Grow Home Review: Don't Look Down

Grow Home lets you reach great heights and explore an exotic, minimalist, alien world by climbing a giant plant. But how exciting can a climbing game be? Our review.

5

Developed by a small team at Ubisoft Reflections, Grow Home is an experimental game that could easily fly below peoples' radars. That's too bad, because even though the game is short, it has the potential to become a more complex experience. As it is, you play as a robot named BUD (Botanical Utility Droid), whose mission is to grow a massive Star Plant until it reaches your spaceship up in orbit, then collect one of its seeds for analysis to save your world. To do this, you need to extend the plant's vines until they reach floating islands, where they tap into the life energy and cause the plant to grow higher. It's a fascinating trip upwards that's marked by more than a few frustrating setbacks, but it's a worthwhile experience that's over before you know it.

Reaching Greater Heights

There's a reason why the fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk glosses over the long trip upwards and emphasizes the part about giants. Unless you happen to be doing it in real life, climbing is a pretty boring activity. Even so, climbing makes up the huge majority of gameplay in Grow Home, more so than exploring or growing the plant. We're not talking about swinging across ropes or setting up zip lines, either. Grow Home's gameplay uses the tedium of hand-over-hand climbing with a spastic robot, occasionally supplemented by a short range rocket pack that's only useful half the time.

One bad step and you'll tumble downward, helplessly watching as your progress is lost. Bad steps are all too common, since the controls can be quite unwieldy. In order to climb, players have to use alternating controls. The right and left mouse buttons (or triggers on a gamepad) correspond with BUD's hands. But you have to be facing the surface while climbing, otherwise he might not clasp on. So, it's inadvisable to look up or around while climbing.

There are a few ways to overcome a long fall. One is by activating teleportation pads, so that you can quickly make up some of the lost altitude. Jumping on a giant leaf provides significant upward mobility. BUD can also pick up an oversized flower, which acts as a temporary parachute until all its petals fall off. Or he can pick up a large leaf to use as a hang glider. But no matter how you make up for it, a fall means having to climb back up the giant winding stalk all over again.

You can pick up energy crystals protruding from the ground or the sides of islands to upgrade some of BUD's abilities, which includes a rocket pack. The annoying thing about the rocket pack, besides its woefully short duration (unless fully upgraded), is that it doesn't guarantee upward motion. If BUD happens to be in a tumble, the pack could easily send you shooting downward or across. Oftentimes, BUD's feet will get stuck in the game's geometry and the rocket pack won't work at all, requiring him to manually climb the long stalk.

The Sky is the Limit

The best part of the game is the part where BUD rides a red colored vine called a Star Shoot as it grows outward toward one of the floating islands. It moves fairly quickly, and although this is exciting, the growing vines can be difficult to steer, which causes it to make wild turns and slopes. Letting go of the Star Shoot before it's done growing will cause it to curl in random directions. I also felt a sense of dread whenever a vine reached its limit and fell short of the island I was aiming for. It meant that I had to backtrack and look for a secondary vine without falling.

Although some might find Grow Home's minimalistic graphics (complete with day and night cycles) charming, they didn't do a lot for me. The thrill of exploration pretty much ended for me once I reached one or two large floating islands, admired its plant life, observed the wandering sheep, and found a dodo bird. Additionally, it's hard to enjoy the world when you're forced to stare straight into a rock face or vine surface to climb. The messages from M.O.M. (essentially home base) that read, "Look at that! It's so fascinating." do little to make me appreciate the world more than I do.

To the game's credit, there is a great deal of interaction with the environment. BUD can pick up or stick to practically everything. Boulders can be shoved aside, small plants can be plucked from the ground, and players will encounter one or two hazards. You can even rescue a trapped sheep, which thanks you by following you around for a while. Grow Home has a nice, organic feel to it and with a sense that Star Plant is a living, growing, entity. However, none of these aspects necessarily lead to anything. There's no puzzle other than fully growing the Star Plant. No incentive to explore other than to collect energy crystals, mess around in an open world, and unlocking teleporters. You might be able to make some of your own fun by jumping into a geyser and blasting off to somewhere or jumping atop a giant mushroom, as long as you don't fear falling, but these are merely distractions from the task of climbing.

Room to Grow

If the urge to explore doesn't call to you, then the game can end up being a long slog upwards as you constantly alternate mouse clicks or button taps to get around. Grow Home can be completed in about an hour or two, depending on your skill and the time you spend looking around, with a special surprise waiting at the end. However, there's only one map and save slot, which discourages replays.

Grow Home gets high points for creativity and providing a relaxing, almost meditative, experience. Except, the game is designed around a mechanic that's often more tedious than fun, and uses a robot that's prone to random spasms and collapses. Still, it's a nice distraction from action games. Even though its puzzle isn't very difficult, minus the falling, it does provide an entertaining experience. Perhaps Grow Home will evolve into something more someday. As it is right now, it's a short and sweet experience with a lot of free falling involved.


This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Grow Home is available digitally for $7.99.

Managing Editor
Review for
Grow Home
6
Pros
  • Bright, organic, open world
  • Creative concept
  • Short game
Cons
  • Climbing can be more tedious than fun
  • Controls can be unwieldy
  • Low replay value
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 18, 2015 9:30 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Grow Home Review: Don't Look Down

    • reply
      February 18, 2015 11:00 AM

      I have been getting lost in this game, really digging it. They updated today and added stuff too!

      • reply
        February 18, 2015 11:23 AM

        Cool same, I think the game is awesome, glad they are updating it.

        The dev told me if things go good they are going to make a follow up and build on the IP but its up to the community if they want more.

        • reply
          February 18, 2015 11:38 AM

          If ever a game needed expansion packs, it is this one.

          Just give me like at least 3 more planets and this is game of the year already.

          • reply
            February 18, 2015 11:42 AM

            Exactly ^^^^ I have a feeling they may just do this, and keep on adding to the game which is a good thing.