Played on Windows.
Also Available on Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Grow Up is a sequel to one of the surprise hits I’ve played, which was called Grow Home. I played Grow Home on the PS3 and have been wanting to play Grow Up for a couple of years. I picked it up at some point last year, and for some reason let it linger in my virtual pile of unplayed games. Well, I’ve fixed that, and finally am ready to review it.
Grow Up starts with you playing B.U.D. (Botanical Utility Droid) the robot from the first game, flying in M.O.M., your ship from the first game. As you fly along. you crash into the moon of the planet and end up falling to it along with most of the pieces of your ship. Your ship is destroyed and now you’re stranded on the planet.
As you move around after landing from your crash, you are quickly greeted by P.O.D., or the Planetary Observation Droid, who is your guide this time around. P.O.D. starts out by taking you through a “Tutorial” of sorts, but it’s ridiculously short and P.O.D. quickly leaves the player with the open-ended task of getting the rest of the ship parts.
Unfortunately, I have some real problems with P.O.D.. He often says quite passive aggressive things to the player. Obviously, this is from the writer, and it tries to be clever, but I feel like P.O.D. is always on the other side of helpful. While he can scan the world, he needs help flying higher for some reason. He can’t lift ship parts unless you pull the magnet down the final six feet, and once you do that he is able to lift massive ship parts with no effort. Even when he talks to you, he says things like “now you can fly, I don’t need help with that.”
Here he is folks, all the power in the world and doesn’t use it.
However Grow Up isn’t really about story and so I can give the game a pass on P.O.D. even if I’m really not a fan of the character. Grow Up starts with you on a large open world planet and you are given no abilities but are tasked to recover all the parts of your spaceship as soon as possible.
This is a slightly different goal than the original game, which was more focused on making “starplants” grow and finishes with climbing high enough to reach M.O.M, but Grow Up doesn’t venture that far from the second goal. M.O.M. crashed on what the game calls the moon of this planet, you have to eventually climb back up to her to either see the whole map or finish rebuilding her.
So, height is once again the main goal but there’s far more width on the map. In the original game, it felt like you landed on a rather linear level traveling upwards. You could move to the sides, but for the most part, your goal was to always reach up to the sky. Instead, this time around you are on an actual planet and have a circular map. The focus is on growing outwards from it to different floating platforms.
Since Grow Up is about exploration, the controls and movement are the most important feature. The original game experiments with a rock climbing and plant traversal system that was procedurally generated. It was impressive at the time, and Grow Up has the same level of impressiveness. Movement is very fluid as B.U.D. runs along the ground. He often doesn’t have a completely flat surface but he looks great as he traverses it. The challenge comes in with how he moves while climbing up surfaces.
Even in that challenge, B.U.D. is adept. The game uses the Left and Right triggers to grab onto objects. If one is pressed, the other hand can be moved in any direction with the control stick. This actually works really well, and I was surprised with how little challenge there was in the rock climbing, allowing all the other systems to shine instead.
Some people might want more challenge in the motion, but when the entire game requires rock climbing, any flaw in the rock climbing or even small challenge would become incredibly tedious. Instead, the movement is so fluid that it’s almost a joy to climb up large rock faces, where the challenge is now in reaching the rock faces, rather than traversing them.
The reaching of the objects is the majority of the game, the player often has to reach different points in the world usually to find a new ability, ship part, crystal, or challenge. Most of these locations are quite far apart and many are up in the air, so that movement is critical. Luckily the game provides many ways to move between locations, especially when you use the flora of the planet.
You see B.U.D. is a Botanical Utility Droid, and while that’s a bit meaningless, as you start the game with no powers, your first upgrade is the scanner and seed planter. From there you’re able to scan any large plant, and then use your seed system to place (and potentially destroy) any plants you have scanned.
Most of the areas of the game tend to have ways to get between two locations using pre-existing plants. There might be a bouncy plant or a plant that will rocket off and drag B.U.D. along with it. Most of these are unique and they’re all pretty fun to discover and interact with.
You also can find teleporters
Then there are times when you arrive on a rock and can’t find your way to the next point. At these times the game expects you to generate new plants. My personal favorite of the plants was the one that created a bubble that floated upwards because they were slow but gave far more height than anything else I saw. There are also a couple of plants that “throw” the player upwards and those were really useful.
Of course, you can plant seeds anywhere, even when on the side of any rock face, or hanging on to a stalk, or one of the starplants from the first game, and the plants will hang on that same face if they can. It’s actually a really cool use of the technology of the game and a great assist to gamers who want to move around and design their own jungle gyms.
The starplants also make a return and, while they are no longer a main objective of the game, they’re still extremely fun to play with. You are once again able to grab onto the end of the starplant and ride a sprout around to a new goal and build a completely unique and beautiful starplant that will assist you to where you want to go. I’m not sure how many sprouts a starplant can get but after a while, the newly grown arms of the starplant wouldn’t sprout more seedlings so there might be a limit on length. It was far shorter than I needed or expected but I think with the number of different seedlings and conveyance methods, I was ok with losing out on the starplant’s versatility because I could use almost anything else to extend my range.
When I landed on the world for the first time I noticed how procedurally generated the game looked. As I played it a little and then restarted, I realized this was incorrect. The world looks procedurally generated, and perhaps it was originally by the development team, but the world is always the same if you start a new game. That’s fine, it allows you to trust the developer to give you a fair shake, it just has the feeling that it’s different or unique each time you start a new game, and that’s a bit of a false impression.
The world also has a good amount of biodiversity. There are two polar caps on each side of the globe. There are also rainforest, desert, waterfall, volcanos, and islands biomes for you to explore. It’s a nice and unique planet with a lot to find, and the native plant life also respects the parts of the world you’re on. You can bring any plant to any place on the planet and use them. This means you will eventually find the “good” plants, and just use those, but I do like exploring the different areas and getting the feeling plant life evolved in different ways.
