Thursday, September 20, 2007
New Grow Available - Grow Island
One of the best videogames to come along in memory is Grow. This series of flash animation games hails from Japan, and each new installment is an event in itself. As soon as the latest one arrives, I immediately stop whatever it is I'm doing, and sit down to play.
Grow is a puzzle game at its core, one in which you are asked to choose a series of icons in the correct order. But such a description is far too reductive, too literal-minded, to carry through the spirit of what makes Grow so much fun. You have a puzzler, mixed with a life simulation, mixed with a quirky Japanese pop style, mixed with the conventions of classic console games. It's more of an experience than anything.
Each game follows the same basic formula, but the set and setting - always the crucial ingredient, kids, don't forget that - is completely different each time. You typically begin with a blank area, be it a sphere or a meadow, or in this fifth installment, an island in the sea. You then must assemble the available items in the correct order. Events balloon into one another, meld with one another. For example, you could select to build a road, and the character icon appears with a pickaxe. Then, later, you select to build transportation, which leads to cars, boats, trains, and rocket ships. The character with the pickaxe would then chop away a small harbor for the boat, which would then lead to other events, which lead to others, and so on.
You get the picture? Part of the fun lies in guessing just what the final form the landscape will take. There's always a sense of surprise, partly brought on by the designer's love of surrealist J-pop, which always seems ready to veer into unexpected directions at any moment. A series of logs grows into a home. A tool grows into a series of cutsey robots. At some point, the moon comes into play. A strange character right out of Yellow Submarine appears, and something happens. Is it important? It is a crucial point to the story, or is it there for the sake of being there? You'll have to figure that out for yourself.
I've found Grow to be a fair challenge, although I've never really been stumped for too long. The game does follow a certain sense of logic, no matter the scenario, and the limited number of icons keeps the game from spiraling out of control. It doesn't aspire to drain away your precious hours. It's aware that it's only a game, here to amuse you and sparkle your imagination. Perhaps that's what I love the most about Grow.
The above screenshot comes from the newly-released Grow Island, the sixth in the series. Earlier installments have included a sphere, a cube, and a fantasy role-playing world - one that sends up adventure games like Legend of Zelda. These games are beautifully made, wonderfully drawn and animated, and arrive far too rarely. I'm amazed that no major publisher hasn't chased after this developer with a big contract. Here is a game concept that is screaming for a wider release. More, more!