Grow Up is as enjoyable as it is maddeningly frustrating. I love everything around it; the brilliant, bold use of color, the oddly-soothing loneliness of exploring a planet inhabited by plants, even the goofy, carefree smile of the adorable robot at the center of it all. But precise platforming and a character who moves with the grace of a dizzy toddler leave this experience at odds with itself.
Grow Up’s story is simple; two robotic characters--a childlike robot and a drone--have crash landed on a planet and need to reassemble the ship--who is named mom and operates as a sort of maternal figure for them both--in order to reach their original destination.
The planet on which they land is a massive, sprawling one featuring several different biomes and environments. Deserts filled with spiny cacti-like plants, open fields with water sources and large fungus growths, and even floating islands whose only means of access are snakelike plants that can grow upward on command. All of them are contained in one large world and can be accessed seamlessly throughout the adventure. It’s a lot like taking the traditional ice, forest, lava levels of classic 2 and 3D platformers and stretching them out in an open world with no barriers in between.
Since this planet is overwhelmingly populated with plant life, seeds and the use of different plants will become an important part of Grow Up’s platforming. A finite number of plants to be discovered and used are scattered across the face of the planet, and when they’re discovered, an endless supply of seeds are added to Bud’s inventory. Through this, different plants can be selected and instantly grown for their intended use. Some are toadstool-like mushrooms whose tops serve as powerful trampolines, while others are tall, thin structures allowing Bud to climb up high.
Using seeds and different plants to let the player customize their own platforming paths is an inventive way to interact with the environment, but Grow Up doesn’t do a particularly great job explaining why each of the plants are valuable or giving the player any useful tips regardig their practicality immediately after picking them up. It’s simply discover and obtain seeds, and you’re basically left to your own devices to figure out the best times in which to use them.
But all of this is forgivable when compared to Grow Up’s controls. Like Grow Home, Bud operates in a ragdoll state. He quakes and shivers while standing, his legs jutting out awkwardly and slowly as he moves, every movement a labored, slow process. Bud flying through the air is even more unsatisfying, even after obtaining upgrades like glide and brakes to help curtail this. Climbing is done using alternating left and right trigger pulls to move up any vertical face, and feels even more tedious than jumping through the air. It all comes together in a frustrating mix when precise platforming is mixed with a character whose very controls are the antithesis to precision. There were many, many times Bud’s controls caused me to miss a mark and left me free falling hundreds of feet down to the ground, only to backtrack lengthy sections all over again.
Even with a limited fast travel system, this grows exhausting early on. Failure in games is best handled when the player takes the rules and conventions handed to them and makes an honest mistake with their lack of skill, but Grow Up feels antagonistic toward the player, constantly undermining their every move with clunky platforming, almost gleefully launching them back to the start of a particularly challenging section. Bud is adorable, the world is visually stunning, and the game itself enticingly oozes whimsy. But those pure moments of bliss are undercut by Bud’s frustrating controls in a world filled with moments requiring his best precision.
This review is based on a PS4 download code provided by the publisher. Grow Up is available digitally for $9.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The game is rated E.
- Beautiful World
- Adorable Characters
- Customizable Platforming
- Muddy, Awkward Controls
Cassidee Moser posted a new article, Grow Up Review: Grow Big