Review

Grow Home Review

  • First Released Feb 4, 2015
    released
  • PC

In full bloom.

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Grow Home took me by surprise--not least because it was announced only a few weeks ago. Grow Home, that announcement said, started as an internal experiment, and stars a charming little robot named BUD, who has to wobble and climb his way up a giant beanstalk and across a series of floating islands. With only this scrap of information, I went into Grow Home not knowing what to think. I came out with several distinctly different, hard to synthesize impressions.

To assess Grow Home in a vacuum is to trip over the compliments that spill forth. The game's colorful island, cute creatures, and the planet's ambient sounds are immediately charming. You explore this world as BUD, a robot on a quest to retrieve seeds for a plant that can re-oxygenate his home world. To do this, BUD climbs the giant "Star Plant" stalk, occasionally taking control of its quick-growing branches and driving them head first into the glowing islands in the sky. The Star Plant sucks out the green glow, and then grows a little bigger. It's all very cute (and a little, uh, phallic).

Make sure to imagine BUD’s worried chirps for the full effect.
Make sure to imagine BUD’s worried chirps for the full effect.

Grow Home is a strikingly beautiful game, especially in motion. Everything hums with bright, colorful life. Through its use of cel-shading, low-polygon models, and subtle environmental animation, Grow Home builds a gorgeous, minimalistic style. And then, as the stalk and its branches sprout up through the sky, Grow Home sets that minimalism against overwhelming scale. Beauty is everywhere: You can let your sight linger on the butterflies, or you can look upwards, to the towering Star Plant reaching into the upper atmosphere.

While the environments shine, BUD is the real star attraction. His bobbing head, wide smile, and eager chirps make him lovable, but it's the way he moves through the world that makes controlling him such a joy. BUD's animation is procedural: instead of having the frames of his movement handcrafted by an animator, the developers programmed a system for BUD's limbs to animate according to the player's input. You direct BUD around the world with the left analog stick, using the left and right triggers to control his hands, which can grip anything they touch.

As you try to deal with the quirks of BUD's unpredictable movement, the result, at first, is a sort of comedic flailing. This was never frustrating for me, but I can see how it might be for others. Maybe you misjudge the amount of momentum BUD will have as he lands on one of the "branches" of the massive stalk, and wind up flinging him thousands of feet down to his demise. Or you might think you've got a firm grip on the cliff face, only to find that you've actually grabbed onto a loose boulder. Whoops. You can supplement your control of BUD with some environmental tools: springy plants give you a way to boost BUD's jumping power, while flowers and leaves work as parachutes and hang gliders. But these often lead to other stumbles. Pro tip: if you crash into anything while floating around with that leaf, you lose hold of it and go into a headfirst dive. Whoops, again.

No Caption Provided
For such a small game, Grow Home sure knows how to use scale.
For such a small game, Grow Home sure knows how to use scale.

This is all reminiscent of games like Octodad and Sumotori Dreams, both of which leverage uncontrollable bodies for the sake of humor. But unlike these games, there comes a point in Grow Home where you attain a sense of control that feels both elegant and exuberant. BUD's body never becomes Ezio Auditore's--it always bounces and leans in unpredictable ways. But Grow Home isn't a game about laughing at atypical bodies. Instead, it's a game that lets you become familiar with limbs that don't quite work like your own do, and it teaches you to take joy in using tools to augment your natural abilities.

I invoked the name of Ezio because the second way I experienced Grow Home was in the context of Ubisoft's recent offerings. For Ubisoft, 2014 was a year of too safe (and often too broken) output. Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed: Unity were technical disappointments, and, worse, failed to mix up the increasingly tired open-world formula common to Ubi's tent-pole releases. The Crew tried to apply that formula to a whole new genre, and in doing so missed a chance to do something really special. And while Far Cry 4 was well received, the common refrain was "It's more Far Cry 3." It's easy to imagine how Grow Home's vision of climbing-and-collecting might fit into the familiar open-world Ubisoft blueprint. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a version of this new climbing model eventually finds its way into an Assassin's Creed sequel. But Grow Home never falls into the design traps that show up in other recent Ubisoft titles. Yes, you do search for collectible crystals, but these aren't carelessly scattered by the hundreds across the environment. They're placed carefully, to encourage exploration and to challenge you to understand how BUD moves. And yes, these crystals unlock new abilities (such as a jetpack!), but these upgrades aren't doled out along a carefully scheduled arc to maximize your attachment to the game.

