No, this isn’t a review of Growing Pains the 1980′s television series, but instead the Xbox indie game of the same name. Developer Smudged Cat delivers an intense, visually-striking platformer that will challenge you at every turn.
Growing Pains consists of 9 levels, each broken up into a series of continuous sections. As with many platforming games, you must run, hop, and wall-jump through each section trying to reach the next one. In the case of Growing Pains, in order to reach that next section you must collect all of the rainbow blocks within that area to open the gate. If that sounds easy enough, it won’t be. A variety of deadly obstacles and traps are waiting in every stage to slow you down and kill you. Orbiting spikes, pendulums, and lasers all present pattern-based puzzles that will put your skills to the test from start to finish. The game has three difficulty settings for each level that ramps up the challenge even further.
The most fascinating element of Growing Pains is the overarching mechanic of the game’s design – your character grows over time. Every second you’re playing, your character is also growing which can not only prevent you from making it through tight passages, but also affects the controls. Naturally the larger you are the higher and further your “vessel” will travel. This adds the natural challenge of making it more difficult to avoid the perils of each area. However, it’s also a problematic area of the game because you can’t always accurately guess the magnitude of your character’s response to jump commands.
Although there’s no official time limit to completing a level, the fact that your character can outgrow the environment does impose a limit of sorts. There’s a meter you can draw from to keep your character from growing, but there’s a limit to how much you can use that power. On the easier difficulties, there’s not much use for this ability. However, on the higher difficulties, analyzing the obstacle patterns will slow you down and therefore necessitate slowing your character’s growth.
Bright, flashing graphics and thumping music present a techno feel to the environment, though not as intense or distracting as say, Techno Kitten Adventure. The music can also soar at times as the level previews zoom out making your task seem even more epic in scope. I really felt like these presentation choices worked well in supporting the game’s theme.
There are leaderboards for every level and every difficulty, including the ability to see how you’ve done compared with your friends. You can also view replays for everyone on your leaderboard. This can be handy on the tougher difficulty settings to see how Smudged Cat and other developers handled some of the crazier levels. It’s also useful in figuring out where you slipped up if you want to shave a few seconds off your time.
Growing Pains is one of those rare beasts. It’s part of a genre almost everyone who’s played a video game is familiar with. However, I feel like the difficulty level will turn off a lot of casual players. The Bronze difficulty level is likely to give them all the challenge they’ll want, and the Gold difficulty is only for those who enjoy a healthy dose of punishment. However, in a medium where games like Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy have excelled, fans of those titles will find an entertaining indie platformer that comes highly recommended.
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