|Genre||Casual game, Role-playing game, Life Simulation|
|Platforms||Android, Microsoft Windows (reviewed), Macintosh|
|Release Date||June 10, 2021|
Imagine you’ve traveled back in time to the very beginning of your life, where the world and your future lay at your fingertips. What choices would you make for yourself as you navigate through childhood? What kind of career would you pursue? What kinds of relationships would you cultivate? Growing Up is a release I stumbled upon that entertains these ideas and more – your life is in your hands, as the tagline states on the Steam page. After playing Growing Up rather obsessively for the past couple of weeks, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you more about this game, and if you’re a fan of life-simulation games, why you ought to pick it up.
There really isn’t much to the gameplay; you literally start from the beginning of your life as an infant and age up with each year, focusing on skills and subjects that you want your avatar to master. Try as I could, there was no way for my character to learn everything, which is just the same as real life. You start with the basics as an infant, learning to talk, walk, play with blocks and animals. In a way, it plays almost like The Sims, except this one is just focusing on your development from the beginning to the end of childhood, and the narrative paths that you come across as your character grows.
As you age from a baby to a toddler, then to an elementary, middle, and high school student, you begin to meet colorful characters each with their own unique personalities and backstories that you can either build relationships with or shun. The store page boasts that each gameplay is different and unique, and that there are at least nineteen different characters that you can come across, though not all in the same gameplay. As your character enters middle school and they are expected to handle more responsibilities, the game allows you to explore different areas of the city map, such as the mall, the local café and park, as well as a movie theater and opera house, and many others.
There are tasks in each of these locations that gear towards certain skills and even specific careers that you can groom your child towards, such as fashion design or different types of art skills. The main takeaway from this game is choice and seeing the results of those choices, akin to traditional choose-your-own-adventure stories. If you are looking for something less narrative where you can control a full-body avatar into going anywhere and doing whatever you want, this is not the game for you.
Just as in real life, you can see first-hand that your choices do have consequences, both good and bad. As you finish each stage of childhood, you will be given an exam to complete that is in the form of a minigame. The more you study and master skills to their completion, the more chances you have during this minigame to achieve a high score, which can result in an A. Earning different grades can affect your character’s moods, and your parents’ mood towards you, which can affect your motivation to study and master more skills. If you remain in high graces with your parents, you can request items for entertainment, such as a bicycle or trips, as well as extra allowance. Failing to please them, however, can lock up these options, and if their approval lowers to zero…watch out!
Thankfully, this game offers grace towards you for both your character’s mood and your parent’s approval by giving you three chances. After the third chance, whether by burning out or by disappointing your parents one too many times will result in a game over, and you will be forced to start all over again. I liked seeing this dynamic between work and play, and seeing how they can negatively affect each other; studying too much and too often will raise your grades and your parents’ attitude towards you, but will burn you out rather quickly, especially as the subjects become more advanced.
It’s fair to point out that because there is not much to the gameplay, and many players may begin to feel that Growing Up is repetitive. This was certainly my experience after probably the fourth play through, when side characters and their respective arcs began to recycle their way through again. It can be entertaining choosing different dialogue options to see what different outcomes you can find, but I did feel bad about ruining prospective friendships, and seeing how their lives post high school ended up.
That being said, it did help me reflect on how important our relationships with others are, and how much of an impact we really can make. Certain friendships that you have can be destroyed by your disapproval towards a choice they made, and then you find out at the end of that respective gameplay that they ended up in prison, or in some cases took their own life. This can feel a little real at times, especially as issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality, and neglect are all present. The good thing about a game like this that will recycle its stories and characters so that you then can have another chance to try again and work towards a happier ending for those characters.
The aesthetic and music for Growing Up is charming; for each childhood stage a new song begins to play, which is appropriately reflective for that specific age group. Some of these songs stayed in my head long after I closed the game; my favorite one that plays is Rainy Days that plays during the toddler stage. I also appreciated the setting of the game of being in the 1990s’. It surprised me to see that despite taking place around thirty years from our present day, many of the same challenges and issues that many young people face growing up were the same in that decade, barring the lack of technological advancement and differing fashion tastes.
If you’re looking for something relatively light to spend your time playing in contrast to many of the big, bombastic titles at present, this is a great game to check out. The great narrative and number of options can keep you entertained for hours as you transition your avatar for one career track and romance to another. This game will certainly help you think about the relationships that you may have in your own life, your own impact on them, and the balance between hard work and play that we all face in our lives. After all, all these lessons and more are all a part of growing up, no matter how old you become.
The Bottom Line
A creative take on a life simulation, Growing Up can feel repetitive but with numerous choices at the helm it can entrance players for hours.