Go! Go! GOTY! 2016: Day Five: Grow Up

Day Five

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This will be a short one, because I already exhausted every pertinent observation I could make about this nigh-identical sequel yesterday. Right up until the end it continued to be a chill delight like its predecessor, with one exception: the challenges. Now, I didn't find the challenges particularly difficult with a handful of exceptions, but they did what they always do in open-world games where they are present: shine a big ol' spotlight on the game's problems, specifically game systems that were never meant to be in-depth to the extent that you could design challenging scenarios around them (see: any racing challenge in an open-world action game).

A large part of Grow Home's charm was that B.U.D. was never the most dexterous or coordinated character. He's treated as an infant by his overprotective computer supervisor, M.O.M., and I want to believe it's because the designers accidentally created the little fellow with a toddler-like uncertainty in his movements. He stumbles, he trips, he can build so much momentum while moving that he finds it difficult to slow down again. Rather than work around the clock to fix these baby tumbles, the designers saw something endearing in the clumsiness of their hero and would go on to emphasize his guileless, childlike wonder at the world before him as he tries his darndest to complete his task as a Botanical Utility Droid and make his MOM happy. I'd reckon it was operating with the same serendipity that made Sumotori Dreams so much silly fun; the developer presumably wanted their movements to be more realistic, perhaps while working on character motion for a different project, and instead made the unintentional but hilarious awkwardness the linchpin of their game's allure. I want to say Goat Simulator is another case of the designers mucking around and deciding their half-finished experiment with goats and physics engines was amusing enough to make public. (It's also entirely possible I'm giving Ubisoft Reflections too little credit by attributing BUD's ungainliness as an inadvertent discovery.)

As Neil Armstrong once said,
As Neil Armstrong once said, "Whoo! I'm on the moon! Fuck! The moon!"

As such, the controls of Grow Home felt a bit QWOP-like, leading to a mixture of mirth and irritation as you struggled to get BUD to the next destination in a reliable fashion. You'd account for momentum and inertia more frequently, you'd get into a good rhythm with his alternate hand climbing mechanics, you'd collect new power-ups and use them to enhance his flying traversal abilities to compensate for the lack of fine control on the ground. This was all acceptable for growing Starplants and pulling out crystals from their floating island homes, neither of which required a great deal of finesse. When it comes to following a set of flying checkpoint gates around the near vicinity, however, these issues push the game's controls right back into the "irritation" camp.

I'll admit to feeling a bit sheepish when I discovered you could use the glider and the jetpack simultaneously, greatly increasing horizontal airborne movement, as it made the remaining challenges that much more attainable. Others, like navigating a field of spiky plants that bopped you around like a pinball bumper or dropping through a set of gates at terminal velocity in BUD's more aerodynamic ball form, were an exercise in arbitrary annoyance. The intent was good - how do we make this sequel sufficiently longer/more different? - but the game's systems weren't built for speed challenges and I'd have hoped the designers were aware of this all the way back when they first decided to leave the adorable bumbling protagonist just the way he was.

No platinum trophy for this one, but this one for 100% completion is close enough. Gimme that sweet infinity jetpack fuel, even though I no longer need it.
No platinum trophy for this one, but this one for 100% completion is close enough. Gimme that sweet infinity jetpack fuel, even though I no longer need it.

I can't fault for the game for quality of life advancements though. Challenges can be restarted either as soon as you fail them or while they're still in-progress - the two absolute minimum requirements for a system like that - and you can eventually find a crystal detector that works on proximity and has a wide range, which makes sweeping up the remaining collectibles that much easier. The plants you can scan and acquire are categorized by their climate types, making missing entries less tricky to find, and the game has a multitude of checkpoint/teleporters. Inactivated teleporters have a flashing red light with which to identify them from a distance while looking at the overhead map screen. A lot has been done to minimize the frustration everywhere outside of the challenges, and it's definitely appreciated.

In my final summation yesterday, I remarked that Grow Up felt like an entirely unnecessary sequel that didn't add anything to the series blueprint that it sorely needed, and that opinion hasn't changed now that I've fully completed it. There is perhaps more that can be done with this world and characters, but it cannot be an annual iterative process like everything else Ubisoft produces. The original appealed because it was something fresh from a major Ubisoft subsidiary studio, but when you see a sequel like this show up a year later, it's cause for some warranted concern. They can always expand the scope - an entire solar system probably wouldn't be out of the question for a third game - but there's no reason to simply give folk more of the same unless they can significantly evolve the game on a mechanical level. Still, if you enjoyed Grow Home and just wanted more of that with no other expectations, Grow Up's got your back.

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