Wot I Think: Grow Home

Announced but two weeks ago, you can now get your hands on Ubisoft Reflections’ Grow Home. I’ve been playing it all day, and here’s wot I think:

What times we live in when it’s meant as the highest compliment when I say Ubisoft’s Grow Home feels like it came from an indie studio. Shedding all their AAA clothing, including the requirement for UPlay, here some of their designers run about gleefully in the nude, creating a genuinely lovely game.

It’s unquestionably a confusing name, but no, this is nothing to do with Gone Home at all. This is an experiment gone right from Ubisoft Reflections. A little robot called B.U.D. (let’s call him Bud), charged with growing a plant from the surface of an efflorescent landscape, up through a sky filled with floating rocks and vegetation, to reach his spaceship. He’s after oxygen, you see. But Bud isn’t exactly stable on his feet.

Reflections were, we hear, experimenting with procedurally generated animations. I’m not going to pretend to understand what that means, but my best guess would be it’s why Bud feels like his movement is deeply involved in the world around him, rather than executing a pre-defined set of movements despite it. And it’s this, even more than the beautiful graphics and enormous satisfaction of guiding shoots of the plant into floating energy sources, that makes Grow Home so special.

As well as a wobbly pair of legs that mean Bud struggles to stand still for too long, each of his little roboty arms is mapped to the left and right triggers of your gamepad (the preferred method) or left and right mouse buttons, meaning that as he climbs (he can grip to any surface) you must move and place each hand in turn. This provides a really delightful feeling of direct control over Bud, and creates the most extraordinary sense of scrambling and effort as he struggles up over a ledge, or just manages to grip onto an extended branch without tumbling thousands of feet below.

As you grow your plant, stems grow leaves (bouncy) and shoots (growy), the latter of which you can climb upon, and then ride as they enormously extend, guiding them toward glowing green rocks suspended in the air. Connect with one (and later in the game, it’ll take multiple shoots to do so), and the main plant grows upward. That’s the main goal here, and I imagine if you focused purely on doing this, the whole experience might be over in a three or four hours. But if you played like that, you’d be a monster, and we’d never be friends.

Bud is just adorable. Too adorable. Like that bit in Gremlins where Gizmo is trying to create a paperclip grappling hook to escape the filing cabinet, and it’s more cute than you should ever have to be able to handle. His staggery, unsteady movements, but big-eyed tenacity, makes me want to hug and squeeze him until bolts pop out. It can certainly be frustrating when he’s moving too fast, and his legs go from underneath him, and he tumbles off a high point it took you ages to reach. But first of all, it was mostly you’re fault – you’re the grown up, and he’s only a baby robot. And secondly, aw, you can’t stay mad at Bud!

It’s important to note this isn’t about something like Octodad, where fighting the controls is the main purpose of the game. Bud is perfectly controllable, but just requires a lot more care than you might usually have to put in. He’s unwieldy, like a toddler just figuring out a route from the side of the sofa to the bowl of fascinating-looking glass balls in the middle of the room. It’s your job to stop him from smashing his face into the coffee table and eating a handful of marbles. As it were.

As Bud progresses, he gains a few new abilities, but it will require your taking the pretty route. (The very pretty route.) Glowing gems stick out the sides of the scenery, and when collected in enough quantities, unlock extra power for Bud’s circuits. At first you get better camera control (this may seem an odd thing to lock away, but it comes almost straight away, and before you need it), and then a little rocket booster pack. This, combined with the helpful uses of gathering daisies to float from, or leaves to glide below, makes Bud a whole lot more manoeuvrable in the later stages.

The only downside I’ve found, beyond the game’s infrequent glitchiness (they’re expecting you to clip occasionally – the game immediately suggested I self destruct to reform at the nearest teleporter when Bud got stuck in a flower), is that there’s an unsweet spot midway, just between Bud’s becoming fully equipped with movement abilities, and the falls really packing a penalty in terms of how much you’ll have to reclimb. But this really is the only time the game errs, which is quite the thing.

It all just bursts with loveliness. From the feelings of protectiveness I immediately felt for Bud (I don’t doubt being a very new dad is a large factor in this), to the verdant beauty of the polygonal world, to the exquisite pleasure of successfully growing the plant, it all sings with creativity. And then there’s more on top, with scrumptious messages coming from an unseen guide called M.O.M. She utters thoughts like, “I suddenly realize I’ve sent you down there without any lunch..” Or worries that you might be getting too muddy. And my favourite, when you explode (from falling too far, or deliberately self-destructing) she affirms you with, “You’re doing very well, BUD. Well done.”

