Grow Home (PS4, 2015)

If you had asked me a few years ago, I may have argued with you whether or not Grow Home is truly a game. To my then narrow-minded self (relatively-speaking, at least), a video game requires combat of some sort. Without violence, what sort of conflict can really be overcome within the confines of a video game experience? Grow Home is a game about climbing, and, in many ways, it reflects a recent post of my own video game achievements.

In Grow Home, you play as a robot whose task is to bring new life to an alien planet. Truthfully, I didn’t pay that much attention to the plot (partially because it is so minimal). This isn’t the kind of game that requires a lot of narrative, though it still manages to have a lot of character. B.U.D. (your avatar) has a child-like sense of wander that reflects the nature of the game itself: explore an open world and continue a climb higher and higher. The only other character is your ships on-board computer, M.O.M., who gently scolds you when you fail while offering reassurance or tips. The whole game is as innocent as it sounds.

Who is in control?

It’s a gentle experience, but Grow Home adds its own conflict and drama via its control scheme. The controls are built entirely around the idea climbing, and does so wholly unique way for me. Each arm has its own control, so maneuvering through the game’s alien world involves a series of grab and releases with each claw. It sounds frustrating and, in the opening moments it is, but it soon became second nature. After getting the hang of it, I was totally immersed, but still not an expert at the controls.

Intentional or not, I think the controls in Grow Home are perfect, though I also admit they are very frustrating. When it comes to video game experiences, we all seem to expect these perfect controls, but what about characters who aren’t so perfectly in control of themselves? B.U.D. is a robot, and as such, he has certain limitations. He’s spastic and awkward, and even though he can climb, he doesn’t seem to be an expert at it. Grow Home’s scheme conveys that exact feeling to the player. Climbing in the game feels as awkward as it might be for a small child. I fondly remember climbing trees as a kid, but I doubt I looked graceful doing it. By including that awkwardness in its controls, Grow Home removes a wall that helps block out immersion in almost every other game.

In Grow Home, I stumble over the controls and my character stumbles over the world. It is magical.

Should you play it?

Grow Home is not a game for everyone, but why should it be? It’s unique, different, and not free of its own problems. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the time I put into it, and even if I never finish the climb, I rest easy knowing the experience I have had was worth having. Grow Home is a game that dares you to ascend or to explore at your own leisure, and it is utterly fantastic for it.