This quickfire follow-up to one of 2015's real gems doesn't make any big steps forward, but it's a charmer all the same.
Grow Up is another climbing-and-collecting adventure from Ubisoft, the unrepentant disciples of the form, and yet another sequel, but this one's a little different. In this quickly turned around follow-up to Grow Home, one of 2015's unexpected pleasures, the experience has been streamlined to focus almost solely of the pleasure in dizzying ascent.
Returning hero B.U.D remains a clumsy and clunky avatar, his laboured movement rooted heavily in a weighty physics system naturally inclined to have you overshoot glides or lose footing just at the very edge of a dangling cliff face. This tumbling, error-prone robot - though new and improved with slightly less calamitous animations than in the original - doesn't feel made for this world, yet it's in these imprecise mechanics that the game is often so joyful to play.
This world has been crafted around B.U.D.'s two left feet. His upper body is more dogged, however, with each claw-like arm able to embed itself into any surface, from dangling rocks to the winding tendrils of the game's totemic star plants, each arm mapped individually to the controller's triggers - a peculiarly lo-fi, tactile way to slowly pincer your way up, up and away in Grow Up's quest to climb to the moon.
This is not a game of distractions, and the pared back simplicity of its studied exploration is matched by spartan audio - the occasional mechanical mutterings of B.U.D. and his new flying guide POD (a world map to accommodate the larger play area, essentially) the alien chirps of this alien planet's peculiar fauna and the slow, gentle murmurings of the game's giant vines. But less is more here, and the pared back art style slots in nicely as the final piece. It's all sharp angles and heavy, bold colours rather than crafted detail, an aesthetic that comes into its own when you survey the land from on high, either by zooming out on the world map or taking a leap off one of this world's many floating heights.
But, wow, how slow it all feels in those opening hours - pumping your fingers to direct these tiny, stubborn arms as they slowly fight to ascend mere inches, a climbing game with a clumsy robot who's ostensibly terrible at climbing.
Not that you'd ever feel bad about this, mind: you'd need a much colder heart than mine not to be endeared to B.U.D.'s wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression, his chirping utterances cribbed from an old 56k modem, and his playful, roaming love of movement with the kind of dogged, anti-dextrous determination that reminds me of spending time with my baby niece and nephew. Even the game's biggest form of punishment, when you lose your footing hundreds of meters in the air and find yourself falling (with style), is softened massively by the numerous warp stations.
Try, if you will, to recount that school day sensation of being let loose at lunchtime - all that pent-up boredom of Geography and Double Maths being immediately and suddenly vented through this pressure valve of open space and giddying freedom. That's what it feels like to play Grow Up. That cheerful abundance of youth is its joy, and B.U.D.'s adventure is rooted in the spirit of the playground - only now you're carrying a jetpack and glider rather than a frayed, flat football and a Dairylea Lunchable. Running! Jumping! Climbing!
Later on in the game, however, you become the master of your domain. Upgrades are slowly eked into your playstyle gently enough that you don't realise how much of a difference they make, until hours have passed and you find yourself in a moment of stunned reflection as you soar via jetpack and glider across disconnected islands in the sky. This slowly unfolding canvas also ensures that everything picked up has purpose, although scampering around to find the game's 150 crystalline collectibles become increasingly unrewarding (and difficult, expectedly) as time progresses.
Much of Grow Up is rooted in its predecessor Grow Home, and the end game feels more like a very successful cutting rather than a whole new plant. You'll spend much of your time nurturing the development of the game's spiralling, twisting star plants, riding their bulbous ends into glowing chunks of floating Miracle-Gro to further the transformation. These shoots often can't quite grow far enough to reach their food but they also spawn new buds, meaning that you'll often end up performing vertiginous loops and twists around one another as these massive, island-consuming plants increasingly swell, twist and protrude from the game's open environment.
Grow Up's natural landscape is something that moves you, and I mean that in a literal sense of the word. The alien flora mostly exists to bounce, flick and fling you around its islands, and one of Grow Up's key additions to its predecessor is that you've now also got the ability to photocopy these plants around the map after encountering them in the wild. If you're young enough to be part of the Minecraft generation you might use this in a different way to me, which is to say more than just a convenient way to blast off into the sky.
If you're looking for new features that's well, pretty much it - the abilities come with more structure and simplicity in their use, and there's clearly a bigger budget this time around, leading to a game that feels, well, like it's spent more hands in the time of its developers. Not enough to significantly differentiate Grow Up from its predecessor, but it's hard to really mind when the experience remains so enjoyable.
I also don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the game gives you additional reasons to run, jump and glide through it, although it's not the biggest game in the world. That's fine by me - I'd rather a long weekend of playful fun over a constant loveless commitment, and I'm sure all the married couples reading this can relate. Those that like a bit more Ubisoft in their games will take comfort in the various obstacle courses scattered around the map, though, the completion of which unlocks a variety of alternative costumes for B.U.D., though as you get one which turns him into a bee after completing your first I'm not sure why you'd feel inclined to continue.
Free of the shackles that bog down its more po-faced contemporaries, Grow Up feels like it started with its lovable hero and spiralled outwards to become a game about a mechanical physics in a flowing playground, with the sequel opting to spread its wings a little further than its predecessor. It is, essentially, a game that reminds me of the simple, pleasurable joys of youth and movement, and I can't imagine how anyone could ever get too old to enjoy that.