I appreciate when a game has plenty of charm, but it needs to support other elements that are executed well. Call me a grump if you must, but an abundance of quirk and whimsy cannot completely compensate for threadbare design and clunky mechanics. That’s a lesson thoroughly reinforced by Grow Home, a strange platforming adventure from Ubisoft Reflections.
You control a robot named B.U.D., and your job is to make a plant grow high enough to reach your spaceship in the atmosphere. By grabbing offshoots of the plant and steering them into energy-infused rocks, the plant steadily gets taller, allowing you to reach new areas. You stumble and climb through a world of floating islands and strange vegetation in pursuit of that goal, but the journey is never complex or difficult. The main source of challenge is your character’s unwieldy movements, since the physics simulation has you falling all over yourself during what should be simple traversal.
The result is more frustrating than funny. You grab things with your left and right hands independently, climbing rocks and vines to get higher. The control scheme takes some getting used to, and even then, a wonky grab or errant jump can mean trouble. Tumbling to your doom isn’t too punishing, though; the respawn points are reasonable enough and you don’t lose progress. Plus, falling a thousand meters and seeing how far you’ve come on the way down is strangely rewarding.
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B.U.D. is kind of an adorable dope, and the world has a cool visual style. The humor and cartoonish sensibilities are bound to bring a smile to your face in the first few minutes, but it won’t stick around; Grow Home doesn’t have much to offer beyond that surface level of charm. Exploring the vibrant environment is exciting at first, but it rarely has any payoff. The thrill of reaching an out-of-the-way island is diminished when your only reward is seeing the same plants and rocks you’ve seen before. No unfolding story punctuates the climb, and the number of interesting things to see is minimal – mainly some hidden caves and animals.
The only incentive to go out of your way is collecting crystals, which are lodged in various inconvenient places during the journey. A total of 100 are scattered around, and you get upgrades – like a rocket pack, and then a better rocket pack – for completing certain percentages. The rocket pack helps with navigation, as do leaves and flowers you can pick up, but your main interactions with the world don’t evolve. You climb, grab, and repeat for a few hours – and then it’s over (unless you want to dig around for the post-game collectibles).
Not every release needs to have ridiculous triple-A aspirations. That being said, even considering its limited scope, Grow Home doesn’t feel complete. The technology behind the gigantic plant is cool, and seeing it take over the world below you is interesting. However, the game that you play between those realizations rarely blossoms into entertainment.