Ubisoft has dabbled with smaller, lower budget, almost-indie-like titles with some success. Child of Light was well received with critics, as was the quirky 3D platformer Grow Home. Grow Home’s charm struck a chord with players and reviewers alike, so much so that at E3 this year, Ubisoft Reflections treated us to the announcement of a direct sequel, Grow Up.
The game picks up right where its predecessor left off, but does not require you to have played the first game. Having finally reached M.O.M., the mother-ship with an affectionate acronym, you’ve set off into the stars. B.U.D., the infantile, clumsy and lovable star of the series, is perfectly content repeatedly losing tic-tac-toe to the maternal ship AI until an asteroid storm breaks up M.O.M. and scatters her pieces across an unfamiliar planet.
And so the hunt begins. Through the use of the planet’s natural flora – which you can collect to plant at your leisure – and a number of upgrades littered about the place, you circumnavigate the open world with the clumsy, stumbling juvenile robot, collecting pieces of the ship and sending them to the moon for reassembly.Grow Up builds upon the first tremendously. For starters, the world is far more expansive. Whilst there is still an emphasis on verticality – growing starplants is necessary to reach the upper atmosphere – constant climbing is not the central objective of the game. Instead of endlessly scaling up and growing something reminiscent of a beanstalk, there’s a whole world to explore. Granted, you can probably orbit it within a few minutes, but the increased scope of the game is commendable.
The game handles much in the way the first does, albeit with a number of new gadgets and gizmos. Each hand you operate independently of each other, grabbing surfaces and allowing you to clamber over the plants and landscape. It’s initially cumbersome but you soon find a rhythm and the game develops a flow of relatively easy but enjoyable platforming, steering the awkward, stumbling robot safely through the world.
If finding power-ups and pieces of M.O.M. – on top of the usual array of collectibles – is not enough incentive to explore the planet, the game’s quirky and colourful art style is sure to have you taking screenshots constantly.Grow Up is a masterclass in matching a game’s presentation with its tones; it’s colourful, it’s bright, it’s stylised, perfectly matching the story’s humour and charm. Character construction melds effortlessly with the more technical aspects of animation and a deliberate polygonal design to craft this beautiful, heartwarming adventure.
It reminds me of the three dimensional mascot platformers I ‘grew up’ with, no pun intended. It has the charm and design sophistication of Rayman or Banjo-Kazooie. Parents, if you have young children you want to introduce to games, I’d strongly recommend Grow Up. After they’re done with it, give it a go yourself. This is of those exceptional family-friendly games that appeals to almost every age of gamer.
However, it’s not entirely free of faults.. Although it’s important to B.U.D.’s character design, his built-in clumsiness reached a point of being tedious. Big climbs are slow, and prying open the panels (of which there are three) at each checkpoint eventually becomes an annoyance.The game is also very short, which is not inherently a problem although the difficulty ramp is inverted, meaning that the game gets easier the further you progress through it. Upgrades make it easier to navigate the world without the world getting any harder to navigate. Essentially, this means within the first quarter of my play-through, I had the tools at my disposal to collect all the ship pieces and power through the remainder of the game. Without any challenges really being posed, annoyances that momentarily slowed me down became more pronounced.
Upon completion of the game, you’re free to return to the world to collect everything to achieve the game’s true ending. That likely adds another few hours to the game but without a platinum trophy (or even a gold for that matter) I don’t suspect many will bother.
Grow Up has me truly enamoured with this emerging franchise in Ubisoft’s roster. It has the potential to solidify itself at a memorable ‘mascot-like’ three dimensional platformer as the wave of nostalgia for the genre gains pace. I really want that to happen too. We need more games like this, and more specifically, we need more ‘Grow’ games. Ubisoft Reflections take note, keep on this trajectory, make that difficulty ramp slope up ever so slightly and please, please, make another one.
For the purposes of this review, the game was played primarily on the PlayStation 4.