Grow: Song of The Evertree is out today. After planting the seed back at EGX, we returned to Alaria for our full review.
Wholesome games have made something of a regular appearance in my gaming schedule over the last couple of years, and Grow: Song of the Evertree certainly fits the label exceptionally well. A cute new tale from developer Prideful Sloth and publisher 505 Games, this escape to the outdoors is an engrossing adventure that, upon a detailed inspection and far too much of my free time, managed to seriously confound my initial expectations.
After a short stint with an apprentice alchemist and companions at EGX Expo last month, I had some idea what I was in for with the final release of Grow: Song of the Evertree. Following the story of the aforementioned Eternal Alchemist, players take to the town of Alaria and, with the help of some rather unexpected sidekicks, attempt to regrow the sacred Evertree by generating new worlds on its branches, invigorating a dilapidated town, and pushing back the cursed Withering.
Look and Feel
Form the instant Grow opens up on the Alchemist’s Grotto, a safe haven from the encroaching vines of the Withering, there is something magical afoot. The central player hub comes crafted like a fairytale cottage, all alone in the woods but utterly homely. The bright coloring of characters and oversized architecture of the entire area brings the player down to a child’s level and ultimately apes many of the cute caricatures of famous slice of life farming sims. Taking this concept and blowing it out into a fully 3D world seems to work wonders for the team at Prideful Sloth, infusing a mix of high fidelity models that are made to look surprisingly simple, into a world that might have fallen out of a fairytale book. The deliberately childlike approach to animating this experience is further replicated in the music. This orchestration brings together a welcoming set of songs by crafted anime composer Kevin Penkin, who you might know from Tower of God, to present an accompaniment that never asks the player to try too hard but simply sweeps the audience away as if they were busy watching another escapist anime.
The Right Tools For The Job
At the heart of any textbook tale, is the hero. As something of a free form sim, Grow allows players to build their own protagonist as they revive Alaria. The development team has to be applauded for the, once again, obviously simple but deliberate way they have approached this core part of Grow. While there are only a limited number of customization options, each of them count for something, from the inclusion of three gender options, multiple distinct body types, and other design details. This means that mean characters might not look exactly like the person behind the controller but the level of representation on show is a great indication of a game that looks simple but is still thoughtful.
After a brief few minutes creating my own alchemist, the Evertree awaits. This massive, and seemingly ancient, woodland giant harbors a type of magic that, if harvested and encouraged to grow, could repair the decimated Alaria. That first order of business means learning how to plant world seeds and grow gardens on the aforementioned Evertree. Getting around the world to begin gardening is a light enough task. Controls are intuitive and the mainstay of the Alchemist arsenal is a toolkit tied to a radial dial or scroll wheel. Actions like bashing rocks or pulling weeds are one click encounters and most of the early quests recorded in a journal come easily signposted. Tutorials are abundant, but never turn into lectures, thanks to the energetic delivery of a talking book and bubbling cauldron. This opening gambit does a great job of introducing the core of Grow, sending players flying up the Evertree upon a loveable flying steed, that could be a Pokemon on another day, and tending to a damaged garden, all to begin harvesting the fruits of your labor further down the line.
Harvesting and Alchemy
Once up in the Evertree, everything cleared to make way for new gardens is ultimately useful to an Alchemist. While a seemingly dull rock isn’t particularly exciting, the core garden grind of Grow allows players plenty of opportunities to practice their skills in this science, essentially trading goods in for random building materials. Grow doesn’t overwhelm players early on, simply allowing items to be emptied out their chest of gathered goods and trade it in for random rewards. These never feel particularly punishing and are a route to earning items, rather than an enforced element of the game. Whether it’s Calm or Mayora these elements are no reward in and of themselves, but rather a currency to keep the game cycle running. As the Evertree begins to bloom and this tardy garden flowers, the power of nature, known as the Song, allows players to get out and rebuild the town around them. While the Evertree grows up and out, the town below expands out under it’ protection. The rebirth of the Evertree allows visitors to start attending this new landmark. As this progresses, Grow shows another side of itself. Exploration and simple town management are time and currency sink for the Alchemy and gardening that I mentioned earlier, providing building materials and a cute creature workforce to construct houses, inns, cafes, libraries, and far more besides.
Building houses isn’t much more complicated than many other titles. Littlewood, for example, similarly required building blocks and a little time to house new villagers. Grow, takes this further, opting for a top down building system that allows plenty of freedom to pick, place, and populate your new town as you wish. Houses and their attendant workplaces all play a part in the day to day operation of the villiage and can be upgraded, expanded, and even decorated based on the loot your gather or materials you find. Borrowing from established town sim strategies, each new visitor, and potential resident, has their own stats and profile, meaning not everyone is best suited to being a baker, and making your resident’s happiness at least a little more complex than just prodding a few buttons. This proves to be a satisfying synergy between the different elements of Grow’s core gameplay. Prideful Sloth has managed to weave in a mix of simple gameplay and management complexity that never takes away from the cute presentation of this potentially huge sim. This is barely scratching the surface of a title that is far more developed than it seems on the surface, and while we aren’t going to spoil the narrative here, there’s not even really a need to barrel through the story to enjoy Grow. The freedom to manage your time, take in the inviting scenery that you seed on the Evertree, or get to know the surrounding village by taking on tasks from the locals all mean there’s always something to do and a cute critter to fawn over.
There’s an open ended element to Grow that makes it something special. Far beyond the inviting graphics and the urgent environmental tale it tells, this is a thoughtful and deliberate balance of cute and considered gameplay concepts that make it a serious time sink. Get lost in a beautiful new world as Grow: Song of the Evertree launches today on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One. Check out the official website for more information.