Review: Grow UpReaching new heights
Climb-a-thon Grow Home was one of the biggest surprises of 2015. Originally made as an in-house side project at Ubisoft, the game released with little marketing and still managed to impress players with its adorable aesthetic and gripping mechanics. It was something very different to Ubisoft’s standard fare, and the risk absolutely paid off.
Thankfully, the sequel, Grow Up, hasn’t lost any of the first’s magic and has improved upon it in almost every conceivable way. Grow Home was great, Grow Up is phenomenal.
Growing upwards isn’t the only thing about Grow Up
Grow Up continues the story of AI M.O.M. and her plucky little robot son, B.U.D., as they explore the universe and catalogue the life they encounter. Something goes wrong, their spaceship to crash-lands onto a small planetoid and is ripped to pieces. It’s now up to BUD to traipse around the world, hunting down the different parts of the ship needed to get M.O.M. back online.
Much like the original game, the main task of Grow Up is to climb over and around various floating islands and structures and grow plants to let you get even higher. However, Grow Up introduces a bigger open-world structure; ironically, growing upwards isn’t the only thing about Grow Up – horizontal traversal around the world is also a large part of the game.
This new structure really works well, as now there is less commitment into scaling a single “safe path” and more encouragement to actually get out there and explore. It also allows for some cool variety in the environments, with tropical, arctic, desert, and ocean areas all being traversable.
For its small size, the world is incredibly detailed. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to clamber around inside, crystals to find (that power upgrades), and extra missions to complete. While the main story is only a couple of hours long, getting everything done will take significantly more time.
To help get to grips with this new, bigger world, B.U.D. is joined by P.O.D., a flying robot who doubles up as the game’s map and tutorial. He can set waypoints, collect ship pieces, and give tips when they’re needed. He fits really well into the M.O.M/B.U.D. dynamic the first game’s narrative introduced, feeling more like an endearing sibling to the player character than an annoying guardian who spurts out where to go constantly.
(P.O.D. is) more like an endearing sibling to the player character than an annoying guardian
The world isn’t the only thing that’s been expanded, as there are a few new mechanics introduced in Grow Up, too. The gigantic Starflower of the previous game is back, but it’s also joined by a whole host of different plants that can also be grown to assist in getting around.
Each one has to be discovered and scanned before they’re available to plant, but can include giant daisies that launch B.U.D. high into the sky, catapults, floating glass orbs, and even firework-like buds. One of the biggest flaws of the first game was how repetitive the act of climbing could be, but the new plants help cut down on this massively. One of my favourite tactics was spawning one of the launcher plants, waiting until it flung me high enough, and then jet-packing my way to next floating island.
B.U.D. also received the new ability to roll up into a ball. It works like a mixture of Metroid’s morph ball and Sonic the Hedgehog’s spin-dash, letting you not only fit through smaller gaps, but also fall from any height safely and give a quick boost of horizontal movement. The controls take getting used to, but by the end of the game it had become a major part of my climbing gear, especially when needing to get to the other side of the planet quickly: find a steady platform, spindash off of it, activate the glider for better control, repeat as necessary.
Small cracks in an otherwise exceptional presentation
The only complaint I can make about Grow Up is its occasional bugginess, especially in regards to its procedural animation. Seeing B.U.D.’s arms or head get ripped off when climbing up an uneven surface, or watching an insect get stuck inside a wall reveals a few, small cracks in an otherwise exceptional presentation.
Grow Up isn’t a radical departure from the previous game. It still features the gorgeous low-poly visuals, the vast exploration, solid controls and dizzying heights. It’s more of a refinement: identifying the very few weaknesses of the original (repetitive climbing and a tendency to rush upwards instead of exploring horizontally) and introducing new mechanics and characters to fill those holes in a way that doesn’t make it feel like the developer is reinventing the wheel.
Grow Up might well be one of the sleeper hits of the year.
A copy of the game was purchased by the writer for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft Reflections/Ubisoft
Release date: August 16, 2016
- Charming visuals
- New mechanics fit into the great climbing of the original
- Bigger world with more to explore
- Sometimes-buggy animations
Grow Up improves on its predecessor in every way. Returning fans will love the new additions, and new ones will find a large and adorable world to explore.