I am usually firmly in the camp of “wait and see” when it comes to new releases, and I didn’t actually intend to pick up Grow: Song of the Evertree the day that it was available, despite having been excited for it since I saw it while watching Wholesome Direct back in June. It just so happened, however, that my roommate tested positive for COVID-19 the same day that the game came out, and I made the snap decision to pick it up for myself as something to maybe keep me occupied during isolation.
… and then I proceeded to play it for almost 30 hours over the next 5 days.
Grow is kind of an odd amalgamation of genres, but what it most closely reminded me of was Animal Crossing: New Horizons, if you weren’t restricted by the real time clock. You can expect to spend the majority of your time catching bugs & fish, playing with woodland critters, breaking rocks, and tending to plants. You start out with a single World Seed, which once planted, is – frankly – a big old mess of a place, but after three in-game days of tending, expands, and after nine in-game days is fully formed, and I’d say more than half of my game play hours were spent tending to this world (and the others that open up as you progress through the story).
There is also two other types of games mashed up in here – a rudimentary city / community builder, and some exploration & puzzle style game play, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games. What you won’t find is any combat at all – in fact, one could argue that you won’t find any challenge at all, and obviously, that makes the entire game play loop unsatisfying for some.
While it’s true that nothing in the entire game feels particularly difficult, I still found it all immensely satisfying. The story is just enough to hold the disparate pieces together, but it’s not particularly memorable. City building is looking at a list of tasks and working your way through them. Some of the exploration focused puzzles might have had some modicum of difficulty, but the game shows you all your objectives in a cut scene upon entering.
… and I still couldn’t stop playing.
The only part of the game I didn’t particularly enjoy was the villager quests. None of them were particularly interesting – with only a couple of exceptions, they were all of the “Bring me this item when you get one” variety. These quests could pretty much universally be ignored, however, although a couple of town building checklists had a line item to fulfill villager requests, it seemed like you could always reach 100% happiness & progress the story without completing all the requirements.
People who are particularly drawn to customization & decoration will likely get even more from the game than I did – there are tons of cosmetics you will either stumble upon during caring for your Worlds, or that you can buy from the associated business once you’ve built it. For me, decorating and customizing houses was something I did because I was required to, and let me tell you, I ended up with some seriously ugly buildings because of it.
The contents of each World you create are dictated by the ingredients you use to make the seed, so Worlds aren’t really customizable in the way that towns are. The plants, rocks, logs, and weeds you gather in one World can be deconstructed in your home to provide you with new essences, and the essence balance of each World determines what kinds of essences you get back out. For a good portion of the game, I was lacking in several kinds of essences, until I realized that you need to have a balance of different types of Worlds to get a good selection of essences.
You also have the option to sell the items you collect to the Everkin (who you are introduced to fairly early in the story) for a currency you can use to purchase essences you are missing, although the game never explicitly tells you this. Vendor essence availability is both random and limited, so the earlier you can manage to get some diverse worlds working, the easier time you’ll have for the rest of the game.
In the very early parts of the game, resource scarcity might be a little annoying, but it doesn’t last. In the latter half of the game, I could buy anything or build anything I wanted, and I probably rushed the end a little bit. I did get 18/22 achievements just from playing normally, and the only one I missed that would have been grindy was making all the Perfect World Seeds. As someone who isn’t that into exploring, I know I missed secret areas, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game as a whole, and would provide more to do for someone who was into that sort of thing.
I don’t think Grow: Song of the Evertree is going to be a game for everyone, not by a long shot, and it’s certainly not a perfect game, but I found it to be completely satisfying. Give it a pass if you’re motivated by challenge, or if you get irritated by methodical, repetitive game play. For players who just want to make plants grow, pet animals, and chase bugs with a net in a pretty fantasy world, you will easily get your money’s worth from this one.