Video games are unique from many other mediums in that they must be evaluated as products that are equally composed of art and technology. While they involve the creation of art, storytelling and music, they must also be programmed, optimized and debugged in order to be realized products. From the first slow steps you take as your robot protagonist in Ubisoft Reflection’s Grow Up, it’s clear that it’s one of those games that will take you on a journey of child-like innocence and joy. While it manages to be an overall charming and fun game that does just that, it’s unfortunately marred by some less than enjoyable mechanical aspects and significant technological issues that the artistic aspects of the game can’t entirely compensate for.
In Grow Up, you travel across the richly colorful and vibrant planet as BUD, a little robot who is defined by his clumsiness. He can’t help but sluggishly stumble and always take an extra step or two, causing him to fall off high grounds or take a dangerous dive into the water. If you haven’t played Grow Home, which isn’t necessary in order to enjoy this ride, controlling this little guy might potentially leave you with a poor first impression of the game. However, it’s something you get used to after a while, and it’s soon apparent that instead of characterizing BUD through the conventional use of dialogue in what is not a narrative-heavy game, the developers have cleverly chosen to characterize him through this particular gameplay aspect.
The plot of the game is fairly straightforward: BUD and his companion POD must search for all the ship parts of MOM that have been scattered across various locations on the planet and fly to the moon with them. The graphics are simple, but the game manages to be beautiful to look at in spite of the simplicity; the locations that you will search for these ship parts in range from swamps to deserts to fields filled with mushrooms, each one saturated with its own distinct sense of life.
You will spend your time in the game scanning new life forms in order to use a variety of plants and flowers called “floraforms” that will help you reach new places; finding new abilities – such as being able to use a jetpack or a glider – that will make traveling the long distances a lot easier; and growing massive starplants that will have you flying over incredible heights. It all might sound simple, but the game manages to be challenging without being complicated.
BUD’s movements can be unpredictable. There’s often the feeling of adrenaline and barely contained relief when you barely manage to grab onto the edge of the ground and keep him from falling over. While the jetpack and the glider make traversing the world a lot easier, they don’t make everything immediately doable. At one point in order to reach a platform, I had to stack several dozens of mushrooms on top of each other in order to stack a flower that would throw me up into the air so that I could then fly over and grab the next ship part.
However, the game doesn’t always provide an exciting sense of challenge. In between the variety of things you can do, you will spend a substantial amount of time climbing – a mundane and tedious process. Growing the starplants is not only just as agonizing, but it also made me disoriented after a good while. The camera is wonky and sometimes unpredictable, moving around in ways you didn’t ask for as you grow out the buds, and this combined with the massive heights that you reach and the web of roots that you create can make you feel a bit nauseated if you’re sensitive to motion sickness. The different POD challenges that can be done for bonus items, such as new suits for BUD, are quite difficult and not too fun, so I tried only a few in the end.
One of the most important things to note is that the game has some prominent technical issues. Searching “Grow Up crash” on Twitter will provide you with results of several people unable to reach the title screen without the game crashing on the PlayStation 4 version; going on the game’s Steam page and checking the negative reviews will reveal that almost all of the negative feedback is due to the game crashing in a similar manner. I played the game on the PS4, and I experienced the same issue several others had.
There is an awkward workaround: for some reason, the game will work if the internet connection is turned off. However, after every hour I would get a warning that the game would close in fifteen minutes because the license could not be recognized. I would have to save the game, close the application, turn on my internet, restore the licenses of all the contents in my library, turn off the internet, and open the game again. While saving and quitting does save the things you have collected, you are taken back to the last telerouter or ship part that you found. As a result, I had to travel back to where I was before quitting, sometimes losing track of my location; it was frustrating.
The game also has some more minor issues: it stutters every now and then and has some pretty clear framerate issues, especially when building the starplants. Ultimately, such a minor issue alone wouldn’t have detracted much from the experience, but combined with the aforementioned bigger issue, the game’s technological flaws significantly impacted my enjoyment of the game.
Grow Up is, in spite of these faults, an endearing game. There’s a lot of freedom that encourages you to reach new and nearly impossible heights, cross over seemingly endless distances and add even more life to this lively and bright world. Grow Up is fittingly named, for this sequel to Grow Home has the clumsy and lovable BUD go higher and farther than he probably ever imagined. It’s perfect if you want something fun and slightly challenging but can’t afford to sink in a bunch of hours. If you don’t experience any game-crashing bugs and don’t mind the occasional framerate drop, it’s bound to be a game that will make you smile and your heart soar.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Grow Up's got some significant technical problems, but if you can work past them, prepare for a fun and free experience.