GrowRilla VR Review
Virtual Reality is a platform that allows you to experience things you generally wouldn’t otherwise. While adapting popular genres to play in VR is a no-brainer, there’s often more value in trying something novel. Salmi Games, the developers of GrowRilla VR, are no stranger to this concept, previously creating an asymmetric local multiplayer VR game, Late For Work. In Late For Work, a player in VR plays as a giant gorilla disrupting a small town, while your friends attempt to shoot you into submission. Lacking a singleplayer experience, Salmi Games adapted some of their pre-existing features into a fully-fledged game. Rather than feeling like they shoe-horned mechanics from a previous game into a new title, GrowRilla VR stands on its own as a fully featured title as if it were built from the ground up for this purpose.
No, this game will not make you sick.
There are a variety of movement options for VR games which often are reduced to three main options: smooth locomotion (aka movement via the control stick, like a standard game), arm-swinging locomotion (as if you were speed walking and swinging your arms with the movement), and teleportation. If you’re already rolling your eyes as you know all about this, skip to the next paragraph. Each has their pros and cons, namely balancing comfort and control. Smooth locomotion offers the greatest control in both accuracy and speed, however is prone to making users feel very uncomfortable while teleportation sacrifices those conveniences for the sake of comfort. Arm-swinging cuts this right down the middle, giving you a more fine grain control over movement while still having it caused by your own physical movement, resulting in less queasiness. It’s usually easy to explain away teleporting movement in games – Budget Cuts gives you a specific tool that allows you to do so – but generally, the arm-swinging control scheme doesn’t fit into games as well as the others. In GORN, it fits well enough as you are a hulking gladiator who is weighed down so much by your enormous muscles you must swing your whole body to move. Other games, like Westworld Awakening, can feel a bit silly as you rapidly swing your arms to escape danger. GrowRilla VR tackles this problem head on: naturally a gorilla walks on all four limbs, swinging their arms forward to move.
Whether the developers designed the game around the movement option and being a gorilla fit nicely into that or the gorilla came first remains unknown, but it’s clear to say it’s a perfect fit. Despite this, it still has a small problem. When you move you sway a bit to the left and right which can be slightly disorienting. Simply swaying in real life can cut down on that feeling significantly, leading to a more immersive experience. There’s a handful of other quirks that are less intentional. Items duplicate somewhat regularly, although so far it has only benefited me by getting extra food here and there. Objects don’t always fit nicely where they should, which makes holding objects look very odd at times. While these are small problems that don’t harm the overall experience, there is one actual issue: clipping through objects. It can be almost a challenge at times to not clip through objects which, as one may imagine, can be very disorienting when you’re experiencing it first hand. While you can climb trees and similar objects, I attempted to climb a fence and instead walked right through it. Attempt to pick some mushrooms at the base of the tree? I am now inside the tree. As someone very susceptible to motion sickness, this did not feel well.
Despite these few hiccups, it’s clear the developers have gone to great lengths to make the game comfortable beyond matching a gorilla with a relevant style of movement. The game doesn’t frequently present you with situations that require particularly fast movement, allowing you to go at your own pace. Since you’re able to climb, you’re naturally able to fall. Normally this is one of the most jarring experiences in VR: your body moving with virtually no input of your own. To offset this, the game shows you a brief icon and timer indicating you’re about to fall and then teleports you to the new location. Similarly, when you grow the screen briefly fades, preparing you for your abrupt change in view due to your new size.
But what do I do as a giant gorilla?
Enough about comfort; time to talk about the gameplay. In a sentence: what you see is what you get. You lumber around on your fists, starting off no larger than a dog. You’ll likely first find some mushrooms or berries, walk on over to them, eat them all, and set your eyes on your next target. You may find a rabbit or a mouse, manage to catch it, and eat it alive. You may find a rock and try to eat it, too. You cannot eat the rock. Once you eat enough, you will grow in size, allowing you to interact with more of the environment. This includes eating larger things, like cows, knocking over fences or people, or even lifting roofs off houses. This gameplay loop is reminiscent of Katamari, starting off smaller than a child and ending up large enough to destroy the entire world. Despite this, GrowRilla VR is a much smaller and slower game.
The campaign is more of a challenge mode that a traditional story mode; you have one life and must complete four levels with randomly assigned missions. Regardless if you’re eliminating a small militia, destroying stockpiles of ammo, or finding and drinking mysterious potions, you will generally start off by finding small foods so you may grow big and strong. While it may technically be possible to complete missions without ever eating anything, it will be exceedingly difficult. Your size directly influences your health points and power, where more is always better.
To attack, you simply swing your fists at the enemies. It’s rather easy to knock an enemy out, which obviously eliminates the immediate threat, but can also give you a reward. If you kill another animal, you can eat its remains for food, while humans may drop more useful items such as weapons. You can throw rocks and swing sticks, but getting your hands on a gun really makes a huge difference. From rifles, to laser pistols, to bazookas, each gives you a significant advantage over the rather simple AI. The catch is that enemies often clump together, forcing you to take on a group at a time. While it’s possible to sneak up and overtake them one by one by avoiding their line of sight indicated by a triangle on the ground a-la-Metal Gear Solid, they will typically overwhelm you. (Or, at least they overwhelmed me who’s too impatient to play most stealth games.)
When you’re roughly the same size as your enemies, all of this holds true, but when you reach a point where you tower over them, combat becomes somewhat trivial. Due to the ease of knocking over everything, you can take out a whole gang of enemies with a swing of a large enough object. Unfortunately, getting to that point can be really dull. Due to the rather simple nature of the graphics and level generation, levels aren’t particularly interesting to explore, so it becomes a matter of wandering around until you feel satisfied with the amount of food you’ve consumed. There are power ups scattered about, improving your strength or speed, which are nice to come across but often don’t significantly change how you’ll approach a given situation. Collecting a ton of small items is often featured in games to either add more content along the intended path or to appeal to those who want more of the game to experience, while in GrowRilla it’s a tedious prerequisite for getting to the fun parts.
Yes, even though I described it as transitioning from dull to trivial, it still can be pretty entertaining. What’s the point of growing to the size of King Kong if you can’t destroy everything that dares to stand in your way? Much like a child playing with toys, the joy in this game lies in flinging everything around in total disregard for worldly physics. In fact, there is little to no animation with entire character models bobbing up and down to walk around, leaning into this feeling of playing with Duplo toys. Did that ever detract from playing with action figures and the likes in real life? Of course not, and it shouldn’t dissuade you from having fun here either.
A fun, simple sandbox game about ravaging the environment.
All in all, GrowRilla is a fun, quirky VR power trip. The maps are fairly small, the scope is fairly simple, and there’s just enough of a goal to give you something structured to do, leading to this game being easy to pick up and have fun with without overstaying it’s welcome. The short bite-sized pieces allow you to play for as long as you feel comfortable in VR. Salmi Games went to great lengths to make anyone feel comfortable playing the game, clearly applying polish where it would serve the game best, however it lacks in other areas, namely visuals. Loading screens are sometimes just a picture and text on a white background, there’s no animations, and the environments can feel a bit bland. What the game does get right is the most important part: destroying civilization as an over-sized gorilla.