In Room to Grow, you play a cheerful cactus who’s trying to grow his way back to the desert. In this charming puzzler, you’ll find yourself grappling with a simple mechanic that hides a stunning amount of depth as you snake your way around each level, trying to manoeuvre your way into the right position without growing yourself into a corner. The vibe is never anything but perfectly relaxed, but prepare yourself for a multitude of head-scratching and complex puzzles hiding beneath a deceptively cute veneer.
Room to Grow is available to purchase on Steam.
Story – Cac(tus) to Basics
There really isn’t much to say about a story in Room to Grow. Playing as an adorable-looking cactus, you need to puzzle your way through over 100 levels to grow your way back to the desert where you belong. You’ll wend your way through a forest and across snowy mountains before finding your way through the unforgiving desert, and you’ll do it on your own – there aren’t any other characters to interact with along the way.
But being alone isn’t so bad – the solitude gives you a chance to focus on the puzzles and gameplay and take things at your own pace. Your little cactus pal is charmingly expressive, making faces when he bumps into walls or steers into his own body, but there’s never anything much to distract you from the peaceful experience as you navigate your cactus around each level. Speaking of which…
Gameplay – Snake On Me
The gameplay is where Room to Grow really shines. The main mechanic used in its puzzles is an unusual one but disarmingly simple: in each level sits one or more small cactus plants, each of which needs to find its way into a hole elsewhere in the level. You stretch your own cactus along the lines of the grid, not unlike classic mobile game Snake, and must nudge each plant to its destination. Simple enough, right?
Things start getting complex pretty quickly, though. Cacti on the lines of the grid can be nudged directly by you, but if they’re in the spaces between you’ll need to contort yourself into an appropriate position and use the level geometry to push your entire body away in such a way that you catch the plant on the way. Only certain walls can be used to do this and your cactus can’t grow across his own body, so later levels become a case of growing yourself in such a way that you can move into a useful position without becoming obstructed by the rest of the level or your own previous moves. Sometimes your objective isn’t even on the grid at all, so you’ll need to find a way to your force your tail out into no man’s land to be able to complete the level.
Already, it’s apparent that there’s more to this cutesy puzzler than meets the eye. Levels may look simple at first glance, but once you start moving around you’ll discover wrinkles where you least expect them that demand a creative solution. Early on these obstacles primarily focus on the restrictions of the level geometry and placement of the goals, but a couple of other snags are introduced in later levels as well. Once you reach the icy mountains, you’ll discover slippery paths that you automatically travel down and which can split your cactus into multiple controllable branches, while the desert levels introduce asymmetrical grid layouts that will ever-so-slightly throw your carefully crafted strategies into disarray once you start moving around them.
With such cerebral and taxing puzzles on offer – and make no mistake, despite its simplistic look, Room to Grow is as challenging as they come – one might imagine you’d need a lot of patience to get through the game, but the developer has gone to great pains to maintain a relaxed and laid-back ambience and to avoid any chance of frustration as you work your way through. There are no timers, no move counters, and in each level you can quickly and easily undo moves or restart altogether at no cost. The overall progression is similarly streamlined: on the world map, you’ll find multiple routes to the same destination, and each level can simply be skipped if desired, with no ill effects. Can’t figure out a puzzle? Skip it, or try the one next to it, and maybe come back later if you want.
The end result is a strange melding of surprisingly difficult puzzles and an undeniably accessible and zen-like experience as you tinker with each level and quietly try to figure out how to position yourself to pot each plant. Before you even realise it, you might have spent twenty minutes staring at a single screen trying to unravel it, but out of curiosity and interest rather than frustration. And then when you finally do get it…well, that feels good.
Graphics and Audio – Garden State
The team has gone with a very simple but pleasantly expressive graphical style with Room to Grow. Level backgrounds are straightforward, mostly focusing on block colours to show the environment you’re currently in: greens and yellows for the forest, blues and whites for the mountains, reds and browns for the desert. Your cactus character mostly has a neutral expression as his beady eyes focus on the path ahead, but he makes a small variety of cute faces in some situations, such as when you steer him into a wall or his own body.
The music throughout fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the game, providing a very chilled-out accompaniment to your journey to the desert. The music on the world map is even somewhat diegetic, changing the arrangement and voicing of the theme depending on which area you’re currently in, such as sounding more airy in the mountains with some wintery-sounding sleigh bells added to the mix.
Room to Grow was reviewed on PC with a Steam key provided by Decibel PR.