Take your time, play with the flora and fauna (although be careful, it’s not all friendly), search out the gems (some are cunningly hidden), and enjoy taking your time. This isn’t a game to rush, but to wobbily savour.

Grow Home is available on Steam for £6, or UPlay (Ha! Imagine!) for the same.

37 Comments

  1. Messofanego says:

    Grow Home as a title makes sense like ET’s Phone Home and also you’re trying to reach 2000m to get back home.

    Playing this now, absolutely charmed. Some of the cutest animation in a game, thanks to the procedural technique:
    link to i.minus.com

    I love how you have to go to megaheights, almost a bit vertigo inducing.

  2. Napalm Sushi says:

    I grabbed this last night, and approve of “lovely” as the optimal descriptor.

    The climbing immediately made me think of that vertiginous intro to Mission Impossible 2. Well executed movement systems really can be more engaging and satisfying than any amount of shootmanning.

  3. Simbosan says:

    What were you trying to do to that sheep?

  4. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    Apparently Mr. Walker has nothing better to do all day than having people spend money.

    Fuck that, i’m buying this thing.

  5. DragonOfTime says:

    You can say many things about Ubisoft, but they really are one of the most innovative of the properly huge publishers, so even with their Uplay and other shenanigans, I would take them over most of the other AAA publishers any day of the week. While some of what they churn out is just more of the same (for better or worse), they sometimes produce some really interesting projects.

    (Also they’re doing another Heroes of Might and Magic, I can’t hate anyone doing another Heroes of Might and Magic)

    • Eight Rooks says:

      They’re like Square Enix, only in Ubisoft’s case I actually like both their giganto AAA releases and their weird little indie side projects. They’re the only two big publishers who do weird, as far as I can tell – EA don’t have a weird side projects lab, nor Activision, nor Take 2, nor 2K… unless I’m forgetting something really obvious. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

      • DragonOfTime says:

        I think EA had a flirt with indie development a while back, publishing the original DeathSpank and Shank but it died out pretty quickly.

      • liquidsoap89 says:

        THQ was pretty out there sometimes. And now they’re just gone…

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        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        What about Capcom or Konami? Are there any interesting things locked away on their island?

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Capcom had a few, kind of, in the Dreamcast/PS2/GC era – Power Stone, Techromancer, stuff like that. Not so much now, though, AFAIK. They seem to be concentrating on their tentpole franchises, outside Japan at least. Square Enix for example I’m thinking of how they’re still pouring megabucks into Final Fantasy, and yet while they’ve put out some horrible mobile titles – Final Fantasy: All the Bravest, a pox upon thee – they’ve also got some great ones like the Chaos Rings series, Bloodmasque or Drakerider. Despite their shaky premium pricing and their pushing some awful IAP-heavy rubbish they’re also still trying to push more “core” games on all platforms (unlike Sega, say, who’ve just panicked and run for the hills). Ubisoft are the same – they’re pumping out the AAA titles for all they’re worth, iterating on a formula and blatantly trying to drive profits up, and yet they still funnel some of the money into indie quirk and passion projects like this. I don’t want to be totally naive – “Oh, look, who’s a cuddly megacorporation, then?” – but Ubi and Squenix at least try to look as if they care about what they’re doing, about diversity and artistic expression as well as “Okay, we’ve got a successful big IP, now let’s run it into the ground”.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, when I hear people bitching about how all Ubisoft games seem to involve radio towers and maps full of icons these days I’m like “well, first of all, can you blame them for wanting to iterate on a formula that’s working for them even if it doesn’t work for you? And secondly, they’re putting out things like Valiant Hearts, Child of Light, and Grow Home, so they’re doing what you want them to as well!”

  6. CMaster says:

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I learned a new word from this article.

    Although not sure it helps me understand what the world is like very much.

  7. Hanban says:

    Has there ever been a good climbing game? Like rock or wall climbing. I feel like Grow Home is the best climbing game to date.

    • Jackablade says:

      Mark Serrels wrote a lengthy article on the Australian Kotaku about how good the climbing is in new new Metal Gear Solid from a rock climber’s perspective.
      link to kotaku.com.au
      Obviously good for different reasons to Grow Home’s fidgety little robot guy, but interesting reading nonetheless.

