Once more you join me for GenreQuest, an adventure to discover the best and worst games of the 3D platforming genre. This week we’ll be covering some plant-based indie adventure (and I don’t mean Weed Scanner Dealer Simulator 2016), a complete rip-off of a PlayStation classic, and an epic quest to round it all off. Let’s begin.
It’s been a while since we’ve had something this strange and unique, and a while since we’ve played something this new and up to date, so it’s going to be an interesting one to start the week off with.
Grow Home is a game about a robot, a cutesy, tiny, red robot. The robot, BUD, has been dropped on a planet to grow something called the star plant to 2,000m so that he can harvest the seeds and take them back to Earth, presumably because we’ve run out of seeds on Earth itself. On his way, he must explore the local wildlife, collect different plants, and (in the game’s own words) have fun.
The gameplay has some of the usual things that you’d expect from a normal 3D platformer in that you can run around and jump as normal, but there are some unique touches added to the game to make it feel different. The main point of the game is to grow a giant beanstalk-like plant as high up as possible, reaching new areas that have teleporters which serve as checkpoints or levels.
Your main methods of vertical traversal (or moving upwards, if you’re normal) is to grip onto the beanstalk with your hands which is done by holding L1 and R1 for left and right respectively. This is actually a pretty intuitive system and is super easy to get used to once you start out. The only issue with it is that it doesn’t always seem to grip properly, and more than once I’ve gotten frustrated with the game when I was trying to attach myself to a flower and ended up falling to my death miles below.
BUD does move around a little drunkenly which can make him hard to manoeuvre at times, but as long as you’re careful it’s always easy to catch yourself before you fall off anything too dangerous. When you climb the beanstalk itself, you have to try and reach these little red flowers which you can use to grow out from the beanstalk. Your job is to steer them into glowing green rocks which help the plant to grow skyward once you’ve connected enough of them.
You continue in this method right through to the end of the game, although there is more to it than simply climbing a plant to help it grow. You also explore the environment to collect crystals for collectables, and you can also find various flowers and other plants that can be used for various different purposes, i.e., a flower that works like a hand glider.
The game looks pretty great and is clearly going for a very simple and clean aesthetic. There are lots of obvious polygons around the place, but it’s clear that they’re intentional, and they suit the simple design used for the main character.
The world is coloured in lots of pale greens and browns, with occasional blues thrown in for either the sky or water. Everything also runs under a beautiful but simple lighting engine which works well with the day/night cycle, giving each time of day a unique feeling. As you start, it is early morning and practically everything is bright and colourful, then as the day winds on the sun starts to sink and throws long shadows across everything, and then as the night creeps on the moon rises and everything is bathed in silver light.
There’s not much to say for the game musically as the soundtrack is primarily just ambient music and not much else. I will say that the style of music really does fit the game, it sounds like the music that you’d hear early in the morning if you were a robot, which is oddly apt. However, because the music is basically just ambience, it doesn’t leave much of an impression.
Overall: Grow Home is a stunning game with a lot of visual appeal. Although it has a few control issues and a severe lack of any proper music, the game is interesting, unique, and completely worth your valuable gaming time.
Haven: Call of the King
This game is one that I had never heard of in my entire life, that is until I randomly saw it one day in a PS2 second hand bargain bin and ended up buying it for my sister to use when she borrowed my PS2. However, she ended up returning my PS2, so now I am the one who has gained access to this…interesting title.
I am shocked to see that this game comes to us from Travellers’ Tales, one of my favourite PS1 era devs who we’ve seen a few times already on this list, and who are these days more known for their series of Lego games based on famous franchises.
The story is about a slave boy named Haven (yes, apparently that’s a name) who is dreaming of rining a giant bell that will call back his people’s true king. When his master learns of this, he sends people to kill or capture Haven who barely escapes with his life and must go on an adventure to ring the bell in his dreams and call back his peoples king.
The story to this game is pretty cliché, and unfortunately the gameplay doesn’t do much better than the story does. At first it feels pretty smooth to run around and jump, but as soon as you come to the first collectable item, you notice the issue. Your character careens in a direction with only the slightest hint of a tap of the analogue stick, meaning that picking up anything or landing on precise platforms is practically impossible.
You have a few different attacks all of which revolve around a ball on a string that your character is carrying. It initially is only used to hit things, but you can pick up powers that modify it into several different modes, all with a limited power supply. Most of these weapons are just lasers with different colours that I assume have different elemental attributes, but I can’t be sure of it.
A system that at first seems interesting is the antidote system. All slaves are injected with an eternal poison that requires a constant dosing of an antidote to keep it at bay. This feels like it’s going to be important as you’re required to keep yourself dosed up or you start to lose health, but it actually just gives me a reason to collect all of the random blobs floating around as they are the antidote, and they are bloody everywhere at practically all times. This functionally just means I have a second health bar that works on a timer system.
