Growbot is the cutest game you’re likely to play all year. Developer Wabisabi Play has crafted a delightful puzzle adventure which streamlines the usual point-and-click experience while still telling an engaging story.
The titular character is Nara, a growbot on a space station who is embarking on her captaincy training. Six space stations form a protective ring around the growbot home planet, all helmed by different growbots. When the stations come under attack from the first growbot Chrissy, Nara is tasked with finding out her aims and removing the crystalline structures that Chrissy has put in place.
Nara’s inventory is split between consumable objects which have one use for specific puzzles, and permanent objects that are reusable throughout the story. One of these latter items is a helpful worm-bug-thing that you can drag onto the environment, items or puzzles to learn more about them — useful when you aren’t sure where to go next. That said, the game is fairly linear and most of the consumables will either be discovered on the screen on which they’re used, or in the next room. This isn’t a hunt-the-pixel game, thankfully.
Despite only clocking in at around two hours, Growbot packs in a lot of puzzles, most of which are varied and interesting. Many of them involve sound, such as harmonising different musical notes with barriers to let you progress, or building items by listening and replicating sounds. Collecting and combining items — that staple of classic adventure games — pops up here and there in recipes and books, but the solutions are usually so well signposted and the number of combinable items so few that you’re unlikely to struggle. Other puzzles feel like they’ve been inspired by The Crystal Maze: navigating creatures around a labyrinth to get them out, assembling cogs on a frame, and so on. They come at an astonishing pace and are so well incorporated into the setting that I was eager to find out what was next to solve. Only a couple of tasks missed the mark, one due to a lack of clear guidance on the objective and the other (the aforementioned labyrinth) caused by a finicky control system.
Overall though, the interface works well. The cursor flicks red when there’s an interactive object, and turns blue when some dialogue or a cutscene is playing out. Navigating around screens is usually straightforward, with arrows indicating when you can enter an adjacent room. There’s quite a lot of backstory to wade through which is detailed in a directory you can access at any point; it’s just a shame that the game uses it as an info dump rather than the content being discovered through play. Double-clicking a spot will make Nara run there, which is a boon as her normal movement pace is fairly slow. Otherwise, dragging and dropping and combining items works without issue. If you usually need help with point-and-clicks, there are plenty of hint options (including some that essentially give you the solution), so you can enjoy the game regardless of experience or skill level.
The real charm of Growbot is in its setting and characters. The growbots are cute enough but they’re bolstered by chatty seahorses, colourful floofy bugs, teeny gnomes, a yoga cat, and a bass-voiced cuddly furball named Starbelly. Even the ship’s gruff security officer, a tiny bear called Wee Ted who delights in blocking your path, is adorable in his own way. Essentially, there’s an entire cartoon series and toy range here just waiting to be exploited by an unscrupulous marketing company. Traversing the different parts of the station showcases the incredible artwork by illustrator Lisa Evans which meshes cyberpunk and fairytale in a beautifully unique hand-drawn aesthetic. Similarly, the audio is exceptional. There’s no voice-acting (other than gibberish dialogue from various characters) but the incidental music fits perfectly and as many of the puzzles are music-based, the sound design is expectedly great.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that the ending feels a bit rushed. Maybe that’s indicative of my enjoyment of the game: I didn’t want it to end and when it did I felt a bit bummed. The story is wrapped up very quickly and in a formulaic way though, which is a bit of a shame given the fantastical nature of the rest of the game. Even so, Growbot is a sublime if brief experience which is likely to charm players of all ages.
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