Community gaming through massively multiplayer online (MMO) games has become an institution since exploding in the 90s. Catering to every genre, there is a game for everyone and every kind of player, from the collector to the camper to the griefer alike. Initially released on Android in 2012, Growtopia is a 2D sandbox MMO with an interesting premise that you can grow anything on trees. Yes, anything! In a world with multiplayer 3D sandbox games like Minecraft and Dragon Quest Builders 2, Growtopia has a lot to compete with.
Go go gadget
Following a very basic tutorial you get let loose in a starting world named whatever you feel like, if available. With the right thumbstick you can aim your weapon of choice, your fist, to punch blocks using the right trigger. But unlike Minecraft, your arm extends in a freaky Inspector Gadget fashion to bash blocks in a two block radius. Why punch blocks? For seeds of course! Dirt blocks may drop dirt seeds and of course stone drops may drop stone seeds and so on. Taking two seeds you can splice them together to create different item-bearing trees. This mechanic is an interesting puzzle and discovering what makes what is entertaining. However, obtaining enough seeds to run wild requires a lot of grinding, with many players making and clearing multiple worlds for materials. Multiple worlds are required as each are quite small and are procedurally generated.
Using the same cursor and trigger arrangement you can place blocks if an item is selected in the inventory bar. The inventory bar is only four items which I found really annoying, requiring you to pop in and out of the inventory almost constantly when mixing and splicing lots of different items. The placement of items in the active inventory bar is also clunky, cycling through whatever you select rather than into a certain slot, and newly picked up items are put straight into the bar. The initial inventory is also very small for the large array of objects in this game, but is expandable using the in-game currency, gems. Chat messages and any text has to be input with your controller and the onscreen keyboard which is slow going, however on Switch you can also type via the touch screen which I think is the best option.
Grow anything and everything, door tree anyone?
While the game is free-to-download certain types of items are locked behind the game’s gem currency, which you can grind through general gameplay but is readily available for yep, you guessed it, real world money. Also locked behind the paywall are literal locks, items required to protect your world from anyone entering your world and doing what they will. It’s essentially griefer-proofing various sized areas for a price. As with any kind of online craft-your-own-wonderland-game you can guarantee there will be those with the will to destroy or steal. Buying VIP packs gives you a secondary currency, growtokens, that can be used to buy things like experience tonics, a megaphone for free broadcasting of messages, a dirt shooting gun, pets, you name it. You also get daily gems, seasonal tokens, an XP buff, a reduction in growth time and exclusive skins. You want something, you can buy it, which for those willing to pay allows you to go wild. But if you like your money kept firmly in your wallet you’re in for a grind.
The game’s art style takes me back to pixel games of the 90’s which is not necessarily a good thing. The game’s primary ‘growing anything on trees’ mechanic means the initial world is very empty, just blocks of dirt, rocks, lava and cave pieces. You want any other kind of weather/backdrop other than mountains and a sunny blue sky? You gotta pay/grind for it. The game states you can play as whoever you want, but to dress up you have to work your way through the splicing/growing tree (heh heh get it) to make clothes, or buy packs for skins. You’ll probably want some kind of costume though if you can get it as the starting character design is not particularly appealing.
Here there be strange people
There is no cross platform play between the existing mobile/PC servers and the new HD console servers, meaning a fresh start on HD platforms for everyone. There is cross platform play however between Switch and Xbox with PS4 keeping to itself. While there is an established community from the mobile/PC iteration, there is a very limited community on consoles right now. While I was playing this game there was only approximately <400 players online, with most worlds I came across filled with five or less players except for the trade world with about 20. This makes the playing with friends and the community aspect seem very minimal, adding little appeal at this point. As this game is an MMO, it requires a stable and constant internet connection, with the game disconnecting if your console enters sleep mode, or if you spend too much time in the system’s UI. This renders the game essentially unplayable on the go which is part of the main appeal of the Switch, unless you’re willing to use your phone data or find good free WiFi. This unfortunately makes Growtopia a sandbox game that’s not great for commuting or on-the-fly play.
Growtopia succeeds at doing some new things, and as a free-to-download title you will lose nothing to try this out. Most sandbox games feel like you’re shaping your world for future feats, but this game feels like your cleaning out a canvas with a lot of grinding before you get started. Feel free to dip into your pockets if this title captures your imagination. However, if you’re like me and you find various aspects grating or a turn off, I would put your money towards other non pay-to-win titles.
Reviewed on Switch // The review code supplied by publisher