Grow: Song of the Evertree is very much in the category of nurturing sims which will hoover up what remains of your free time. If your lockdown was soundtracked by Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, then – either beware or hooray – Grow: Song of the Evertree does much the same.
It comes from Prideful Sloth, who gave us Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. But while Yonder had something of a Legend of Zelda outline, pitching you up in an open world and letting you explore at your own pace, Grow: Song of the Evertree is more careful to dictate the pace for you. To our tastes, we preferred Yonder’s freer approach, but there is no doubting that they are partner games, and if you loved one then you will like the other.
You start the game as an Everheart Alchemist, the last to remain near the Evertree. All the other alchemists and residents have buggered off because The Withering, an overgrowth of brambles, has taken over the area and throttled the Evertree. Not one to give up hope, you have matured as an alchemist and gained the ability to create World Seeds and sing the Eversong. With these newfound skills, you push back the tiniest corner of The Withering, and begin to get a handhold on removing it.
This creates several different playgrounds for you to immerse yourself in, and we could spend the best part of the review describing them all. Grow: Song of the Evertree’s independent parts aren’t complicated exactly, but there are so very, very many of them, and which one unlocks what is sprawling.
We will keep to the very basic outline of each. One playground is up in the tops of the World Tree. This scratches the itch of ‘tidying up’. You are given reasonably large natural expanses, but they’ve clearly seen better days. Unsightly weeds, broken rubble, poisoned creatures and patches of untended soil all cover these areas in a procedurally generated fashion. So, you use a menu of tools, switched to with an LB and RB, to clear them. It’s not quite as satisfying as The Gunk to do some landscape gardening – it lacks the former game’s flourish – but it’s still a satisfying feeling to completely rejuvenate an area. This is very much a relaxed grind, and there’s not a spot of combat to be found.
You’ll be sweeping them six or seven times before they become effectively ‘done’. Then you’re hopping back to your alchemist’s hut to create new World Seeds, which are effectively made in a giant pot where you chuck in ingredients that have descriptors like ‘Hot’, ‘Abundant’ and ‘Spiky’. These make a procedurally generated island which showcases those attributes, and you’ll have dozens of them by the game’s end.
The second playground is down at the base of the Evertree. Word quickly spreads that you’re something of a Monty Don, and the people of Alaria start coming back. They’re a flipping fairweather lot. So, you’re using resources from the islands to build houses and businesses – bakeries, inns, gardens and the like – for them to live in and be employed with. They will periodically toss out quests for you to do, amounting to finding them a hat or a flower they like, and you can romance a couple of them in completely throwaway sidequests. House them well enough, and your town will level up, eventually leading you to the third playground.
The third playground is a world to explore. It’s relatively hemmed in at first – The Withering makes sure of that – but as your town levels up and you clear some islands, you begin to unlock access to some Breath of the Wild-style temples, where you complete rudimentary puzzles to get your hands on Song Strands of the Evertree. Once you have them, more of the world opens up, and you can explore, find a few chests, build another town, and start the cogs turning for the next round of Grow: Song of the Evertree’s loop.
We suspect that there will be two reactions to Grow: Song of the Evertree. We moved from one to the other over the course of the game, so we’re confident that there will be people stuck on either one. Some people will feel like this is all repeated makework. Waking up each day and seeing a red notification on each of your tree islands is daunting, and there’s not enough time each day to clear them all, let alone visit and upgrade your various towns. Even when you hop onto an island and start your chores, they’re not quick: the animations for pulling a weed or watering some soil are surprisingly long, and you will be doing them a hundred times a day. There’s not a great deal of variety, either: there are about eight actions in total, and they remain the same from the beginning of Grow: Song of the Evertree to the end.
At the start, we longed for Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. There was a sense that we were actually finishing things in that game, rather than entering into an eternal loop of choredom. And we weren’t being held back in Yonder, at least not much. In Grow: Song of the Evertree, we were waiting for permission before we could explore the world or unlock a certain element. We just wanted Prideful Sloth to take the stabilisers off, so that everything could speed up a jot.
But as we moved into the sixth or seventh hour of Grow: Song of the Evertree, a few things clicked. We did start to finish things. Towns and tree islands reached a point where, no, they didn’t need us any more. Sure, they offered the odd temptation, the occasional bauble, but we soon realised that our time was better spent elsewhere. We connected to the pace of the game: it didn’t expect us to do everything every day, and certainly didn’t punish us for failing to do so. We could spend an in-game day sprucing a town, and we could spend the next in the tree islands. And while clearing an island never became fast – a few perks sped it up a touch – the Stardew Valley stuff became a chilled, repetitive routine. Which was a positive.
Grow: Song of the Evertree is not a game to be raced through. Like Animal Crossing, it’s probably best experienced in short daily bursts, and it might even have benefited from some kind of real-time cap to playing it. You graze on it, like one of Grow: Song of the Evertree’s giant cow-like creatures.
It does occasionally buckle under the weight of its own ambition and sheer wealth of things to do, though, which makes sense: Prideful Sloth are an independent outfit making a AAA-sized game. Exploring the world is unsatisfying, as you’re often being held back by invisible walls; caves can be sprawling and empty; and a new region might only have three or four things of value to find. Quests are identikit, and often you’re tasked with finding something that’s only given away as a random reward, so you can’t actively hunt it out. And for all of its customisation options, we never got hooked into the town-building. There are too many caps on what you can or can’t do, so we lost a bit of interest.
While they are clear and obvious faults with Grow: Song of the Evertree, the rest is so good natured, so relaxed that we forgave them. It’s a slow conveyor belt of things to do, but an extremely scenic one.
Your enjoyment of Grow: Song of the Evertree will depend on whether you find that its brand of Stardew Valley-style nurturing to be a chore or a compulsion. Find its wavelength, dallying with its systems for short bursts each day, and we’re confident that you will find a tug to return. There’s certainly enough here to take you into the New Year and beyond.
You can buy Grow: Song of the Evertree from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S