The only traces of technology in Grow Home’s natural wonderland are B.U.D., the botanical utility droid, and its handy teleportation stations. As the uncoordinated robot, you’re an interloper in this untouched fantasy world, sent to grow a giant beanstalk-like Star Plant until it’s 2,000 meters tall—at which point it will reveal the seeds your unseen handlers covet. But your mission feels more like exploration than exploitation. This fractured landscape—floating nuggets of earth scattered into the heavens—belongs to its overgrown plantlife. Even the fauna, a handful of lonely, oft-hidden earthly critters, act more like confused visitors than natives. B.U.D.’s just along for the ride, an outsider who stumbles into stunning moments of natural beauty, and everything about Grow Home works to set up those majestic scenes.
There’s very little to distract from the sights here. You explore in solitude and silence, as B.U.D.’s robotic babble is the closest it ever gets to audible communication. There’s not even much in the way of music, only the occasional ambient hum and the Star Plant’s whale-like moans. That quiet works hand-in-hand with an angular art style that emphasizes color over detail to heighten the senses rather than overstimulate them. This choice makes every indigo sunset or unexpected encounter with a goofy-looking creature all the more vibrant.
Then there’s the odd way in which B.U.D. moves and climbs. Its movement is physics-driven as opposed to pre-animated, which ultimately means you’ll spend a lot of time trying to stop its momentum from carrying your bot and its floppy limbs off a cliff. B.U.D.’s clamp-hands are able to dig into any surface and hang from any direction, whether it’s off the side of the Star Plant or underneath a rocky archway. You control each arm individually, so climbing means pulling the controller’s triggers in quick succession to ascend one clamp at a time. Extended climbs feel just as trying as B.U.D. makes them look—I don’t think my index fingers have ever gotten a workout this intense—but the struggle means that when you finally clamber over a precipice and take in the view, there’s an added satisfaction to the simple feat.
The bulk of the game has you climbing around the Star Plant and grabbing hold of its bulbous stalks. Once they’re awakened, the tendrils grow, and you must guide them toward floating, fluorescent green islands. Once a connection is made, the plant saps the energy from these islands, and the trunk grows hundreds of feet taller, curling into the sky. Then it’s on to the next glowing island, and so on until the Star Plant meets your spaceship waiting high above the planet’s surface. There are also 100 crystals to collect, which help B.U.D. unlock special upgrades, like a limited-use jet pack. Most are hidden, and the easiest way to spot them is to wait until night, when you can see their light from afar and retrieve them by taking a BASE-jump off the side of the Star Plant.
It’s easy to forget how high up you are while on solid ground, but any time you have to quickly cross some vast open-air expanse—usually by gliding through the sky, hanging on to the stem of a flower like it’s a Mary Poppins umbrella—you catch a terrifying glimpse of the expanse between you and the surface. Speaking from experience, it’s enough to unnerve someone with a fear of heights. After playing for long enough, though, that terror turned into thrill, and I found myself drifting into the sunset for the view alone.
By the end of the game, B.U.D. grows from mechanical fish out of water to become an adept explorer who fits naturally in this new home. At the start, climbing is an awkward and time-consuming struggle, a reflection of B.U.D.’s status as an intruder in this untapped world. But the more time B.U.D. spends here and the more of its own capabilities it restores with those collectible crystals, the more B.U.D. belongs. Climbing—which was never going to be a spindly robot’s strong suit, anyway—becomes less of a focus, replaced with a combination of jet-packing and gliding that’s more appropriate for a life in the clouds. Yet you’ll probably never kick the stumbling habit entirely, which is fine, because you’re always liable to stumble into something beautiful.
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections