|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Release Date||August 16, 2016|
BUD is back in the unlikeliest sequel to the unlikeliest video game from AAA developer Ubisoft. Grow Home was a charming, welcome surprise when it launched early last year – an experiment by Reflections in procedural animation that spawned a cute game that gained a cult following (of which this website is a part). Growing the starplant from a small island into the vast reaches of space was an enjoyable experience, and seeing Ubisoft announce a soon-to-be-released sequel at E3 earlier this year was a very welcome surprise indeed.
Grow Up is the experiment…well, grown up. It’s not an experiment anymore – it’s a fully-fledged game. Grow Up sees BUD continuing his journey through the cosmos when disaster strikes. Starship, parental stand-in and tic-tac-toe champion MOM collides with a meteor shower, breaking apart and sending BUD crashing to the surface of a nearby planet. BUD must collect the pieces of MOM scattered across the planet and reassemble the ship so he can continue his journey.
Grow Up trades in the single island of its predecessor for an entire planet. This is one of the ways that Reflections have expanded the scope first glimpsed in Grow Home. We’re not simply tasked with growing a single starplant this time around. Now we’ve got a whole planet, with multiple locations to explore. The game offers the verticality of the previous adventure spread across a vast and varied open world.
Initially, Grow Up feels extremely familiar to Grow Home. BUD still controls like a drunk toddler and it’s incredibly difficult to get him to do anything you’re intending him to do. Thanks to an impressive upgrade system, however, Reflections gives players the means to master BUD’s movements. Scattered across the planet are upgrades designed to give players new ways of getting around the planet, including a deployable glider and the ability to turn into a ball.
Honestly, this is one of the more impressive upgrade systems I’ve come across in recent memory, understanding exactly how progression systems should work. Each new ability unlocked empowers both BUD and the player. You’ll start in drunk toddler mode, barely able to walk across a small valley without some measure of difficulty. Before long you’ll be able to truly master the entire planet thanks to BUD’s suite of upgrades. No peak will be outside of your reach.
Grow Up’s progression is visceral – you can feel BUD’s improvements with each upgrade you collect. As you slowly make your way higher and higher, exploring each of the various environments that make up this mysterious new world (except the ocean, BUD still can’t swim after all), you can actually feel BUD becoming more powerful. At first, you’ll look up to see floating islands and wonder how it could even be possible to reach them. Given time, you’ll be standing atop them, looking down at the tiny world below and wondering how you ever questioned that you’d make it this far.
It’s not just upgrades that will help you traverse the world. BUD now has the ability to scan the various fauna that you encounter on this strange, new world (he is a Botanical Utility Droid after all), storing their data in his backpack for later use. All the plant life on this planet, it seems, is designed to propel you in some way. There are plants that can launch BUD into the air, fire him like a catapult, act as climbing poles and much more.
Starplants make a welcome return too – and there are more than one. You still grow them straight up towards a floating island of some sort, connecting their shoots to various “energy islands” dotted around the main stalk. And of course, you still do this by grabbing hold and shooting towards them, attempting to control the shoot as it flies towards the horizon. While there are an enhanced suite of moves available to BUD, growing a starplant is still the most fun and satisfying way of making an ascent.
And while there are various fauna and upgrades to collect that will help you in your journey, climbing is still the number one way you’ll be getting around. This hasn’t changed from Grow Home – each trigger controls the corresponding arm, holding down L1/L2 will cause BUD’s left arm to attack to whatever surface he’s looking at, and the same goes for R1/R2 and his right arm. The idea being to alternate between right and left arms and slowly climb up the various mountains, plants, trees, floating islands and whatever else you find in the game.
Climbing is incredibly satisfying once you get the hang of it. It takes a little time, but before long I was practically a pro at it, quickly making my way up and over any obstacle with deft and natural manipulation of the two triggers. What makes it satisfying is how immediate it all is. It’s a far cry from the “auto-climbing” sequences found in a vast majority of other third-person platformers. Reflections chooses to put you in complete control of the climbing, to great effect.
And of course, as the world expands so to does the number of things to do and find in it. As well as finding MOM parts and upgrade stations, there are plenty of things to see in Grow Up. Aside from the breathtaking views on offer, and the brand new animals, there are a myriad of collectibles, which take the form of crystals. These crystals are usually hidden in areas that will put your climbing abilities to the test, forcing you to physically grab them as you climb. There are also various challenges scattered around the map that task you with travelling a specific path within a set time limit, rewarding you with new skins for BUD.
What is and probably will always be Grow Up’s best feature, however, is its ridiculous level of charm. BUD constantly has his mouth agape, a feature which somehow seems to fit every situation he finds himself in – whether he’s hurtling towards the ground at terminal velocity, looking out over a gorgeous vista or making a dastardly climb. He’s also assisted by POD, a flying drone that takes up position above the planet and acts as a map and a companion in your journey. There’s a sweet, heartwarming story running through the core of Grow Up too, one that left me with a smile on my face and glad to have taken the time to conquer the world that BUD is stranded on.
Grow Up is a game I never thought I’d get, a sequel to the smallest of Ubisoft’s titles in recent years that also happened to be one of its best. Grow Up has kept the charm of the original, as well as the basic controls and features, and then expanded upon them to make the whole thing a lot grander. Reflections have proven that they have a masterful handle on progression – the further into the game you go the more capable BUD becomes, and the more comfortable you get controlling him. The planet that acts as your playground in Grow Up is packed with things to do, amazing views to see and a series of excellently designed platforming challenges.
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