Grow Home is yet another small indie-esque release from Ubisoft, following closely in the footsteps of Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. It combines unique gameplay, a stunning graphical style, and a cute story about robots and plants in an attempt to recreate the sensation of rock-climbing. But does this plucky platformer climb to the top of the vine, or should you leaf it alone?
The title's story, while slight, is sweet and endearing. You play as BUD, a robot sent to a deserted planet in order to grow a Star Plant and harvest its seeds. To do this, you'll have to climb your way up the plant itself, while directing its branches to help it gain enough energy to continue growing.
Along the way, you'll constantly receive messages from your ship – the adorably named M.O.M – whose gentle encouragement and guidance give the game a tender atmosphere. You'll also encounter all manner of flora and fauna, which you can kindly ask M.O.M to scan and research for you.
The main thrust of the gameplay, then, is your ability to climb, and it's therefore fortuitous that the game's single biggest achievement also happens to be its ability to successfully simulate a truly stymieing sense of altitude. Indeed, this writer – who has a potent fear of heights - had to take several strategic breaks in order to not collapse into puddle of vertigo-induced vomit.
This is only compounded by the platformer's unique controls, which assigns the two shoulder buttons to BUD's left and right hands. In this way, the climbing doesn't feel scripted and contrived as it does in so many other games, but instead feels tangible and terrifying.
As you progress and collect more of the many gems scattered throughout the one large level, BUD will upgrade, unlocking jet-packs and various methods of floating and manipulating the camera. The winding and twisting stems of the Star Plant are also decked out with springy leaves which allow our hero to bounce around, and quickly traverse its mountainous stem.
Indeed, these controls are one of the platformer's most impressive feats, and also one of its major flaws. On the one hand, they act as a remarkably clever means of characterising BUD, painting him as a clumsy yet loveable machine who is trying his absolute best. What's more, they make the sense of height more palpable, and are often an absolute delight to navigate.
However, they also take an unacceptably long time to get used to, and even after you've acclimatised, can still be fiddly at times. And, considering the sometimes dire consequences when you do fall off the plant – namely having to climb all the way back up again – these input-based woes can be particularly frustrating.
The other complaint which could potentially be levelled at the title is its length. Indeed, you'll probably be able to clear through the main campaign in an hour or two. There are several collectables to be found once you've completed the main quest, but this is still a comparatively short game. In many ways, though, that's also a good thing; it doesn't overstay its welcome, it definitely never feels like it repeats itself, and this ultimately makes for a densely packed piece of gaming.
Furthermore, simply existing in the world that Ubisoft Reflections has designed is utterly joyous thanks to the title's brilliant presentation. By using a rudimentary polygon based art style, the developer has removed all ambiguity from the gameplay, while also creating a colourful and enticing world to explore. The Star Plant itself acts as a massive and gorgeous centrepiece to this ecosystem; its beautiful and byzantine branches reminding you where you've been and what you've done. Similarly, the music - while relatively simple and unchanging – manages to both subtly solidify the title's futuristic setting, while also exacerbating the gameplay's sense of height.
Grow Home is a gorgeous title which acts as yet another example that not all games need to be hours upon hours long. Its unique climbing mechanics make for a tense and often terrifying time, while its endearing story grounds the entire experience. There are some niggling control issues, but the stunning presentation and subtle soundtrack round things out, ultimately making for a satisfying and adorable game.