One night last week, after recording our comic book podcast, Longbox Small Talk, I just wanted to relax. Sit down. Pet my dog. Open a beer. Play some games. I didn’t much want to kill anyone, or be stressed out (I’m looking at you, Impossible Game). I came across Grow Home and I figured I had found the perfect game for my mood. I was very, VERY wrong.
Grow Home is a drunk person/rock climbing simulator, set on an alien planet that is home to a special flora worth traveling across the galaxy for, the rare Star Plant. You play as the robot B.U.D., which I’m sure stands for something. By his name and gait, I just assumed that the robot was a stoner. B.U.D. is tasked with getting a seed from the Star Plant to help regrow the failing atmosphere on his home planet. In order to get a seed, the player has to grow the Star Plant by attaching it to small, nutrient rich islands floating in the sky and eventually make the plant bloom. As you attach these islands to the main body of the Star Plant, it shoots up into the sky, getting bigger and opening up the next area to explore. The game starts with B.U.D. parking his ship in space above the planet and jumping out, doing his best Bodhi impression along the way. Point Break jokes aside, why does he not use his ship to help him in his task? That thought will go down in gaming history, like other unanswered questions as eternal as “Why does Mario run right?”, “Is it Eggman or Dr. Robotnik?”, or [insert obvious joke here].
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I do see how the game COULD be relaxing. Everything about this game screams relaxation. Your only task is to find crystals that are scattered around the world and grow plants by riding one of the shoots into the glowing green islands in the sky. It’s sound track is a fast paced synth overload that reminds me of the demo mode of every keyboard I’ve ever owned. There are no real enemies other than gravity and the controls. B.U.D. walks around like a double amputee with two Slinky’s duct taped to his stubs. Nothing is worse than being in a new area, precariously walking down a branch when inertia causes your character to fly off the edge like a lemming hopped up on bath salts. Then, depending on where the last active save point was located, you may have a long climb to get back to where you were. This is when I got a bit aggravated with Grow Home. I’m not an angry gamer, but I’ve never wanted to throw my controller, or put my fist through my monitor, as much as when playing Grow Home. Several times I even booted up the game, fell off the Star Plant to my death, and turned it off, disgusted at my performance. But something about Grow Home kept me coming back over and over.
While not the dose of relaxation I was looking for, I absolutely loved Grow Home. After a while, I was even enamored with the character’s movements, which B.U.D. must have picked up at Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. M.O.M, our ship’s AI and task master, is a constant reminder that I’m a good person, despite killing B.U.D. hundreds of times. Grow Home has an unnameable quality that is hard to find in modern games. I felt like I had to finish it or I was letting down both B.U.D. and M.O.M, not to mention all the people counting on me to get a Star Plant Seed. Just spending time with them made me empathetic to their cause. After beating the game, you have the option to continue exploring the planet for more Star Plant seeds — I’m guessing so that they can have twice the atmospheres? Does that make sense? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is that scientifically sound? Eh. Doesn’t matter, because after I’m through finding the rest of those seeds, they are going to have the best damn atmosphere that one stressed out fat guy can get them…