Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Platform: PC on Steam
Genre: Platforming Adventure Game
It’s not often experiments and rough ideas make their way out of a developing studio and into our homes – quite often they are stored away until they are needed in bigger projects. Surprisingly, one experimental project that was made and shared internally at Ubisoft became so popular with the staff there, they decided it should be released onto Steam. What was originally used to test procedural animation resulted in a charming little adventure that I’m quite glad got to see the light of day.
‘Grow Home’ is a Third Person, Platforming, Adventure Game by Ubisoft Reflections (the creator’s behind the Driver series), starring a robot known as BUD (Botanical Utility Droid). BUD has been tasked with growing a “Star Plant” to its full height and claiming one of it’s seeds to send back to earth. The players interacts with the world by controlling BUD, who is able to jump and climb around the environment while interacting with objects. This is done by the player having direct control over BUD’s hand’s, you use them by alternating the shoulder buttons to grab surfaces and use the left stick to direct there movement. With one hand after the other, B.U.D will make his way up & around the environment or grab onto surfaces to stop from falling.
This is very helpful to get around the very unique world, made up of large floating pieces of land surrounded by smaller chunks in the sky. The game begins with BUD falling from a spaceship to the surface island and is instructed by MOM (the Spaceship AI), to grow the Star Plant. This is done by grabbing onto Star Shoots and controlling their “path of growth” into floating Energy rocks, which the Star Plant feeds on. Once this is achieved enough times the Star Plant will grow high enough to reach a new piece of land to explore. Along the journey upward, the Energy Rocks become more distant and the in-game traversal requires more thought, causing the player to use their abilities to the fullest. While you can’t control the Star Plant itself, you have total agency over the Star Shoots. Before long you will look back and be impressed by the sight of sprawling Star Shoots littering the sky.
To help with getting around the chaos, BUD can collect crystals scattered through out the world, which are used to unlock a couple of abilities. These upgrades consist of a zoomed-out camera and a jet-pack, which become invulnerable when your stuck between rock and a hard place. A lot of the game is spent jumping, climbing and falling as you explore the world looking for these crystals. There are one hundred to collect, placed is such away to provide a challenge and a feeling of accomplishment. They give off a sound to alert the player that there is one near by and the benefit of the upgrades makes it clear that you should get all as soon as you can. There are also flowers and giant leaves spread across the landscape, which you can use to stop yourself from falling and can be stored in BUD’s backpack. Having one makes falling only a small set back and gives you another form of traversal.
I don’t think there is a wrong way to play Grow Home, if you die BUD is rebuilt instantly at one of the nearest teleport stations scattered through out the world. Every time this happens BUD reappears good as new with everything left the way it was, it’s not what I would call too easy though it is extremely forgiving.
Sometimes,BUD takes a while to stop moving when you let go of the stick, leading to a lot of mistakes and many times I have chosen to grab a loose rock only to fall back to the surface. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but you learn very quickly and it makes it very exciting to escape from a fall at the last second. I don’t think the game can be excused for BUD’s slippery movement but it didn’t bother me too much.
I found it so much fun to jump from one of the many jump-pad like surfaces to the next, enjoying the cheerful music. The colourful, low polygon environment is very pretty and the game feels like there is something new just around the next corner if you just look. It leaves you smiling when you miss a jump, only to glide away to safety on a giant Leaf. There was a moment when I dropped my Leaf, but somehow grabbed onto the bottom of a floating rock only to fall off again soon after. As I was falling I spotted the Leaf, grabbed it in mid-air and glided to safety James Bond-style. I haven’t had this much fun with just mucking around in a open world environment in a long time!
Grow Home is a wonderful, bite-sized experience. With that being said, it left me wanting more as it is disappointingly short. It’s delightful demeanor is a breath of fresh air from the recent releases of zombie survival games and dirty, dungeon crawlers. I guess the Ubisoft Reflections didn’t want to overstay their welcome and have mentioned that Grow Home was never meant to be released. However the fact that something like Grow Home came out of what is ostensibly a tech-demo is amazing – I hope something as equally as awesome comes from their toying around in the future.
If you’re looking for something to put a smile on your face with fun game-play and a cheerful setting I highly recommend getting Grow Home. It’s currently $10 on Steam and well worth the 2 to 3 hours of enjoyment and I will be keeping this in-mind around Game of the Year season.