I’ve been meaning to play Grow Home for a while now. Considering one of my school mates has their own name in the game, I really needed to download it and give it a go, especially after the guys at Giant Bomb gave it high praise. Alas, months passed with constant reviews and programming to be done, until it finally become apparent the game was getting a new release on the PS4 as a part of it’s Playstation Plus free games promotion. Well this was a massive delight, especially since it meant I’d finally get to play the game, but also, I would’t have to pay anything for it!
So where to begin? Well to start off, Grow Home is an indie game by Ubisoft Reflections in Newcastle, a studio renowned for Watch Dogs and The Crew. Strange, I know, but at least some of the team up there were given free time to work on Grow Home. The game has a simple premise; you play a red robot named BUD (Botanical Utility Droid), who travels with his mother ship (M.O.M) from planet to planet finding Star Plants, huge plants which can create Star Fruit for people back on earth. The plants are gigantic, easily able to reach over 2000 metres in size, so it’s up to BUD (and you, the player) to grow the plant and retrieve it’s fruit. It’s a fantastically simple premise, but one that I found extremely enjoyable; as of writing this review I played the game for over 7 hours and managed to get every trophy in the game.
Whilst the premise is simple, the controls and gameplay are far from it, with BUD being a wobbly mess that is difficult to control. At the start you’ll walk more than anything else using the analogue sticks, but occasionally you’ll need to pick things up using the R1 and L1 buttons (which both control BUDS arms). It’s these buttons you’ll also need to use for climbing, which, considering this is a vertical game all about growing a plant upwards, you’ll be doing a lot of. Alternating between L1 and R1 enables BUD to grab hold of walls in front of him, and whilst this works for the most part, the fiddliness of BUD himself will make it difficult to keep ahold of walls sometimes. For the most part, the controls are fine. BUD feels like a real tangible thing, with gravity and weight, and whilst this form of control is annoying at times (try falling 600-700 metres after climbing for tens of minutes), it adds a sense of challenge to anything you may want to do in the game.
The world BUD explores is open, meaning you’re free to explore til your hearts content. Upon exploring, you’ll find new wildlife to pick up and inspect, as well as power crystals, which power BUD up and give him more abilities. The first (and possibly most useful ability), was to zoom the camera out, meaning you could see whether crystals were hiding in unexplored places. This was a nifty addition, and later additions usually involved the rocket pack on BUDS back, which was a way of flying around the world temporarily (and increasing length as you gather more crystals). The hunting for new flowers, fauna and crystals really pushed me to explore every nook and cranny of the world, a somewhat enjoyable but also challenging prospective considering BUDS control mechanics.
A final word about the world: the way in which you grow the star plant is a fantastic mechanic where you hold a flower/bloom, and then direct it to wherever you like. The stem of your new sprout will then have more flowers to bloom to do the same with. Should you direct your stem into a floating island with green underneath, you’ll grow the main star plant higher, furthering your progress. It’s all a fantastic mechanic that kept me entranced until the end.
Controls aside, it’s onto the graphics, which is simplistic throughout the whole game. Just take a look at the screenshots attached to this review, and you’ll see how everything is stylised polygonal, with no textures, and everything simply coloured. Whilst some may be critical of this simplistic approach, I, for one, enjoyed it, with the massive shadows from the single light source adding a nice feeling to an otherwise simplistic decor. Just to add: there’s not really anything in the way of music, and what little sound effects are in the game suit it admirably.
So, was Grow Home worth the wait? I’d say so. For a free Playstation Plus game, you really can’t go wrong. I ended up spending 7 hours getting 100% of the trophies before stopping, even though the main game can be completed within 3 hours; I was just that hooked. Some may find it boring after a while, but for the most part, Ubisoft Reflections first foray into indie gaming is a fantastic success. Go get it for free if you have Playstation Plus, otherwise, it’s certainly worth the £7 they’re asking.