Grow Home, initially released for PC in February, is the first game chosen to be free on PlayStation Plus via the new Vote to Play system. Gamers wanted to play Grow Home on their PS4 consoles and their wish came true. But is it worth it? Is this ambitious little platformer from Ubisoft Reflections worth the precious space on your PS4 hard drive?
Grow Home's story is simple. You play as B.U.D. (Botanical Utility Droid), a small and lanky red robot who is dropped onto the surface of some unknown planet, tasked with growing a giant beanstalk-esque plant known as the Star Plant (which looks, unfortunately, not like a star, but something much more phallic). By growing the Star Plant up to a total of 2000 metres, B.U.D. is able to harvest its seeds and return home to his spaceship. Pretty simple, right? But the joy of Grow Home doesn't lie in its storyline. It is found by exploring the vast, colourful, open world through which B.U.D. traverses.
The moment you are dropped from your ship and hit solid ground, the vibrant colours and unique textures of the world surround require a moment to take in. There is no onscreen HUD, health bar, or any other nonsense to distract you from the gorgeous landscape. The blues of the water, greens of the grass, and browns of the cliffs and mountains look as if they have been lifted right off the pages of a children's storybook. The beauty of the world in which you play won't come as a surprise to those familiar with Ubisoft's other titles, especially Rayman Legends, Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. While Grow Home varies from these 2D side-scrollers in terms of graphical content and art style, it is no less pretty. Perhaps taking a page out of Minecraft's book, the majority of the landscape and structures in B.U.D.'s world are blocky and have a neat retro look to them. Not everything is totally square like in Minecraft, but the effect is the same: the graphics of Grow Home help it to feel familiar and memorable, like a game from your childhood.
Once you gain a bearing on your surroundings, the task of growing the massive Star Plant is appointed to you by M.O.M. (the mothership, presumably), and the main mechanic of the game, B.U.D.'s climbing ability, is introduced to you. Pressing the L1/L2 button will allow B.U.D. to grip with his left hand, and R1/R2 does the same for the right hand. By switching back and forth between gripping with B.U.D.'s left and right hands, you can slowly make your way up mountains, floating islands, and the ever-growing Star Plant. Initially, the rock climbing is slow going and difficult, but once you master the technique, you will be addicted to climbing walls and hanging from dangerous precipices like a pro. My personal favourite moments are those when B.U.D. must hang upside down from rock ceilings at dangerous heights, in order to obtain a difficult to reach crystal or pathway. Getting to these locations is an entertaining challenge, and the result is beautiful and incredibly satisfying.
In order to make the Star Plant grow, you must ascend the giant beanstalk until you reach a small outcrop called a Star Shoot. B.U.D. has the ability to instantly grow the Star Shoots and to attach them to glowing, floating islands that provide the Star Plant with the energy needed to expand upwards.
Climbing sheer rock faces is when B.U.D. is in top form, but when running on the ground and jumping from ledges, the control that you have over the red robot feels a bit laggy and clumsy. This is likely intentional and is meant to emulate B.U.D.'s awkward, skinny limbs. But more than once, I failed to stop my momentum and found myself simply running over the edge of a floating island and plummeting to certain death below.
The game is short, and completing the task of growing the Star Plant takes just a few hours. You can also spend time collecting crystals to upgrade B.U.D.'s abilities (which you definitely want to do), harvesting the seeds of the Star Plant, and scanning items you find throughout the world in giant red machines that act as information panels, teleportation devices, and save points. But the length of the game is actually a blessing, not a curse. After just a few hours, the climbing and exploration begins to feel repetitive and so having the game only last a short while is a blessing.
Even though the length of the game is just right, I found myself wanting more. But Grow Home offers very little replay value. The world is a set structure, and isn't randomly generated each time you start a new game. This seems like a missed opportunity, as it would have allowed multiple playthroughs as well as some great replay value, which could justify making the game longer without it feeling like a chore. I was hoping that upon starting a new game, a new world would appear before me. But I discovered nothing new. The Star Plant grew along the same path, and all the crystals and other collectables were in the exact same locations as my first playthrough. In a word, the lack of a randomly generated world is disappointing.
So, does Grow Home live up to the hype? Was it worth voting for in the PS Plus Vote to Play? My answer is "yes" for the most part. It is extremely addictive, and the unique rock-climbing exploration techniques make the game a joy to play. The world is beautiful and wonderfully detailed, and searching for hidden secrets is the greatest pleasure the game provides. However, the lack of replayability and awkward controls are major setbacks that prevent the game from being a near perfect title.
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