      • KenTWOu says:

        But not from a gamer perspective. Climbing along a predestined path isn’t fun.

      • Hanban says:

        That’s funny. When watching those gameplay videos I actually thought, albeit only casually, that it looked like actual climbing.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Gang Beasts

  8. Urthman says:

    Anyone else remember getting a sort of climbing vertigo when using the jetpacks in Giants: Citizen Kabuto to slowly leapfrog up one of those enormous mushroom-shaped towers?

  9. thedosbox says:

    John should change his twitter handle to “Sheep Botherer”.

    This looks lovely – how does it play with a keyboard and mouse? I’m one of those fogeys who can’t get along with a controller.

  10. celticdr says:

    Dammit John Walker! I had planned to do productive things today *buys game*

  11. caff says:

    For just £6 it’s gotta be worth a shot.

    This, Besiege, and Ikea, are going to absorb my weekend. Although the latter will probably be the hardest to stomach.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Besiege is great. I am surprised RPS has not written about it yet.

      [edit] Ignore that last part.

      • Tacroy says:

        I bought it before it hit Steam due to the recommendation

      • Llewyn says:

        I suck at Besiege. I apparently lack all imagination, and my real-life clumsiness apparently translates to virtual device building quite convincingly.

        I haven’t managed to complete all the levels in the current alpha, and I’m not desperate for them to populate a game with increasingly difficult ones.

        That said, I’m struggling to think of many better fivers I’ve spent on a game in the 30 years I’ve been buying them. It’s a glorious little thing.

  12. Tacroy says:

    This and Gravity Ghost were pretty much exactly what I needed after these last few dreary weeks.

  13. Jackablade says:

    Has anyone given it a try with mouse controls?

    One of these days I suppose I should buy a controller, but I’ll be damned(and then melted) if I’m going out shopping in this heat.

    • Phaze91 says:

      I bought this game day one without seeing many reviews or gameplay. I’ve played 3 hours so far and I’ve only used mouse and keyboard. Have enjoyed the hell out of it, and the controls seem fine. You hold down left and right mouse clicks to hold onto surfaces. Simple and elegant, works find with a mouse, maybe controller would be more precise for climbing, but this isn’t exactly a super precise game. For gods sake Bud walks like a derp

    • Assaf says:

      I actually found it nicer on keyboard+mouse. Started playing on my controller, but after checking how’s the keyboard, I won’t switch back. I wouldn’t let that hold you back from playing this nice game.

  14. wcq says:

    The only game I’ve bought immediately at launch since… since Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I think.

    I couldn’t help myself. Just looked too lovely.

  15. oyog says:

    I haven’t payed full price for a game in I don’t know how long. I went and payed full price for this as soon as I finished watching that playthrough because it just looks so joyous.

  16. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Just so we’re clear, in the little thumbnail to the right it looks like Bud has a big green boner.

  17. Nixitur says:

    Lovely game. It’s rather short (I got all 100 crystals, got the flower to bloom and got the “true” ending in about seven hours), but definitely worth the money.
    Probably not a game I’m going to return to (there’s little point in continuing to play after you’re fully upgraded and I really don’t want to find all 100 crystals again), but that’s absolutely fine. It’s short and sweet.

    The only real complaint I have is that the two last upgrades (the one you get for 100 crystals and the one you get for getting the “true” ending) aren’t really that well thought-out.
    I won’t detail why because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I feel like the developers expected finding all crystals to be the very last thing you achieve.

  18. corinoco says:

    Why does the robot have a gender? Why is it a ‘he’? If it is a ‘he’ why is there not a ‘she’ variant?

    My wife immediately said “why do I always have to be a boy robot? Why can’t I just be ‘a robot’?”

    It seems such a tiny simple little thing, why not do it?

  19. SpinalJack says:

    Really lovely game, ploughed through it in 6-7 hours (missed that last crystal behind the rock for ages) Still worth it for the price but not much replay value. If they added a random level generator I might go back and climb all over again. Best climbing in any game, especially when straining to reach under an overhang for a loose rock or crystal and then plummeting to the ground cos you forgot to keep a grip on solid rock with your other hand.

  20. mpOzelot says:

    This must be a prototype for the next assassin’s creed tech iteration.