Ubisoft as of late has been in the hot seat for their questionable decisions in some of their big budget titles, such as the graphical downgrades in “Watch Dogs” and the sheer technical disaster that was “Assassin’s Creed: Unity.” Despite that, they still occasionally succeed with their smaller releases, and their most recent title, “Grow Home,” is more evidence that sometimes less really is more.
Originally an experimental project by a very small team that had no plans of officially being released, “Grow Home” is a 3D platformer/adventure game in which you play as a cute, little robot called a Botanical Utility Droid, or B.U.D. for short. He is dropped off on a small island in the middle of the ocean to grow a giant beanstalk until it reaches the stratosphere, where his spaceship is waiting. To grow the beanstalk, the player has to climb up it and onto smaller branches of the plant that can be connected to the green, glowing undersides of islands floating around in the sky, growing the giant beanstalk more and more as you connect more branches with more islands.
Even though it’s a PC exclusive, the game is played best with a controller, specifically an Xbox 360 controller. The controls are also where some people may be a bit turned off from the game. B.U.D. controls somewhat awkwardly due to the game’s physics and procedural animation, meaning that how he handles will depend on the environment. For example, he’ll walk extremely slowly up steep surfaces, and perhaps even end up falling backwards after a certain point. Controlling him has a bit of a learning curve to it, but it does add to the game’s charm.
Climbing up surfaces however is much less awkward and pretty fun. In fact, this may be one of the better rock climbing simulators I’ve played. Any surface in the game can be climbed, the player using the trigger buttons to control each of B.U.D.’s hands individually, which really does give the feeling of actually climbing something, and can be very satisfying.
As you journey on upward into the sky, islands get farther and farther apart from each other. Luckily, there are flowers that you can pick up and use to float slowly across the sky or leaves that allow you to glide at a much faster speed. Alongside that, there are crystals scattered throughout the world that give you new abilities after collecting a certain amount. You also will find teleporters in certain places that act as save points that act as a very nice and quick way to search the world for anything you may want to find.
“Grow Home” isn’t a very long game. You could probably complete the main quest in about two or three hours. The real meat of the game is in finding all 100 crystals in the world, some of which are hidden rather sneakily in caves and difficult to reach areas. There aren’t any enemies to defeat or hazards to avoid (aside from falling into the ground of course). This is a game about adventure and discovery. With the droning background music and innocent, cartoony art style, it creates a very soothing, zen atmosphere. If anything, it’s a great relaxation tool.
As you explore the world, you’ll find dazzling waterfalls, giant mushrooms that you can bounce off of, various types of flora, and animals like sheep and dodo birds. The game isn’t exactly a monster in terms of graphical fidelity, but that doesn’t stop its colorful world from being beautiful and breathtaking.
“Grow Home” is a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems obsessed with guns and blood and violence, especially coming from Ubisoft. Despite having clumsy controls and being rather short, Grow Home is definitely one of the better new releases of 2015 thus far.