You know that feeling, when you’re trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans that fit you last year, and your butt just won’t go? That’s Growing Pains in a nutshell!
When I asked the developers of Growing Pains, Smudged Cat Games, what inspired their game, I had a pretty hilarious response – the inspiration came from none other than SCG’s David Johnston’s pregnant wife, who was having a hard time fitting around furniture in the house when BAM, a great idea was born. And later, a baby. But that’s another story.
Growing Pains is a fast-paced platformer which gives the genre a ‘shake up’. Platformers are churning out thick and fast in the indie game industry, and Smudged Cat Games weren’t about to let theirs fall into the crowd. What marks Growing Pains out from the rest is in the name – throughout the level, your ‘vessel’ (a fuzzy brown thing, resembling a porcupine, whatever it is, it is adorable for reasons unknown) constantly grows. At an alarming rate. The problem is, the rest of the level doesn’t grow with you until you’ve cleared it, leading to a race against the clock as the walls begin to feel tighter and tighter. If you don’t make it in time, your vessel explodes in a dramatic shower of colour and you must begin again.
To complete levels, you dash along, and up, collecting glowsticks. When you have collected every glowstick in the area (sometimes you have to pan the camera up a little to check that you haven’t missed any), then the rainbow blocking your passage disappears, and you must dash madly to make it to the exit before you’ve grown too much. You can stall your growth, but this uses up power. You can also accelerate your growth to reach higher areas if you need to, at the risk of growing too much. The growth adds a frantic pace, and you’ll find yourself pelting along in a desperate attempt to clear the level on time.
The jumping took a little getting used to. It is possible to double jump, to reach higher platforms without needing to accelerate your growth. But rather than haphazardly hitting spacebar, you must time your second jump to the rebound of the first. Your vessel leaps into the air and comes to the ground. Moments after, red shockwaves show beneath it, letting you know that it is time to use the rebound to propel your second jump even higher. Although fiddly at first, this lends an even more nail-biting aspect in that you cannot dash and leap with reckless abandon. Pausing to calculate jumps wastes valuable milliseconds that could cost you the level.
As the levels proceed (there are 9 levels, with 3 difficulty settings each) the difficulty of your obstacles becomes increasingly tough. Lasers are introduced, which force you to hesitate and pause even more, occasionally having to shelter under a level until you are in a position to continue. Growing makes it more and more difficult to avoid the mines that bounce and roam the levels, and the lasers moving up and down or side to side. Bigger is most certainly not better in Growing Pains!
The most admirable part of the game for me is the way the concept of growth is emphasised by the levels themselves. When you pass from one section to the next, you see a previous section shrunk to miniscule proportions in the background, reminding you how much your vessel has grown along the way. Size is an inescapable theme, with shrinking and growing playing a huge part in the gameplay and the backdrop.
Completing the levels without expanding too much is made even more hectic with the addition of leaderboards. Your completion is times and pitched against other players. A place on the leaderboard should be held with pride. Smudged Cat Games themselves hold seemingly impossible first places on most of the leaderboards. I hate losing, and so spent hours trying to climb up the ranks. I achieved a modest 5 on one, but my dreams of dashing and leaping through a level in less than a minute still eludes me. It’s a bit like dieting; racing against the growth of my girth simply reminds me that there’s always someone out there skinnier than me. So I may as well go for that McDonald’s.
And check out that background! So psychedelic and hippy-like, a blinding spectrum of colours gyrates in the backdrop of your plain brown vessel. The contrast really works, and the vessel pops from the background. Somehow, the plethora of colours is just another bit of chaos into the mix. Madly dashing as trippy hues swim in your vision makes for a hilarious race against the clock before your vessel is just another shower of shades for the colourful madness that is Growing Pains.
I truly enjoyed Growing Pains. The rapid pace as you guide a vessel amongst mines and lasers and a crazy swirl of colour, all the while growing at an almost uncontrollable rate, makes for a heart-pounding race. It is competitive, which compels me to re-try over and over in a vain attempt to get my name on that leader board, always with ‘just one more try’ on my lips. Platformers are in abundance, but none like this one. Forget what they all say – size ALWAYS matters.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.