Review for Growbot
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What do you get when you mix beautiful flowering plants and small robots? Growbots! The debut title from Wabisabi Games takes that concept and runs with it, creating a society of organic, living robots in their own space community. Of course, not all of the growbots are so helpful, and you will need to tackle a variety of charming puzzles in order to safely make it to the end of this delightful adventure.
Growbot tells the story of a space station that is attacked by a rogue growbot with powerful crystals, leaving young Nara the only one on board who can set things right. The plot starts out slowly, with Nara exploring the station and trying to find the other inhabitants, fixing much of the damage she sees along the way. It’s a cute journey of self-discovery, as Nara has to find her inner courage and put on her adult shoes to take responsibility and save her friends. However, while Nara’s story meanders leisurely for most of the game, a rather large piece of exposition and the consequences of it are hastily crammed into the last few minutes instead of being properly explored throughout. The slow pace up until that point can be tiresome, because it’s hard to feel like you’re actually getting anywhere when you only ever inch forward.
Nara is a sweet protagonist, a young girl growbot, with a shiny metal body and a lily pad on water inside her head tank, away from home on the space station for the first time. She’s earnest and timid as she tries to help her friends and eventually develops some courage to face Crissy, the villainous growbot, though there’s really not much depth of character beyond that. Unfortunately, all of the other characters are even shallower. Captain Art and Kino, the other two growbots on the station, are basically just used as plot devices and goals for Nara to reach. Wee Ted’s entire personality is based on being a Teddy bear-esque door guardian and is consistently trying to stop you from getting to other parts of the ship, while Starbelly is a ditzy but well-meaning power source for the space station, whose innocence meshes well with Nara’s.
The game is all point-and-click controls, with a few inventory puzzles. Directing Nara around the space station is done by clicking, and any objects that can be picked up are automatically stored in your inventory. The controls are fairly easy to get used to, but the puzzles Nara faces in her quest range from entertaining and pleasantly challenging to brain-wracking and annoying. Very few have their goals or rules actually explained properly, and the in-game hint system is mediocre at best, with the Brain-pilla not providing any helpful insight if at all. However, most of the puzzles are fairly well-designed once you actually figure out what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it. For example, there is a color-mixing puzzle where you take numbers and colors from starting nodes and move them around by interchanging rings until you position them in the correct place on the puzzle layout. The game shows you an example at the start, but it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment and it’s not clear exactly how the colors are supposed to move. Once you figure it out, the rest is a piece of cake. There’s also a puzzle where you need to move seahorses around a system of tubes to their destination location, but the game purposely obscures what each lever does, and it ends up being more of a guessing game than any semblance of logic.
Growbot’s charming art is one of the best things about the game. All hand-drawn with a delightfully colorful, soft palette, every single scene is full of detail and care. It’s a truly beautiful world that looks like it belongs inside a children’s book more so than a video game, and makes the space station feel surprisingly organic for such a high-tech setting. Special mention also goes to the sound design. Scored by Jessica Fichot, the calming instrumental tracks that play as you wander through the space station perfectly complement the ambiance. Additionally, there is a repeated musical puzzle to be solved by collecting musical notes from flowers in your travels and then matching them up by ear to specific sequences of notes. For those who are not musically inclined, there is a hint button, thank goodness, which spells out the notes as words rather than making you match them by ear. It’s an interesting type of puzzle, though every time one of them pops up it feels like the game is throwing something in your way solely for the purpose of obstructing you. Unfortunately, the game lacks any voice acting and outside of the musical tones used in the puzzle, most of the sound effects fade into the background in a lackluster manner.
The main appeal of the three to six hours you spend playing Growbot is that it looks and sounds divine, with its beautiful artwork and peaceful, gorgeous music. But it’s also somewhat superficial, its beauty skin-deep, as the plot is thin and meandering and the characters are all pretty one-dimensional. Still, the protagonist is cute, the sci-fi setting inspired, and there’s lots to do to restore it to full functionality once again. There’s no hand-holding here, so if you’re up for figuring out the rules of some interesting puzzles on your own, Growbot is worth a try.