbing up isn’t enough to get you to the end of Grow Home. That’s where the best part of the game comes in. Exploring the beautifully rendered floating islands connected by the plant limbs you grow along the way. Horizontally, the world in which Grow Home takes place is deceptively small. It’s in the heights where this game truly soars. The further from the ground you get, the more challenging your task of finding your way to the top is.
Collecting the 100 crystals that are scattered around unlocks BUD’s useful platforming gimmicks, like a jetpack module, but in a brilliant move, none of these are truly required to succeed. They help make your journey somewhat easier, sure, even though all the extra tools you really need are given to you from the very start. BUD can grab and store a giant daisy that allows him to slow his descent and glide to safety, at the cost of petals. Further up, you’ll also discover a dry leaf, which basically acts as a hang glider. The tree itself also seems to be on BUD’s side, since it grows stationary leaves that can be bounced off of to incredible heights and potentially ridiculous results.
Each of the gigantic plant’s section you grow can be linked to special glowing rocks that nurture it to grow, continually thrusting you toward the bigger land masses suspended in the sky. The core concept is very simple, but the experience of the journey of making it to the end is absurdly rewarding. Granted, you are allowed to speed through and just tear through to the end goal, but fooling around the game world is so wonderfully silly and enjoyable that your game time will probably triple by the time you’re truly done with Grow Home.
Grow Home is fantastic. It’s one of the cutest games you won’t ever get sick of because it doesn’t try too hard to be that way. It just is. BUD’s adventure might feel small and simple in comparison to the blockbusters you’re aught to see this year, but it hides an absurd amount of charm and personality that’s rarely seen in games today. Grow Home takes seconds to put you under its wonderful spell and thankfully proves to be much more than a cheap trick.