Honey, I Shrunk the Minecraft
The dark synths reminiscent of the 80s are aided with the still image of the tiny teenagers. It grows to be more sinister and mysterious, thus clicking to begin the game when a certain message popped up:
Without thinking too much of it, I went ahead and pressed “OK” and started to jot down quick notes about the warning. It would be a while until I would face a spider, but the moments that led up to the first encounter were summed up in a mix of moronic courage and curiosity.
Grounded commences with a selection of the four main protagonists: Max, Willow, Pete, and Hoops. Upon choosing who you want to play as you’re tossed right into the open narrative of being “grounded”. Looking up through the eyes of your character, you notice that the grass stalks are taller than trees, and ants roam freely and peacefully. Playing as Willow, I began to pick up pebbles and mushrooms during my first stroll through the land, eventually stumbling upon a miniature science lab where audio logs can be found. I could also analyze gathered specimens on the lab bench to learn new crafting recipes once I would start building structures and items.
The logs tell of a research diary from the individual behind the shrinking experiment. My travels and tale references brought me to a malfunctioning mechanism that generates power to the scientist’s underground research facility. This is where the true treading and fighting would come into play.
A few tasks are given as you work your way to restore connectivity to the electric mechanism. They were basic objectives that provided blueprints to Grounded‘s tutorial-in-action. As you manage your hunger and thirst levels by consuming drops of water and pieces of mushroom, you learn to collect which resources you need for whichever imperative crafting item you need. Once I developed an axe and a spear to chop grass stalks and defend myself against opposing bugs, I quickly got the hang of paying attention to what I needed to continue my journey. You soon come to learn that gathering and crafting are probably the most critical aspects of your survival, providing necessities to construct tools, structures, armor, and water and food collecting. It all reminded me of the resource management mechanics from Minecraft.
I built a base right beside the aforementioned mechanism by pitching a lean-to and a workbench. I figured it was the best way to go about the mission since I was going back and forth between the base and the power towers that beamed electricity into the contraption. When gathering pieces of grass, I would form a pile of them next to the workbench to craft enough walls to defend myself both day and night. And by the end of my five-hour preview run, a little home was made for Willow once I felt confident enough to properly piece together a sufficient shelter.
Larger Than Life
During my travels, I analyzed more specimens at more discovered labs to give Willow more of a creative inventory – such as armor pieces, decorative essentials, and survival goodies. Swarms of lawn mites and stink bugs were my usual encounters, and I very much enjoyed riding on the back of a ladybug to sip pure droplets of rain off of grass stalks. Hearing the strange nature of the insects’ language made my skin crawl, especially when they would get agitated by either your presence or violent nature against them. Once you do slay a bug and loot their corpse, they just split into pieces and slowly disappear.
For being a teenager who is technically smaller than the average ant, everything looks like a monument like to the player. A rotting hot dog can look like a shadowing ship at night; a box of candy can be mistaken for a building from a distance, and an empty can of soda brings fond memories of remembering the hilarious moments from A Bug’s Life when the characters would casually hang out in man-made materials as if it were a part of their environment.
Grounded‘s Fear Factor
Grounded can be a little nightmarish for folks with fears attached to tiny critters – yet the spider’s inclusion in the game was the one that scared the living hell out of me, and I don’t even have arachnophobia.
Once you return full power to the mechanism, an explosion occurs at the mountainous-looking tree. This is the next step in Grounded‘s story. Traversing toward the tree, I found there to be multiple entries into its base. Armed with a spear, I peeked within. The music stops and morphs into an ominous undertone as crackling creeps up behind me. There it was, a wolf spider. Its massive appearance terrified me, and I felt as if my heart had skipped a few beats as it struck me to my first death in the game.
From that moment on, I never wanted to go near another spider in Grounded. At least not for a while.
Upon respawning, I ran back to the tree to pick my gear without slowing down until I had reached the facility’s main entrance. I could hear another spider behind me, but it was unable to follow me into the labs due to its size. It’s here where the general preview comes to a close, with Willow walking through an active laboratory that’s been studying the underground and its inhabitants. I then run into BURG.L, the lab’s robot that provides the ending point to Grounded‘s opening chapter, but the former burger-flipping assistant can give the player small objectives if they wish to keep playing (which I did for a little bit).
BURG.L may answer some of the questions that the player might’ve mentally proposed during their run-through. Not a lot is given away, and that’s excellent to keep the mystery fresh.
Aside from the awesome adventures I was having, I did encounter a couple of “bugs” in Grounded. Some of the bigger species would glitch out and float over you if their alignment was off with the ground. There are balancing issues with the framerate and environments can take a bit to render, up-close, or far. The hunger and thirst meters can be a little unfair and brutal, but there might be a reason for that. Also, the combat is a bit too simple for my tastes – like Skyrim standards, and not so much as the team’s previous project with The Outer Worlds.
Verdict: In its overall preview, Grounded seems to be off to a great start. I think it’s an intriguing premise. I’m excited about Obsidian‘s newest adventure and where it takes me in its story of weird science and creepy insects. If I had to point out my favorite part of Grounded thus far, it would have to be equipping my first dandelion. Not only does it add a big advantage for platforming, but it also brings forth a fantastic sense of adventure, and I do it all the time when I’m out gathering for supplies. Grounded can be played now through the Xbox Game Pass. It was released late last month of July 28 for the Xbox One and Windows.