Robots in space. A classic, isn’t it? Add flowers, music, and puzzles, and you’ve got Growbot – a 2D point-and-click puzzle where you play as Nara, a newbie growbot on a journey to save her world. The space station where Nara finishes her training is attacked by Crissy, the very first growbot who disappeared years ago and has now returned to wreak havoc on the crystal theme.
The first thing you will notice about Growbot is its striking hand-drawn artwork. The world is anchored in a biopunk aesthetic, wonderfully animated by a contrasting mix of dynamism and sadness. A vine here, a crystal there, a waterfall elsewhere. The styling is sleek and enhanced with adorable animations, like Nara’s waddling along the screen as she moves. An effective score composed by Jessica Fichot accompanies it. Truly worthy of a dark fantasy, the music is often weird and ethereal. It’s more upbeat for character themes at times, but almost always evoking an emotional response.
You’ll explore Growbot’s spaceship setting using a separate inventory – “items to keep” on the left, “consumables” on the right – and a colorful and cool slider to navigate its various rooms. These range from picturesque places like the garden to more industrial places like the engine room of the ship. They’ll all be broken down into a few sections, and more often than not you’ll come across characters and puzzles near their respective entrances that require something deeper, like world-modifying holdables that are useful throughout your journey. travel, or consumables to combine or attach to other things to progress. Fortunately, you will only need to go back through zones once for a story-related event.
Growbot’s shimmering world looks sublime, but it doesn’t often point you in the right direction.
It sounds simple enough, but Growbot often turns into frustration. He’s not particularly adept at telling you how to progress if you’re stuck, for example, and I often couldn’t find the one little thing I missed. One keep-alive item you get, for example, is Brainipilia, a rodent-like creature living for free inside Nara’s head and meant to provide context or clues. Right-clicking with your own mouse is also supposed to guide you when you’re stuck, but in practice I haven’t found any of these useful. While the sparkling and shimmering world of Growbot looks sublime, it often doesn’t do enough to point you in the right direction.
It is much more useful to press the space bar, which briefly marks interactive objects with red crosses. Strangely, the game never tells you about that keyboard clue, but it ended up saving my life when I was desperately looking for a flower buried under a platform that I thought was just there to look pretty.
Flowers are the foundation of the Growbot world, fueling the ship’s defenses and the growbots themselves. They emit notes that you can collect in your Flower Arranger, which is the source of the game’s most frequent puzzles. Clearly inspired by Lucasarts’ 90s hit Loom, the flower arranger can create diamond-shaped keys to unlock the shields thrown on the way to Nara. Each shield emits a sequence of six notes which you must reproduce in your Flower Arranger with the correct series of flowers. Again, this sounds simple, but to my inept ears a lot of the notes seemed too similar to tell them apart. The clue system here is thoughtful and accessible, but it goes too far in the other direction and makes solutions trivial.
Aside from the flower arranger, the puzzles you come across elsewhere are much more creative and diverse. If you’ve played Machinarium or any of Amanita Design’s games, you’ll know what to expect here. Like Machinarium, you’ll read symbols and think critically here, which makes Growbot feel fresh. In a groundwater area, for example, you have to collect colorful jellyfish creatures and free water dragons by opening and closing a series of water gates in the correct order, while in the garden you have to find the three different components to power a machine.
Growbot doesn’t require such big leaps of logic as Machinarium, but its undercooked clue system always ends up making even its simplest puzzles a lot harder than they need to be. There were several times when I knew what to do, for example, but I didn’t know how to do it. You’ll like some puzzles more than others, but many have at least one downside, whether it’s ambiguous instructions or fussy commands. Alone, none of this is monumental, but combined it gets a little boring.
With games like this I usually hope for a memorable story, but unfortunately this is where Growbot disappointed me the most. The sudden return of villainous Crissy looks promising on paper, but there’s more side world-building here than actual plot, and repetitive dialogue that seems insignificant leads to an unsatisfying ending. The story of Growbot is told much better via an opening cutscene, guide, and a few brief flashbacks, and it’s a shame once “The End” was slapped on the screen, I wondered, “Wait a minute. , that’s it?”. Granted, this is a short story, the game only lasts a few hours, but I wish the story and the characters (especially Nara herself) had a little more time to breathe and develop.
And that’s what frustrates me the most about Growbot. It wastes much of its potential. When things click, Growbot can be magical, but for all of those wonderful times, there are others that come to a screeching halt. If you’re good at puzzles and have a good ear, then you might have a better time with Growbot than I do, but I suspect its clue system will leave you just as upset. I wish the game was as good to play as it was to look at.
[Disclosure: Developer Lisa Evans’ former partner is Graham Smith, RPS’s former editor-in-chief. Graham still writes for RPS, and he provides the voice of Starbelly in Growbot.]