Destruction seems to be one of the most seductive acts in humanity’s repertoire. That would explain a great deal of the world we live in at the moment, and account for the ubiquitous nature of that particular theme in videogames. The gleeful visceral feedback we get with explosions, punch sounds, headshots, fatalities and all manner of ludicrous gibs speak for themselves — we like to have front row seats for the carnage as long as there’s a screen in between.
While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of digital violence, and probably will continue to do so, it’s refreshing to be in a situation where your game objective is a polar opposite to the norm. One of the most striking examples of this in my personal experience was playing the demo for the Playstation game, Flower.
The player was taken into the dreams of different flowers on a windowsill, and you guided a single petal to collect others and eventually brought the lushness back to dry land. The sound was particularly excellent, with pickups being arranged as notes in a cheerful scale, so you ended up with what felt like a player-generated tinkling symphony. For someone who was living in a fairly dry and dusty city at the time, frolicking in this verdant paradise and nurturing your environment was great escapism. Unfortunately, Flower never came to the PC, and so I never got to experience the full thing.
Now there’s a new title that lets you play nature’s caretaker of sorts, even if it is more alien than ethereal. Grow Home was created by Ubisoft Reflections, a British developer (known for their Driver series), which was bought out by the French publisher giant, and it looks like they’re working overtime amending for the sins of Ubi’s big releases.
In Grow Home, you control a Botanical Utility Droid (Bud, for short) whose task is to land on a planet and help the growth of a Star Plant. The indie feel is present right from the start, with the flat shading and large polygons forming the requisite lo-fi artsy vibe. Great aesthetics and speedy day-night cycle add to the mix and make it a memorable visual experience.
Your object in the game is to extend Star Shoots protruding from the trunk of the giant beanstalk and connect them to energy rocks, which causes the Star Plant to grow and enables access to more energy rocks.
Sounds straightforward, but we haven’t accounted for Bud’s mobility yet. Anybody expecting Assassin’s Creed style precision is going to find themselves in for a shock. Bud is the anti-Ezio, a bumbling mass in motion, driven by physics-based animation and hand clamps. It’s not quite QWOP, but it can seem that way when you first start out. Eventually after you collect a few crystals and unlock abilities like a jetpack, it becomes easier to get to grips with navigation, and springing from a leaf to grab a stem while in mid-flight becomes second nature soon enough.
Without that dexterity, the game could become a little intimidating, since the Star Plant is fond of taking serpentine routes in its upward climb, and you’ll be running, sliding and scrambling all over those stems while trying to do your job. Speaking of which, people who suffer from vertigo might have a problem with this game — I thought Prince of Persia made me feel giddy with heights, but this game’s combination of the enormous scale of the plant along with Bud’s drunken staggering can have you squeaking at the edge of your seat. And if you fall, you’d better hope the last teleporter you unlocked is close by, otherwise you’re going to have to play robo-Ethan Hunt again.
Grow Home is an experience packed with bundles of charm, great aesthetics and a fantastic world to explore. Power gamers could probably muscle their way through in a few hours, but this is a game that rewards the scenic route. It’s odd how a company like Ubisoft can have such blatantly anti-consumer releases like Watch Dogs and AC: Unity, and then come out with a gem like this. I guess they truly are too large to be considered a single entity.