As I mentioned earlier you explore the world looking for ship parts, abilities, crystals, and challenges. The ship parts are the goal of the game, if you find all of them, you “win the game”, though once M.O.M. is reconstructed she tells you the percentage completed you are and gives you the option to go back and do more.
The second category is the six abilities to find. The first is the seed system that allows you to scan plants and grow new plants where ever you want. From there you get a jetpack, a parachute, an ability to turn into a ball, a crystal finder, and a glider. Each of these gives the player a little more power to explore the world. Some are going to be more useful than others. The jetpack and glider are critical to how I played, and I rarely used the ball except when I was stuck. But the progression of the abilities seems fair and was held back just long enough to make me appreciate the last ability before getting something new and usually a bit better.
Abilities are well secured until you open them.
As for the crystals I’ve mentioned a few times, they can be considered the experience system. They earn new unlockables for your robot. These can range from an extra power pack, allowing you to use your abilities more, to a more powerful jetpack and other ability upgrades. Crystals are not required to find however it’s worth taking a small detour to collect them as they give you decent power-ups when you’ve collected enough. There are 150 different crystals to collect so there is a lot of hunting for them, and with the size of the world, there’s always something to find.
Finally, I mentioned challenges. Challenges are simply checkpoint races. They’re a mixed bag. Some of them are a number of locations that are spread out and you can choose a path, others require you to quickly follow a precise path. Challenges are the big piece of the game that I am not completely sold on. Some of them seem to want you to have a specific upgrade or ability before attempting it, however some don’t, and any upgrades would make them trivial. As such, I feel like challenges are the one thing that doesn’t feel right for the game.
If you do complete them, challenges unlock suits, and they can change the game a bit, but they don’t feel like they do very much. However, I’ve heard conflicting opinions on the effectiveness of different suits. Still, the mechanics of the challenges don’t make me entirely thrilled with the thought of trying to chase them down if that’s the reward.
There are also creatures in the game, and they add a little life to the world but they don’t really interact with the player. There is the exception of one suit that draws bugs to you, but there’s no reason for it as they don’t normally harm or attack you, you don’t get a benefit for being surrounded. It’s an addition to give the world a feeling of life, rather than a need for it.
I’m in a bee suit so bees come towards me… that’s all it does.
Finally, we can talk about P.O.Ds map now that the rest of the game has been detailed. The in-game maps are a bit of a doozy.
The map is often good, and if you can find something on it, it’s pretty useful. You can even leave a giant marker on any location that you can see in the sky. The issues I have with it come from finding the objects. The map doesn’t always give you the best ability to discover objects. When you’re looking for ship pieces, unless you move the map directly over the ship piece and wait for a second, you will sometimes miss that a piece is on a floating rock. Other times, if you haven’t climbed high enough, the map won’t zoom out far enough to show you a ship piece or an ability.
Both of these issues could have been solved with a simple “search” function. The game even says stuff like “I found a ship piece in the desert” however the game then expects you to scan back and forth over the desert. Assuming you chose the right continent (I wasn’t sure which one was the rainforest, and which one was the waterfall, or if they were the same continent). A single button click could have made the entire process much more satisfying.
This gets worse when you look for the crystals. Often times the game tells you where a crystal is only after zooming in far enough to see it, and any motion makes it forget where that crystal was. It’s a shame because finding crystals even with the finder was very annoying especially with how big the world was.
The fact that sometimes you can’t see objects because you haven’t climbed high enough is an odd twist as well. At the beginning, you see your first ship piece, which is significantly higher than where you started. I believe the game wanted to have a bit of a reveal showing “you thought the world was X big. But really it’s Y big” and then again and again. It could have been an interesting reveal. However the map, or P.OD. doesn’t do this, and worse, I missed locations because I thought the map was there to help me, instead of hiding things I needed.
The map is just another of P.O.D.s little features that just never works exactly as you wanted, and it has the most quality of life issues. In fact the rest of the game really never made me hate playing it, even the Challenges which were annoying, made me accept them and move on. But the map functionality frustrated me because I know a search function, for instance, would have greatly improved my experience. Instead, I got to the end of the game, found the ship pieces somehow, and then stopped playing.
I left over 100 crystals unclaimed and at least 35 challenges unattempted. I had finished finding the final ship piece, but to me, the desire to go back and collect all the crystals and challenges just didn’t compel me to return to the game after restoring M.O.M.
Ultimately I have to judge Grow Up, it’s not something I look forward to because it’s a hard game to really judge. Grow Home was excellent, and I’d probably recommend playing that first no matter what. It gives you a great feel for B.U.D. and while you get the same or better feeling here, Grow Home has more direction in the game and that’s what I found to be more enjoyable.
That’s not to say Grow Up is horrible. I enjoyed playing it, but it felt more exploration based, and while that’s good, perhaps it relied too much on the exploration and lost some of that exhilaration with the simple act of climbing. In Grow Home, I felt amazing every time I climbed another milestone. Yet I believe Grow Up allows you to climb more, but with your plants assisting you and the spread out nature of the world, I never got that same feeling with each height milestone.
So I like Grow Up, I just don’t love it. But it’s better than a good game in my book, and I’m stuck trying to find the right score for it. My scores are a bit specific. If it’s better than a good game, but not a game that’s truly great, there’s a perfect score for it. And ultimately I give it a…
Final thoughts: A good improvement on the original game of Grow Home, it has a number of issues that kept me from loving it. Still, I enjoyed my time with it, and it has some great technology and exploration.
Stats: 5.7 hours played, 4/18 achievements.
I bought this game in a bundle with Grow Home during a Steam Sale.