The world of creativity games continues to expand, but this time it's on mobile devices! Growtopia, a combined effort from Robot Wants developer Hamumu and Dungeon Scroll creator Robinson Technologies, strips out a lot of the complexities often found in creativity games like Minecraft or Terraria, allowing you to build and decorate your own little world that goes wherever your mobile device goes. Bored on the bus? Growtopia! Don't wanna listen to your boss droning on? Growtopia! Entire evening free? GROWTOPIA!
Growtopia is built on the idea of planting and splicing seeds, collecting gems, and building a custom world for you and your friends to inhabit. Use the on-screen arrows to move and jump around the sidescrolling landscape. Your inventory neatly slides up and down using the tab at the bottom center of the screen. Simply tap an item and tap the playing field to use/place it. You gather and destroy things using the almighty punch, an ability that functions by selecting the fist and tapping nearby areas on the screen (or using the action button). It all works quite well in practice, and after a few minutes of running around and digging, you'll feel like an old pro.
To really kick the game off, your first tasks will involve digging in the soil for dirt seeds and gems. As soon as you have a dozen or two gems you can nip over to the shop and purchase a package of five random seeds, giving you something a little more creative to play around with. Seeds grow into trees that mature in real-time, some taking a few seconds or a few minutes to reach harvest, others taking hours or even days. Each seed and item has a rarity score from one to 100, one being as common as dirt (literally) and 100 being the metaphorical Holy Grail. You can combine seeds by using a seed on a freshly planted crop, but not all combinations will work. The Growtopia wiki has a nice list of recipes you can work from, and more are being added all the time.
Analysis: Creativity sandbox games that actually play well on mobile platforms are a relatively rare thing. Not only is it difficult cramming virtual controls onto a small touch screen, but the logistics of online connectivity can cause all sorts of trip-ups. Growtopia deals with both problems elegantly, giving you some simple tools that work really well with either virtual buttons or by tapping the screen. The complexity of gathering and crafting things is also curbed thanks to the seed system, which has the side benefit of encouraging you to stay loyal to your home world with its little farm of proto-items.
There's not very much to "find" in Growtopia, not by digging or exploring the small landscapes. Most of the new items you get will be obtained by purchasing seed packs, trading with other players, or by splicing seeds. While it's a bit of a bummer not having the exploration incentive, Growtopia is much more a game of decorating and socializing rather than mining. Being able to create your own persistent worlds is great, and if you can gather a group of trustworthy pals, you can build some really fun things.
Earning gems can be a bit of a hassle. Since spending gems is the speediest way to get new seeds, you'll probably feel compelled to dip into an in-app purchase or two. That's not necessarily a bad thing (game developers need to eat, too!), but the process of earning gems and items through normal play feels a bit slow, almost turning IAPs into a requirement. There's the option of completing some (mostly) free offers for no-charge packs of gems, which does speed things up a bit. Usually it's something painless like downloading and running a free game from the marketplace. Microtransactions or no, nothing gets in the way of having a good time in Growtopia.
Simple and easy enough to work on the mobile platform (and be fun for kids), but with enough room for customization and socialization, Growtopia lends itself well to quick play sessions that lead to grandiose worlds filled with structures of your own creation. Don't be afraid to work with other players or explore their worlds, either!
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the Nexus 4. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.