Needs a little more juice

by Huey Chewwy in

Grow Home released last year to little more than a few press releases announcing its existence and formal release.  Despite the small amount of marketing, the game found success in both critical and fan reception.  The art style fit the tone of the game and B.U.D was a bumbling, but charming character.  Roughly a four-hour game, Grow Home felt small, but compact with the unique climbing mechanic and crystal collecting quest.  So here we are over one year later and the sequel, Grow Up, has been released.  Having played through the first game and doing almost all there was to do, the sequel should be more of the same right?

So why am I not enjoying Grow Up as much?

Growing Starplants is a key part of gameplay

Perhaps getting the answer to that question starts with how the game opens up.  B.U.D.'s ship, M.O.M., crashes into an asteroid field that sends parts of the ship tumbling to the planet below.  As you might guess, it is up to B.U.D. to collect the scattered parts and return the ship to its former self.  Most of these ship parts are conveniently located above starplants, which are grown in the same method as the first game.  Guiding the roots to the energy rocks is still a blast, with each starplant requiring different amounts of rocks before becoming fully grown.  Once the Starplant has reached its growth potential, your ship part awaits.  After searching the area for other useful items such as new plants and crystals, it is on to the next Starplant.

For something that is so similar to the first game in terms of mechanics, it feels too spread out in Grow Up.  Taking a ride to the next energy rock and growing the plant to your ultimate objective felt clear and fulfilling.  But having multiple starplants to grow just to reach another ship part feels more tedious than fun.  Sure, there are crystals to collect along the way to upgrade your abilities, just as in Grow Home, but they are now scattered across an entire planet.  This works for those wanting to explore every area within Grow Up's world, but I'm more focused on the objective of gathering ship parts.

Collecting enough crystals will grant you the ability to glide around the world

So what has really changed from the first game?  Not too much at all.  You're still collecting crystals, growing starplants, and jumping/flying from different floating platforms.  But to answer the question I stated above, little changes ARE the reason I'm not having as much fun in Grow Up.  Developer Reflections took Grow Home and expanded the game in scale but forgot to add more things to do in the world.  Growing and climbing the Starplant was one of the main draws in the first game but feels kind of shoehorned here.  Sure there are more of these Starplants to grow in the sequel but they do not feel as important as it did in the first game.

Plants are more useful in Grow Up as scanning certain species will allow you to throw their seed and grow a plant wherever you see fit.  Sponge-like plants and lily pads were the most useful for me with the ability to jump higher and cross water safely respectively.  As you gather more crystals the jetpack increases in power and usability, so a plant that grows tall does not stay useful for too long.  But getting a plant that sends me higher in the air is much appreciated.  Having the ability to throw/grow plants at any time is a good alternative from constantly trying to find that useful plant in the first game.

There are 40 challenges that are present throughout the world, but they feel insufficient.  Also, they are not exactly a blast to play due to the way B.U.D. handles. I had no complaints about the way B.U.D. moves; these challenges involve timing and precise jumps, something that B.U.D is not really meant for.  B.U.D. is not meant to jump around from platform to platform as Mario does so frequently.  He bumbles when he lands and can be hard to slow down, something that does not play well with a timed challenge.

Environments may be scarse on activity but they are beautiful

Grow Up retains the graphics and art style from the previous game and it still works quite well.  On your search for the missing parts to M.O.M. you will encounter weird creatures that do nothing more than gaze at the robot.  The variety of environments have little impact on gameplay but they do look impressive.  Land on an island, expand the camera and soak in the sights around.  I may not agree with the open world concept but that does not make it any less enjoyable to look at.  

Going back to my original question, I have found the answer to why I am enjoying this less than Grow Home.  It's like making a spaghetti dinner and you have just enough sauce for yourself.  Then your friend comes over and they want some too, so you make more pasta but with the same amount of sauce.  And that is what Grow Up feels like, a dish with a lot of substance but lacking in the same intensity of flavor.

I really enjoyed Grow Home despite being short and simple.  Even with the shortcomings mentioned above, there is fun to be had in Grow Up.  Climbing still feels great, growing starplants is still fun, but there is something missing.  Expanding the world to explore is a good idea on paper but the rewards for doing so do not feel satisfying.    Grow Up is not a bad game in any way, but rather spread too thin with the Ubisoft open world treatment.  Reflections still have the blueprints for a fun game here, but maybe a "less is more" approach might work better for our robot friend B.U.D.

Score:  6.8

+ Climbing is still fun
+ Different plant "abilities" can make for great experiments

- Growing Starplants feels tedious
- Challenges do not feel rewarding
-  The world feels empty at times

Hours played: 4
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One