The main objective seems to be completing different missions to obtain gears. These can be as simple as coming across them while exploring a level to having to complete specific tasks like shooting barrels or killing enemies. Mostly, these missions just amount to stumbling across the gears, and whether the game knows it or not, it’s basically just a bargain bucket version of Jak and Daxter. I mean, even down to the style of the game and the menus, it all feels like it’s taking something from the first Jak and Daxter game.
The way the missions are given to you in the pause screen, the style of the world around you, and even the style of the characters is all like someone made Jak and Daxter but didn’t know how to do it properly, so they just threw it together. There’s also the mechanic of the jars/barrels that seems to have been taken from Crash Bandicoot (some of them are invisible until you hit a revealing barrel, and the green barrels hop slightly then explode if you get too close, familiar much?). I’m not sure if they just wanted to steal things fom Naughty Dog or if it’s just some sort of accident that I have put together in my own head, but it seems like a hell of a coincidence.
As stated above, the visuals are basically a cheaper looking version of the visuals from Jak and Daxter. The opening area has a lot of nature colours interspersed with oranges and metallic tones, and as you move on the game goes underground where lots of blacks and brighter oranges are to be found.
Something that both surprised and delighted me about the game is that the music is top notch. When the first level of the game opened up and the music kicked in, I started to bop along to it as I sat at my desk, needless to say that wasn’t expected from a game like this. The music is almost always apt for the moment and suits whatever environment you happen to be in at any given time. The sound side is only really let down by the voice acting and sound effects…so pretty much everything else sound-wise, then.
The voice acting is below crap. I’m not sure who they got to play the doctor character, but they really needed lessons in how to portray a character. It almost seems like they were doing an impression of someone, but they’re doing it so badly that it’s impossible to figure out who is being impersonated. The sound effects are almost as bad, seeming to pop in and out of existence regardless of how close their supposed source actually is to the main character. At one point I was being dogged by a completely out of place running water effect in the middle of dry land, and the only thing that succeeded in doing was making me want to pee really badly.
Overall: Simply a shoddier version of Jak and Daxter. If you want to play this game, just play through Jak and Daxter again but with your eyes half shut and the experience is effectively the same. The poor controls are somewhat made up for by the surprisingly interesting music, but it cannot save the rest of the game from the trash pile.
It is always interesting for me to play through games based on The Hobbit. It was one of the first high fantasy books I ever read, and I managed to find and play the C64 adventure game based on it while I was still quite young. Therefore, everything that comes after it seems shoddy in comparison, purely thanks to my love for the source material.
The story…well it’s the story of The Hobbit. If you don’t know it, I’m exceedingly shocked. There have been at least 2 different movie versions (animated counts!!) and numerous books, radio plays, and audio books by now, so I assume you’re aware of what goes on. Just in case though, here is a brief summary. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, (halfing or midget, if you will) is taken on an adventure to defeat an evil dragon and claim more than his weight in gold.
The gameplay is relatively solid, although it does feel a little stiff at times thanks chiefly to the fact that you’re playing as a hobbit whose top running speed is slightly slower than a snail trapped in glue. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the jumping didn’t entirely switch speeds and make you fly across the stages so quickly that you often miss your mark due to the switch in speed.
The game has a pretty standard quest system that does help it to feel more like an epic adventure instead of your standard platformer, and as the game is based on a book, it also has chapters instead of levels which is a nice touch. It’s quite hard to state the main point of the game as the objectives are many and various, but you basically just follow the story of The Hobbit from its beginning in Bilbo Baggins’ house through Rivendell and Mirkwood all the way to the Lonely Mountain to fight Smaug.
The combat is a little repetitive, in that you can only attack with square, press it 3 times for a combo, or jump and press it for a slam attack. That’s about it as far as attacking goes, although you do gain several weapons as you make your way along. You start with a walking stick, but by the end of the game you’re wielding Bilbo’s iconic sword, Sting.
As you explore the world, you also have to complete various puzzles, usually things like pushing boxes around or pulling switches, and you also have to complete various odd jobs for the NPCs that you meet. Usually, these things net you silver pennies which you can spend between each chapter on supplies like health potions and throwable rocks used to attack far away enemies.
The game looks pretty good for its time, although there are several texturing glitches in places occasionally hidden by scenery. The visuals are all very bright and seem to be aimed more at children which is in keeping with the book it’s based on. Everything feels quite bright, and even during the darker scenes the colours remain vibrant even if the tones are darker.
The music is amazing as well and really feels like the sort of music that should accompany adaptations of Tolkien’s work. It’s full of fantasy and whimsy. As you begin in Hobbiton, the music is bright and jumpy but becomes dark and depressing as you traverse Mirkwood. Moving into the combat scenes of the late game the music becomes tense and throbbing.
Overall: A game that suits the themes and styles of Tolkien’s work and should be a proud edition to the other games based on his universe. Despite some slightly boring combat, the game shines in the sense of adventure and the music that accompanies it. If you’re a fan of The Hobbit, then you need to play this game right now.