The story of how Grow Home came to be is an interesting one. A few weeks before its release, Ubisoft released a statement which detailed how Grow Home started as an experiment by the developers within the company.
The finished product is appropriately unique. You play BUD, a cute robot who has to navigate a massive beanstalk and find his way across a bunch of floating islands, a la Pandora. If that sounds like a weird pitch for a game, you’re right. Even after you’ve played the game, you’ll find it difficult to talk about exactly how you feel about it.
The World of Grow Home:
That’s not to say Grow Home is a bad game, though. Far from it. The world of the game is beautiful and filled with colors, interesting and adorable creatures and imaginative landscapes. These visuals are accompanied by an equally charming soundtrack and sound effects. As BUD, your task is to scout this foreign world you’ve been dropped into to find seeds which will turn into a plant that can pump oxygen into the world you come from. To go about this, you have to climb a gigantic plant called the “Star Plant”. Yes, you will have more than one flashbacks to Jack and the Beanstalk while you’re playing this. You have to occasionally control the branches of the Star Plant and, well, insert them into the islands floating in the sky. After you’ve done this, the plant will mine away the green parts of the island and grow larger in turn. You will be left wondering if all of this is metaphorical in some way, more than once.
When you’re moving through the world, Grow Home is truly an aesthetic delight. Even with the cel-shaded graphics, everything just looks like you want to run up and hug it. There isn’t too much flashy animation on display here. In fact, it is the absence of too many bells and whistles that lend a quiet charm to Grow Home. It’s a victory for minimalistic design. The game deals with the concept of scale a lot. When you take your gaze away from the cute critters to look up at the titanic Star Plant spiraling a seemingly endless distance above you into the heavens, you realize the enormity of the task you have been entrusted.
While the world around you is undeniably beautiful, BUD himself completely steals the show. He’s an odd robot, bobbing and weaving his way through the world. The way he moves in particular is fantastic. He isn’t restricted to a singular pattern of movement. As the player, you can dictate the way he moves. You control BUD’s hands with the left and right controls and the direction of his movement with the other trigger. Since BUD can grab onto anything he touches, this system creates a unique movement dynamic which remains interesting to behold throughout the runtime of the game. And really, once you see BUD smile and chirp excitedly, you will simply melt.
BUD’s unusual movement pattern might be intimidating for some players, and will definitely create some moments of unintentional hilarity as you flail around the map. Think Octodad, but much better, because you’ll eventually figure out how to control your character. If you’re patient, you will enjoy the process of learning the way he moves. Eventually, you’ll be able to scale and jump around the map like it is second nature. There’s a lot of physics involved and momentum plays a large part in determining whether you can grab on to a surface or plummet to your death. Oh, and there are loose rocks to contend with as well. There are some objects in the environment you can use to your advantage. For example, there are some plants which function as jump pads, allowing you to soar higher. And if you’re jumping downwards, you can use leaves and flowers as makeshift hang-gliders or parachutes. Just make sure you don’t bump into anything when you’ve got a leaf as your wing. That’s just common sense.
Grow Home comes on the back of a somewhat disappointing year for Ubisoft. Their biggest releases – Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Watch Dogs, were incredibly buggy at launch and generally failed to live up to the open-world goodness that the trailers promised. When Far Cry 4 came out, it was criticized for not doing anything different. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Grow Home might have started as an experiment to determine more interesting movement patterns to add to Ubisoft’s array of open-world games. Luckily, since it doesn’t need to adhere to the bounds of an existing franchise, Grow Home manages to provide a far better open world exploration adventure. The game feels like it’s been designed to encourage the player to move through the world organically, unlike other Ubisoft ‘open-world’ games where you feel the developer forcibly guiding you through a certain series of movements.
To put it simply, Grow Home is the complete antitheses of Ubisoft’s banner releases. Where a lot of those games rely on spectacle, Grow Home is minimalistic and idyllic. It encourages you to relax, take your time and explore the world at your own pace without bombarding you with ticking clocks or endless narrative. It is a short yet fulfilling experience. There’s a lot to like in this game, and if Ubisoft carries some of the thematic and technical lessons from this game over to their other franchises, we are in for a treat.