If you prefer the sensory overload of those aforementioned games, you might find yourself disappointed with Grow Home's lack of density. Sometimes you spend a few minutes plotting a course across the sky to a hovering island in the distance, only to find it empty but for a hidden crystal and a small collection of plants. Grow Home does not provide you a screen filled with side objectives and a constant stream of narrative reinforcement: It is happy to let you take your time, to meander, to move at your own pace for the few hours it takes to finish it. And while you might see its "short" length as a negative, it's Grow Home's brevity that lets it shine.

Night time is perfect for hunting down glowing crystals… or for gently gliding around in the moonlight.
Night time is perfect for hunting down glowing crystals… or for gently gliding around in the moonlight.

No game exists in a vacuum, and sometimes it's hard to confront the contexts that color our experiences, especially when they make us second guess ourselves. Is Grow Home a charming game that's worth your time? Yes. Do I believe this because Grow Home contrasts so sharply with Ubisoft's recent output? Also yes. Yet no matter how prone to cynicism you may be, you shouldn’t let this surprising gem go unnoticed.

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The Good
Unique animation system gives the protagonist real character
Gorgeous, cel shaded environments
Controls make moving around the world a joy
Encourages you to explore at your own pace
The Bad
Platforming challenges can occasionally prove frustrating
No easy way to track down that one, last collectible
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Austin Walker finds himself playing lots of open world games with vertical exploration, like Saints Row 4 and the Assassin’s Creed series. When he isn’t scaling rooftops, he’s digging into intimate games like Bientot l’ete and Thirty Flights of Loving.
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PETERAKO

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I am not sure whats going on there at Ubisoft. they release small games that are a treat, but their AAA releases have being either forgettable(ie watch_dogs, FC4), questionable(rogue, the crew) or an outright dissaster(unity)

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thorn3000

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@PETERAKO: because those smaller games are using a small budget and so the execs are ok with them being targeted to niche markets where they can earn enough to cover their small budget...big blockbusters have a huge budget and so to make profit necessary to cover the budget the execs require them to be targeted to masses...to target anything to huge non-homogenous masses requires it to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator the mass has...and since currently videogames are played by a very large share of population this lowest denominator is, well, pretty low...hmmm, just threw some big words around, am proud of myself, I deserve a can of beer

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Gelugon_baat

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@PETERAKO:

That's because Ubisoft's management let the designers make most of the decisions for these smaller projects, and not give suits and marketing schmucks too much say.

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coop36

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@PETERAKO: I mostly agree, but I have to admit Black Flag was pretty dang fun.

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PETERAKO

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@coop36@PETERAKO: I wasn't talking about pre 2014

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Samekichi

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@PETERAKO: Ubisoft is that kid who messes up when he tries too hard but creates wonders when he's just doing it for fun.

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Gelugon_baat

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@samekichi@PETERAKO:

I don't think so. Ubisoft can create these gems because it lets small teams to their own devices.

When their marketing team steps in, as in for the AAAs, they might well go down the toilet.

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Doozie78

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@samekichi@PETERAKO: I like to call it corporate greed.

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PETERAKO

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@samekichi@PETERAKO: couldn't said it better myself

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lunchbox2042

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Ubisoft should stick to their smaller games. They're the only ones worth playing.

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hitomo

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ah, dreamcast, this where the times ...

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SaturatedButter

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Austin Walker love's Ubisoft's "Climb a tower to reveal the world" trope and will never grow tired of it.

