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Growing Pains Review: A Fun Twist on the Genre, Over in an Instant
At first glance, Growing Pains is a simple platformer in the ilk of Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV or the upcoming Electronic Super Joy that focuses on precision over all else. Each of the nine surreal, neon-lit stages are filled with quick moving enemies, spiked balls and difficult jumps, but while the genre usually focuses on perfect execution and copious trial and error, Growing Pains adds a few welcome strategic twists to the formula.
Your character in Growing Pains, some odd, possibly furry creature, grows continuously throughout each level. Growth that can be sped up at will, or briefly halted in exchange for a portion of a meter. Growing makes the player-character’s hitbox larger, making it easier to be killed by enemies or traps, and makes it impossible to navigate smaller areas. By the end of each level the player-character is about the size of the opening room, and levels tend to loop around themselves, growing larger and larger. Seeing the earlier parts of the level slowly shrink as the camera zooms out to accommodate your size is one of the most satisfying parts of progressing through a level.
The other major mechanic involves the ability to gain extra height on a jump by jumping a second or so after the character lands, similar to Super Mario 64‘s double and triple jumps, though with a handy indicator to help with the admittedly strange timing. There’s a tension between using this mechanic and simply growing larger: making a difficult jump by using this technique instead of simply growing a bit means that the next area will be easier to navigate, but is a riskier and more time-consuming way of proceeding.
One mechanic that I had mixed feelings about was the lives system. Each level gives players x lives to complete a stage before forcing them to restart or to enter a practice mode, which does not reward success with a medal and does not record a time in the leaderboards. I feel that recording completion time is more than enough of a motivation to stay alive, and the lives system felt too arbitrary and too distracting.
Integrated leaderboards encourage speedrunning and managing size and meter to move as quickly as possible adds a lot of tension to the basic mechanics and makes replaying levels a lot of fun. That’s fortunate, because the game has only nine five-minute-odd levels with three difficulty levels. The different difficulties add enough extra traps and enemies to keep things exciting, but not enough to make for more than a couple hours of content for anyone uninterested in the leaderboards.
At $5, the small amount of content is less of an issue, but is still disappointing. I enjoyed my time with Growing Pains greatly, and it stayed engaging through all three difficulty levels. No level felt too straightforward, and no level was too frustrating. I finished the first two difficulties in around an hour, and I don’t see myself getting to two hours in my gold playthrough, and I feel that the great core mechanics deserve a level editor. Growing Pains has made for a fun hour and a half so far, but I wish there were more of it.