Growing Pains Review
Four years ago, Team Meat’s incredible platformer, Super Meat Boy, ushered in a renewed interest in the challenging, addictive sidescrollers of the past. Super Meat Boy was absurdly entertaining, offering manic burst of extreme difficulty smartly balanced with charming characters and laugh-out-loud moments. Smudged Cat Games’ Growing Pains clearly owes a great deal to the title, but really falls short of being anything more than a briefly intriguing curiosity.
Growing Pains throws you directly into the mix of things, with a tutorial introducing you to the game’s core mechanic: growth. The strange, spiky, brown creature you guide through Growing Pains‘ nine levels gradually gets larger and larger as time passes. If the little character grows too much, he may be unable to fit through the narrow corridors of the level, eventually exploding cartoonishly. The player has is the ability to both temporarily stop the growth – using an energy bar – and accelerate it, at no cost. Puzzles therefore take full advantage of these abilities. Navigating around any of the many hallways of instant-kill spikes in a level may mean expanding just enough to clear a long jump, but not too much that you can’t pass through the doorway at the end. This gambling mechanic, as well as the sense of scale the effect conveys, is by far the best aspect of the game, and it can be fun toying with the ability as you develop a personal play-style.
A key to brutally difficult games such as this is finding a ways to compel the player onward in spite of the challenge. Games like Super Meat Boy, I Wanna Be The Guy, and VVVVVV rely on pleasantly simple Super Mario-esque narratives to convey purpose and inject the steep challenge with personality. Growing Pains’ definition of personality is the aforementioned undefinable player creature, pulsating, color-changing platforms,and complementary colorful collectibles. Even its title screen is bizarrely nondescript, with the game’s own name or logo nowhere to be seen. It all smacks of the kind of amateurish oversight that mark a developer understandably consumed by one strong concept at the cost of everything else. All in all, it’s difficult to feel the compulsion to play this game for very long, knowing better, similarly-priced, more memorable titles exist.
To Growing Pains‘ credit, the germ of a great idea is there, and it’s hard not to get that nostalgic feeling of addictive frustration when you blow through all nine of your lives and have to restart the segment from the start to have any chance at unlocking subsequent levels. Muscle memory and reflexes are certainly put to the test, aided by tight controls and a solid, energetic soundtrack that brings back memories of Tron with its jazzy, futuristic sound. Finally, the reward of a spot on the leaderboards can be motivation enough to keep at it for some. The entire $5 package is rounded out by a level editor for anyone to toy with and upload to the greater Steam Community. Growing Pains is an utterly decent game; unremarkable but inoffensive, an unfinished thought.
Genre: Platformer, Indie
Release Date: May 28, 2014
Developer: Smudged Cat Games, Ltd
Publisher: Smudged Cat Games, Ltd
ESRB Rating: N/A