We’re only a month away from the endless onslaught of Game of the Year awards. In a month, me and plenty of my friends and colleagues will be drafting up lists of our favourite games of the year, while also thinking ever so slightly less of the many people who don’t agree with us.
Before that happens though, I wanted to take a look back at some of the games I didn’t get the chance to talk about at the time for whatever reason.
These are not reviews, some of the games I haven’t played for months. They’re also not necessarily my Game of the Year™. They’re simply the games I found interesting (for better or for worse), but never really discussed when they came out.
Back when I was managing editor for Indie Haven, a common discussion we had revolved around trying to figure out which games were and were not suitable for coverage. We know the likes of Call of Duty would certainly never count as “indie”, but what about things like Life is Strange or Telltale’s games?
Because of that debate, we had a simple litmus test that I explained as “indie games are like porn, you know it when you see it.” If a game felt indie in some way and wasn’t a blatant major AAA release, and it was a game worth sharing with the audience, then we’d allow it.
But then games like Grow Home burst onto the scene back in February and really challenged my oh-so-conclusive test as what is and what isn’t indie.
Developed and published by AAA powerhouse Ubisoft, Grow Home is still one of the most indie-spirited games to happen this year. Beginning life as a fun little experimental project to be shared internally at Ubisoft, it eventually got developed into a larger title made for public release.
Grow Home has the player try and climb to the top of the world while also growing a huge plant taller and taller. Climbing is heavily physics-based, with the controls sometimes feeling a bit clunky. Playing as a clunky little robot called B.U.D. completely recontextualised the frustration brought by those controls, and managed to turn them into something incredibly enjoyable while also fairly challenging at times.
There isn’t all that much to Grow Home. If you’re not climbing a mountain, you’re climbing a plant, or climbing around a cave, or climbing on a bull or just climbing something at some point in time for some reason. But those simple mechanics are used to great effect when the world you’re given to use them in is as expansive and fun to explore as Grow Home’s is. Kilometres of floating islands, dark caves and waterfalls, all littered with wildlife, were realised in a wonderfully clean low-poly style. Grow Home is definitely one of the prettiest games of the year both in the architecture of its space and in its visuals, that’s for sure.
Grow Home is an important game to remember from this year for a number of reasons. Even if it is another Ubisoft game about climbing, it’s an example that hulking AAA publishers can and should take time out to produce smaller experimental titles such as this.
It also shows that in a year where we’ve had games like The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V raising the bar on both graphical fidelity and mechanical depth, a good art style and simple mechanics are still all you really need to make a memorable game.
Good job, Grow Home. You’re a game produced by a groaning, AAA company, yet you also managed be one of the most delightfully indie games of the year.