Grounded review – a delicious blend of tough survival and warm design

The charming premise of Grounded, Honey I Shrunk the Kids is enhanced by its unique and welcoming approach to wonder.

The first time Grounded killed me, I was beaten to death by a mite. You know; those tiny little red bugs that could line dance on a pinhead and scurry along cobblestones, looking like they couldn’t hurt anything? Yeah. One of these. Emphasis on the “one”, too, for this boy had been alone. And yet he’d glanced at my sassy ponytail and (correctly) assumed I was an easy target. Was it unexpected? You bet. Scary? Surprisingly. Annoying? Yes. Very.

Since I’m still on day one of my survival journey, I was hoping for a gentle tutoring period, but this bad boy had rushed at me, focused and unwavering, like a toddler locking himself in a ball pit. Only one thought runs through my head: if these are the first enemies, what do the strongest look like?!

The second time I used it, I died of thirst. It wasn’t that I ignored the instruction to drink something so much that I was distracted by the glorious wilderness – well, if you can call a suburban backyard the wilderness – and I don’t. Didn’t realize until sunset that I lacked the sap needed to light a torch. So instead of creating a Lean To and hiding for the night, I huddled under Kid Case’s spawn point instead – very aware of every slip and scuttle around me – and slowly expired from acute dehydration. Turns out that was more embarrassing than being beaten to death by the mite.

Here’s a full trailer to give you an idea of ​​Grounded.

The truth is, if you don’t kill yourself on Grounded, something else will instead. Although it dresses in a cute cartoon aesthetic, beneath the sun-dappled biomes lies the icy heart of a deft and complex survival sim that I completely underestimated: and it’s awesome .

You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-esque backyard survival game that stole the XO19 show in 2019? It launched as an early access title the summer after it was announced – and free to boot, at least for Xbox Game Pass subscribers – and has since built up a passionate fan base that makes me feel very, very bad. because of my lack of imagination. and creative spirit.

Grounded review - hold a club and watch a pond

Grounded review - hold a club and watch the red plants and leaves

The reason I’ve been avoiding it so far is because of the bugs, and by that I mean real critter bugs, not gameplay bugs. My arachnophobia is epically bad, which means that even though I’d pushed the wondrous spider-free mode slider all the way, the legless gloopy blobs scurrying around Oak Hill still give me a cold sweat.

To be clear: just because it doesn’t quite work for me doesn’t mean I’m not. incredibly grateful that this arachnophobia safe mode exists! More games should have one, in fact, for all the creatures in the game that trigger common phobias, such as rats, snakes, etc. My problem I think is that the way the drops move is too reminiscent of spiders. That, and the fact that they hiss if you get too close; it’s terrible sounding, almost as bad as the big boys in Animal Crossing: New Horizons…and that’s saying something.

Therefore, no matter how wonderfully cartoonish his presentation is; Grounded won’t feel like a sweet romp in the garden so much as a Fear Factor audition tape for anyone with a problem with bugs, especially spiders. And unfortunately, it’s not just about avoiding their nests either; most of the resources you’ll need early on are scattered around the roots of a gnarled oak tree, which happens to be the spiders’ favorite haunt as well. And while you can outrun them – well, if you don’t get caught up in the many environmental hazards, that is – they’re incredibly resilient and difficult to kill. At times like these, Grounded often feels as much like survival horror as it does pure survival gaming.

Grounded review - a giant ladybug

Founded review - standing on some kind of electronic device

Ah, but it’s still beautiful! Large, bold and gloriously colorful biomes stretch across your miniature kingdom, filled with vibrant, oversized flora just waiting to be explored. Forests of grass tower above you, rippling in the wind, the sun streaming between the blades and dappled the ground with light and shadow. Brown leaves litter the ground to create makeshift little tunnels that double as handy landmarks. There is a serene and sunny Koi pond, adorned with a carpet of lush green water lilies. It may just be a quirk of my limited time with the game, but it’s a shame I haven’t seen the weather change, as I can imagine the world – and the things you can do in it – change significantly in colder climates.

That’s not all either. Beyond the natural splendor are an assortment of oversized sights to see, including a special juice box and discarded cans and mysteriously miniature field stations where you can analyze your finds, and the creatures stay in their respective homes. like uncomfortable strangers at a dinner party, so you’ll quickly know where to find (and where to avoid) the locals.

Review based - the accessibility options screen

And just about anything you find can be repurposed into something else; grass stalks can be used to build walls around a small cozy base. Pebbles can be thrown into the air and dislodge dewdrops for a refreshing drink. You can pretty much survive eating the world’s wild mushrooms, but if you want a more satisfying meal, you’ll need to build yourself a roasting spit. Use a stone and plant fibers to fashion a small hammer, and this can be used to crush acorns and provide a strong shell. You’ll need to unlock crafting recipes as you go and build a workbench in order to knock down the fanciest stuff.

It’s such a joy to watch your skills, abilities, and confidence grow with each new crafting unlock, whether it’s an essential – say, a water canteen or a set of armor. sturdy – or a change from your family base that’s fabulous but totally unnecessary. cosmetic improvement. There is a way to unlock all the recipes for free at the start of the game (although the menu there doesn’t seem to work at the time of this writing), but honestly find out these things for yourself by absolutely analyzing every item you come across is an absolute delight.

It can be grumpy at times, though. Like any survival game, some of your time will be spent searching for ingredients, and some are easier to find than others (thank the lord for the sap catcher, as I have trouble seeing the things in nature), but there is no racing here. No time limit. The main draw of 1.0 will be the inclusion of the (compelling) story elements, which players have been clamoring for, and while this new feature has been cleverly woven around its sandbox elements, Grounded is the one of those wonderful playgrounds that thrives even without a story mode; we know this because thousands of people have already invested thousands of hours doing it.

Well-founded examination - exploration

Founded review - holding a rock trying to start a fire to cook a small insect

The desire to explore outweighs any instinct to follow simple instructions, and while you’ll soon learn that you can drop a lean-to just about anywhere to sleep at night, remembering things like feeding and moisturizing can become mild annoyances. Letting go of the difficulty can help with this; In fact, Grounded offers a range of accessibility and preference settings, allowing you to disarm friendly fire if you cooperate, neutralize hostile bugs or make yourself invulnerable, even if they were not changeable at the time of writing. But once you’ve found your groove and built yourself a little home… well, the world is your tiny little oyster.

There are a few small issues. The map is kinda useless – I have a crumpled towel’s directional sense, so I could really have done with a handy little radar or minimap on the HUD as I couldn’t always make out the icons of waypoint among the hustle and bustle of the game’s gripping environments – and it’s so easy to get trapped in the terrain around you. It’s quite frustrating when exploring, but extremely unfair when trying to outrun an angry predator.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to complain about what Obsidian has delivered here. As someone who instinctively eschews survival games, Grounded’s stunning presentation of the natural world and plethora of customization settings make me feel surprisingly welcome…even if that welcome occasionally involves the hissing spider.