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Sl4cka

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"You direct BUD around the world with the left analog stick, using the left and right triggers to control his hands, which can grip anything they touch."

Where exactly would I find an analog stick on a keyboard?

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JonnyC0mbat

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@Sl4cka: £20 for a controller. Not exactly expensive.

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Sl4cka

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@jonnyc0mbat: I have plenty of controllers, thank you. This is a PC game. The standard input for PC, and what most PC gamers play with, is keyboard/mouse, so I would expect it at least mentioned.

The fact that he uses a controller could be for any number of reasons: maybe he prefers controllers over keyboards in general; the game plays better with a controller; or the game only accepts controllers as input at this moment and the m/k support is being added in a later patch. Of course we don't know the reason because there is absolutely no mention of it.

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Win10do

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@jonnyc0mbat@Sl4cka: Or just use the one you get with your Xbox one / Xbox 360. or go on ebay and get a wired Xbox 360 controller for £5

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Mantan911

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@win10do@jonnyc0mbat@Sl4cka: or use a keyboard

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DuaMn

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@Sl4cka: Silly you. Keyboards don't have analog sticks. Gamepads do. You know, controllers that were created for playing games.

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NiteX

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@DuaMn@Sl4cka: What if we have keyboards that were made for games?

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DuaMn

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@NiteX@DuaMn@Sl4cka: I'm pretty sure they are not designed to play 3rd person adventure games.

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deactivated-597794cd74015

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@DuaMn: Considering games like Max Payne and any Ubisoft game. They work a LOT better than the controller.

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nocny007

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@Sl4cka: "You direct BUD around the world with the WASD keys, using the left and right mouse buttons to control his hands, which can grip anything they touch." And it works very well!

There you go.

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anakvunky

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Whoa an indie gam..... *read: ubisoft*..... errrr...... *gently walks away*

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thorn3000

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@anakvunky: and? never heard of child of light? they do make some good indielike games

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anakvunky

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@thorn3000@anakvunky: Yes I know that, but I have bad experience with their Uplay from their AAA games, which now I tend to get away from them. If I had a console maybe I will try, with assumption console doesn't have to meddle with Uplay...

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Neonakaa

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@anakvunky: DAE LE UBISOFT SUX? XDDDD

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coop36

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Ive been digging Ubi's smaller works lately like this, Child of Light, Ray Man & Valiant Hearts.

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ArunabhaGoswami

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"This was never frustrating for me, but I can see how it might be for others."

If only more gamespot reviewers thought that way instead of praising/bashing a game based on their personal preference/experience. I mean, I can think that the Prince of Persia 2008 is one of the greatest games ever made, but I wont give it a 10 if I'm reviewing it professionally.

Anyway, looking forward to more reviews from Mr. Walker.

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PS2fweak

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I hate saying this, but thank you Ubisoft.

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator

Sounds interesting!

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polishkid99

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Yay, something that hasn't flopped. There's hope.

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JimmyCos

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This looks, i love when Gamespot digs an unknown game for me

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vlasov18

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@JimmyCos: yeah, if not for gamespot we could have missed The Cat Lady, To the Moon, This War of Mine, Papers Please, and a long etc.

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Pawfalcon

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@JimmyCos: Its developed and published by Ubisoft so its not exactly an unknown 2 dudes in a garage indie game.

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brain-pudding

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@Pawfalcon@JimmyCos: Yeah but there was almost no advertising or hype generated for this game. It just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Another thing is that it doesn't require Uplay, so you can't find it there either. It's a shame really. This game deserve much more love and attention.

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Grow Home More Info

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  • First Released Feb 4, 2015
    released
    • Linux
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    Grow Home is a quirky, experiential climbing game in development at Reflections.
    7.3
    Average Rating50 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Grow Home
    Developed by:
    Ubisoft Reflections
    Published by:
    Ubisoft
    Genre(s):
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    No Descriptors