Grow Home exists in a world where I was tiring of the output of AAA studios; none more so than Ubisoft. Gone was the cohesive world building and in its stead was open world, theme park, cynical, collect-a-thons. They became increasingly more homogenous until Assassin’s Creed may as well have been Far Cry.
It would be unfair to label the studio as one that takes no risks, however. From Rayman to Valiant Hearts we’ve seen heartfelt efforts, with creative expression coming to the fore. Grow Home is a fine addition to Ubisoft’s growing catalogue of “alternative” games. Having said that, it shares quite a few similarities with some of Ubisoft’s more typical AAA trash.
Grow Home is a charming game about B.U.D; a robot tasked with growing the Star Plant from the ground all the way up to the awaiting space ship above all in the name of research. The game’s defining feature, though, is its procedural animations. Borrowing the free form climbing from Assassin’s Creed, Grow Home takes it one step further. By mapping each of B.U.D’s arms to an analogue stick while climbing it allows you to scale any surface in any direction you like. While mapping grab to each of the shoulder buttons puts a little more pressure on your climbing instead of the “Hold X to climb” mechanic of the aforementioned series.
It’s a subtle change, but one that adds tension to your climbs and, as you grow the plant higher and higher, each successive foot makes the drop all that more terrifying. You do, thankfully, unlock checkpoints as you go, with several of the floating rock formations on the planet offering lego looking checkpoints for you to open. Every movement you make; be it climbing or pulling open the checkpoints is a tangible one. The simple action of pressing the trigger to clench your tiny, robotic fists adds so much agency to the game.
And that’s what Grow Home is; simple. If Valiant Hearts is Ubisoft’s attempt at portraying heartache and the human drama of war, then Grow Home is an expression of joy. Every aspect of the game is about experimentation, from theme to execution. You’re rewarded for even the simplest of tasks; carrying a creature into a teleport, throwing a sheep off the side of a floating rock or free falling from as high as you possibly can. There’s no lore dictating your game or what you can and can’t do, no ruleset that says something isn’t believable. Ubisoft have crafted a simple, elegant framework that allows you to do what you want in a beautiful, colourful world.
It’s that singular vision that shouldn’t be unusual to fans of Ubisoft’s work though, but not since Far Cry 2 has the company committed so absolutely to their purpose. Grow Home offers a zero pressure game; grow the plant whenever, collect what you want, pull pumpkins around because you can. There are collectibles but unlike some of the studios other output there’s only one, and as you collect them you unlock new capabilities for exploration.
Everything here feels like it was designed with purpose in mind, not padding, something that I hope Ubisoft consider a success going forward. The game is beautiful and fun, while the procedural nature of the Star Plant (and the sheer distance it grows) allows for some awe inspiring moments.
They have created a game about playing. Not playing a game but playing as a child might. Using the tools provided Grow Home allows players to simply enjoy themselves; something that more developers need to take note of.