It is much easier to write a negative review than a positive one. With this in mind, this one was honestly pretty easy to write, and I’d better just note the things I liked here while I remember: music is sufficiently funky and aesthetic quality ideal, despite the low production value on each.
For whatever it is worth, Growing Pains is a technically well-made arcade platformer with strong variation in difficulty and an attempt at a unique idea. Realistically though, it is yet another addition to a sorely saturated market; the masochistic and unnecessarily timed trial-and-error competitive flash games played by school students in class and no one else; in a perfect world, anyway. With the number of these games being pumped out by independent studios that could be otherwise producing actual entertainment, it appears there is some sort of market for this trash, which saddens me deeply.
The major idea behind Growing Pains and spurring the barely relevant titular pun is that you control a “Vessel” that grows. Growth can be slowed down or sped up at will to in order to make it easier to jump up walls, over spike-balls and around laser-beams, but you better not get too big or you’ll “find your butt wedged in a tight spot.” If you get so big you can’t fit through the exit you die. If you hit any spike-balls or laser-beams you die (you get it, you’ve played any game ever). Run out of lies and you have to start again. Pretty standard stuff.
Each of the nine levels consists of a series of rooms (maybe eight, maybe 15, who knows? You do. It tells you quite clearly on each level) connected by doorways that only open once you’ve collected all the floating rectangles (uhh… glow sticks?) in the current room, so still pretty standard. If your “Vessel” gets bigger in each room though, surely you’ll be too large by the 15th room!? Well actually, myself, each room is significantly larger than the last, making it unnoticeable and ultimately pointless that you are getting bigger, since each room just resets the difficulty earned in the last room – as long as you keep some of them lives.
The idea of the “Vessel” growing hasn’t really been implemented perfectly – it really is more about the level shrinking than the player growing. It looks more like the camera is slowly zooming out on everything yet your “Vessel” retains its size like a fly on the computer screen. I wish that simile could be extended into a stronger metaphor to round out this paragraph neatly but I’m coming up dry. Oh well, they can’t all be hits.
Smudged Cat Games have an interesting approach to rewarding players who reach the top of the leaderboards – if you manage to have the best time on any of the 27 leaderboards (9 levels, 3 difficulties each. The math checks out), you’ll be sent a code to redeem Gateways, a full previous release by the studio. While it does feel a bit peculiar to reward people for being passionate about your game by giving them something else to play instead, it is cool to see an actual, honest reward for first place as opposed to the go-to primitive bragging rights. Whether that is worth the hours of labour it costs to get there is up to you.
As someone who feels no desire to have the highest time (for I can simply buy Gateways if I want it), I can’t help but feel neglected by Growing Pains. The entire game is driven by competition and best times, to the point where you cannot choose a level without reading the names of at least a dozen people who have done it better than you are about to.
In all, Growing Pains is a game well-designed but not for those seeking anything of any worth. If painful flash games are your thing then I can’t recommend anything more than this title, apart from maybe getting a new hobby.
Select Start Media was provided with a review code for Growing Pains by Smudged Cat Games.
The reason I call it a “Vessel” is because that’s exactly what Smudged Cat Games call it on their info page, by the way. I would otherwise forgo the quotation marks and odd capitalization.