It was perhaps a little surprising to see a sequel to last year's botanical platforming adventure Grow Home, especially one that would release so swiftly. Grow Up released less than 12 months after its predecessor, and we were curious to find out what could've changed in that short space of time. As it turns out, that's a tricky question to answer. BUD's new adventure is bigger, broader, and more open, but equally, it doesn't wander too far from the beaten path.
Grow Up begins with a little more of a story: BUD and MOM (his spaceship and motherly companion) are travelling through space, when they wander into the path of a meteor storm. MOM crashes into a moon, exploding into smithereens, and sends BUD careering down to the planet below. It's during this opening descent that you get a sense of just how much bigger the world is this time around. In Grow Home, the emphasis was squarely on climbing vertically and expanding the star plant, but its sequel offers a far more diverse environment and open structure. Your main mission this time around is to locate the scattered pieces of MOM and slowly make your way back to the moon.
Initially, gameplay feels extremely familiar, with the same floaty, clumsy platforming from the original very much present and correct. However, it isn't long before Grow Up begins offering you new ways to get around, with a slew of new toys augmenting BUD with the moves necessary to navigate this new playground. Turning into a ball absorbs any potential fall damage, and you can charge up a dash manoeuvre to quickly sprint across the land. Not only that, but later on you'll unlock a glider which really opens up the game, especially once upgraded with the collectible crystals.
The bouncy, bulbous plant life also makes a return, but again, its role is expanded. Giant mushrooms that act as trampolines and flowers that launch you into the air are dotted about the world in fixed locations, but whenever you find a new species, you can add them to your Floradex, which lets you grow any scanned plants wherever you like. Some are more useful than others, and at first you may not see the need to throw down seeds and spawn new plants, but after a while, it becomes clear that this feature is simply yet another plaything, another ability that encourages exploration.
There are certainly plenty of different areas you'll want to explore, too, with multiple biomes meaning you'll be clambering over and through icy mountains, deserts, and plenty of caves, among others. And when you're not on the hunt for crystals or waypoints, there are not one but four huge star plants to grow, extending tentacle-like branches out to glowing rocks as in the first game. They're probably not essential, but they do provide a satisfying sense of progression, and the urge to ascend ever higher into the sky is just as compelling as it was in Grow Home.
In fact, it feels like more or less everything is geared towards pushing you forward and upward. All your new abilities make getting around quicker and easier, which in turn lets you explore further and be more daring in your leaps – or, more likely, your stumbles – of faith. Even the optional POD challenges, which amount to nothing more than checkpoint races, gradually unlock new skins as you complete them, with some skins granting you enhanced abilities. Because of this emphasis on progression (and the fact that the game is a breeze once you get a grasp on controlling BUD), it's a fairly short experience. Once you complete your main mission and reach the moon, you're free to carry on playing, but assuming you haven't simply beelined to the end, there won't be much more to do beyond collecting all of the crystals and finishing any straggling challenges.
But the game is so charming and easy going, and flying around so fun, you may find yourself spending more time than you bargained for flitting across the map, dropping seeds as you see fit, and simply enjoying existing in Grow Up's chunky, polygonal universe. Visually, the game is seemingly identical to its forebear, but it's also sadly inherited the frame rate hiccups, too. If you can get past this limitation, though, Grow Up's simple, block colour look can be very attractive indeed.
Grow Up is a sturdy expansion of everything that made Grow Home unique. The vast open world is complemented by new abilities that greatly expand BUD's capacity to travel far and wide. It's a gleeful game that is always aiming to make you smile, and though technical problems persist, it's hard to care when you're jetting aimlessly about, playing with the physics and climbing ever higher. Perhaps it could've afforded to change things up a little more, but at the end of the day, this is a neat little platformer that may well supplant your expectations.