When I first played Grow Home, I was pleasantly surprised how it surpassed the boundaries of traditional platforming with its unconventionally loose controls and non-linear (yet broad and open for exploring) setting for a game while still remaining fun with an endearing character. Grow Up has an increased scope compared to its predecessor while still retaining its captivating charm.
The bright colours and simple designs is deceptive on first impression, as the controls take some time to get used to, however it still remains an enjoyable game with a plethora of collectibles scattered across a large, dynamic world. From the peak of rocky mountains or caves underneath or in the sky, it takes some freewheeling leaps and climbing to acquire. And of course, the humour and style found in Grow Home is still clearly apparent in this game with its bold visual style and child-like sense of fun.
Grow Up expands on an already fun concept to let you roam an even larger landscape with ease and brevity in a fun, relaxing manner. The game concept is similar to Grow Home where the player is required to collect various important things. This time however, instead of star seeds, it’s the broken remnants of MOM, your ship and maternal overseer in the game. There are more items to collect than just these such as star crystals, floraforms (large plants used for traversing the region) and also new suits that become unlocked via challenges in the game. While you are not required to collect everything in order to beat the game, they do help upgrade your character and enables quicker travel across the planet. This game appeals to the completionist in me and this sort of scouring the cosmos for shiny things reminds me of the Mario Galaxy games but would require time and patience to fully collect everything as there’s very little direction given in how to find them.
The world itself is noticeably larger than its prequel with different ecosystems on the planet surface with their own unique variety of plants and animals. And there are off-world places to explore, which become a challenge to reach in the early stages of the game. While it is packed with variety and gameplay options, it’s not too big so that it would dilute the experience which is still as fun as always be it in a desert landscape or in a giant waterfall hundreds or even thousands of metres floating above the planet. In fact, the higher you travel, the more impressed I was with the graphical fidelity of the game as you could look down and see the entire breadth of the planet with no discernible graphical hick-ups or short render distances. The world is a bright, low-poly design which only adds to its appeal and fits in well with the overall tone of the game.
Similar to Grow Home, there are abilities which BUD can unlock that help in exploring the region and which essentially change the gameplay as you progress further. These abilities, such as the glider or air-brakes replaces the previous leaf glider and flower parachute which were a once-off use. Grow Up, however will let you glide and hover in the air at the players’ whim. They can further be improved by collecting the star crystals across the planet which, if you collect enough off, negates any need for jumping or climbing as BUD, which was previously more integral to its precursor. This is not necessarily a negative aspect this game, as the larger, open-ended world means the quicker modes of transport helps the player get to a location quickly and still have a chance to use the climbing or platforming mechanics to gather crystals or ship parts.
When it is necessary to jump and climb on things, the platforming in this game is a tad more difficult and less intuitive than you would expect from traditional platforming control schemes. BUD in many ways is like a toddler, and his movement is precisely that, he staggers, stumbles, falls and finds changing direction or controlling speed to be very difficult concepts. It’s not a surprise to people who have already played the prequel, Grow Home, but it will still surprise you even if you think you have gotten to grips with controls. BUD will careen off a rock when he has too much momentum to slow down and you might fall a far way down which usually does not end well. Luckily, there’s the air brake ability which makes this easier, as long as you don’t hold down the button mapped to this ability as it instead uses the glider which only makes things worse, or more fun depending on your mindset.
Challenges in this game where you have to jump, fly, or stumble through hoops eventually unlock suits which provide a small in-game effect such as being able to jump further or aid in crystal collecting. While it’s not a huge, drastic leap that affects the game, and I don’t think it’s a particularly interesting one, it is a neat option to have if you can be use it to your advantage if players can pick one to suit a given situation.Players can also grow plants with different characteristics that enables them to reach new terrain. I found that I never really had any need to use them and that for so many of them them that you obtain, they all offer the same functions pretty much and is rarely used when BUD is upgraded.
The game also features a side-kick, Navi-like character, POD, that adds a bit of humorous dialogue to the game and makes the world feel more inhabited than it really is. POD is also linked with the map system which is a zoomed out image of the globe that we can spin around and find interesting spots like teleporters, abilities and so on. However it wasn’t that interactive and the use of waypoints was counter-intuitive as they were hard to see in the game world, being just a shaft of light that could be obscured by the scenery. It requires you to move the camera/POD around the world which might seem in line with the verisimilitude of the world in that we’re supposed to be looking through the eyes of an in-game character rather than an objective lens but for completionists who want to find every challenge or crystal without having to scroll through the map to find each collectible, it’s irksome that there’s no easier way to pinpoint objects.
Despite these minor additions, be them good such as enhanced abilities or bad with the clunky map system or under-utilised features, Ubisoft Reflections has essentially retained the heart of the first game with its emphasis on collecting, wobbly controls and physics-defying landscapes. The game is left open as a giant sandbox waiting to be explored. Other games might struggle to maintain its charm across a larger landscape, but this game manages to be endearing with fun gameplay and the ability to be totally immersed in a fun, pleasing and relaxing way.