Over the past few years, some creative open world games have really blown up and become big franchises amongst younger audiences (younger than a guy in his 30s like me). Minecraft and Roblox merch always seems to be in stores, and their online communities seem to thrive. Growtopia is another game of this type, although much lesser known. A free to play Server-based MMO, Growtopia is made up of user built worlds/rooms. It is very much a game made for a younger audience, and has been around for some time on other platforms. I’ve been handed a 30 day VIP pass and tasked with delving into uncharted territory.
In Growtopia, there is no story or overall goal beyond making your own space. While trying to make as much in game money as possible to spend on items in the store. It starts with a tutorial, covering the basics of making your world, how to grow seeds, and how to lock down your world to keep others from messing with it. Growing seeds is vital to getting anywhere in this game, everything is made from them. By planting a seed a tree grows, giving you a corresponding material and another seed. To get more than the basic building pieces you’ll need to splice your seeds. This is done by adding a seed to an already growing one. Splicing seeds is what will provide you with new materials to then grow more out of, and in turn splice with other seeds. In theory, gathering and creating all these materials will go towards building your own space. You can make it something cool to show off, or just work on harvesting or splicing seeds. This will only get you so far by itself, there’s carrying limits that you need to upgrade with gems. In fact you need gems to do almost anything, which I will go further into a little later.
There’s also a tutorial world you can visit, a more visual guide to what you can do within the game. It’s a world nicely put together by the developers, and has many different areas to check out to get some idea of what you’d be capable of making. The problem quickly becomes that the tutorial and the tutorial world don’t really cover everything important, I found this out early on when I had the 30 day VIP token in my inventory. At first it didn’t seem to work, then I realised apparently it is an item that needs to be consumed. Good luck trying to do that by hitting any of the buttons because it won’t work, nor do the controls or anywhere else cover how to consume items. It was only by having the item highlighted in the toolbar, moving the cursor over my character and then selecting it did it work. It might sound simple, but at no point are you told how to do this basic act.
It’s not just your world the game intends for you to explore and mine, but to also check out other peoples worlds and maybe take part in some of the mini games that are on offer. The real issue is that despite what pre-built areas there are, or other worlds people have made, there doesn’t feel like there’s really anything to do. To even find most of what the developers have put into the game you’d have to look it up outside of the game because none of it is shared in the game.
Now back to the gems. Gem currency is how you buy a lot of your items. You break blocks to get more, and spend it on making your world and character how you want them. Like any purchasable game currency, it takes a lot to do anything with. To keep a small part of your world locked down so others can’t mess with it, you need to spend hundreds of gems to buy a padlock. The first two sizes aren’t prohibitively expensive, but still cost too much for the privilege of protecting your own space. Even worse is that the amount of area they cover is laughable. This is where they get you, you’re going to have to front up the gems for a bunch of locks. You might say ‘this is a free to play game Paul, what do you expect?!’, I would expect a reason to make it worth playing the game before being hit up for actual cash. There’s also another currency, Growtopia tokens. These are also used for purchasing items from the store. Like gems, you’re going to need a fair few to do anything with. Even the starting amount is still a few short from actually buying something, which I guess was the plan. Even with the VIP pass it feels like what you’re given daily isn’t enough to do much with. Anything cool was still well out of reach.
An important thing if you’re going to let players interact with each other (and by ‘let’ I mean ‘force’), a good community goes a long way. So far, a lot of my experience in Growtopia has been people appearing in my world and wrecking the place. The most off-putting moment was when this happened while still in the tutorial phase. As I was trying to buy and place down a lock, people showed up and started mining my trees, digging up the ground and hitting me. The Switch version doesn’t share the same servers as the Mobile or PC versions. As a result, the Switch and Xbox cross servers are quite fresh, which doesn’t help the situation. It’s a real Wild West currently and there’s no real reason for it to stop.
Controls feel super sensitive to move around. This made menus a nightmare, as the cursor would move around like it was Joy Con drift, yet it wasn’t present in any other games. This oversensitivity felt like it then exacerbated clunkiness of using the inventory and the area you’re expected to access just as much; the store. I could go into detail, but really in its entirety Growtopia is unpleasant to navigate and control.
The visuals are very basic, it could be mistaken for a flash browser game. It never really impacts the gameplay, although until you get some accessories everyone looks like a skinhead or a prisoner with a freshly-shaved head with Growtopia as their prison. This is where the customisation is meant to come in. You can buy random packs of clothes or ideally have a tree that they grow from. If you want any fancy accessories or mounts, prepare to spend a lot of gems or Growtopia tokens.
I wanted to find something to like in Growtopia. I couldn’t have imagined that a game like this could be so brazen with its reliance on purchasing in game currency and VIP passes. It’s all made worse when it’s targeted towards a younger audience, to squeeze the money out of them. You can get gems and still buy stuff without spending real money, but it will take a lot of time and effort to the point you question if it is even worth it. Growtopia seems like it could be something decent if you really want to sink the time in, if only it didn’t make you jump through so many hoops to find out.
Review content provided by Ubisoft Australia