Evergrow is a charming, laid-back spin on the twin stick space battles of games like Asteroids and Geometry Wars. Instead of piloting a ship through treacherous territory, you’ll control a sentient square known as a Chromaroid who has set out on a journey of growth, literally. Your Chromaroid’s only goal is to become as large as physically possible; it’s your job to help him by finding new blocks he can attach to his body blueprint and deterring any threats that might knock pieces off his fortified, yet still fragile, frame.
Evergrow utilizes a variety of genres in pursuit of this goal, creating a unique combination of mechanics that doesn’t feel quite like any other game we’ve played before. At its core, it is a space shooter, pitting your free-floating Chromaroid against an endless onslaught of threats that come at him from every angle. You can drag the Chromaroid any direction to dodge threats, or flick them away yourself with the multi-touch defense of your fingertips.
While avoiding dangers, you’ll also be trying to grow larger by attaching blocks to your single-squared Chromaroid. Each level has a growth goal indicated by soft white arrows on his corners. With each new layer of blocks added, he will level up in size, expanding his area and drawing more items into his increased gravitational pull. This is reminiscent of the Katamari Damacy series, both in the goal of simply getting bigger as well as the dangers of doing so. Like-colored blocks can safely stick to your Chromaroid and aid his expansion, while different colored blocks will harm him; if a yellow block hits your purple Chromaroid, it will loosen any attached blocks it touches, potentially dismantling them and reducing his total size. Seeker bombs will also target your ever-expanding square, crashing into him if they aren’t redirected and obliterating large chunks of his new body.
Although your fingers are your first line of defense, you can also buff your Chromaroid directly. Special power-up blocks will appear alongside the standard colored ones, offering boosts when attached to your hero. Turret squares create single-slot guns that will blow up dangers when they get too close. Shields deploy a radius of protection that nothing can penetrate. Some blocks are designed merely to aid in the growth process, adding a line of bonus blocks to your Chromaroid as soon as it is attached or rearranging his current body to reduce awkward asymmetries. There’s a tower defense aspect to these power blocks, since you typically want to arrange your defenses in a sensible manner: lining all your shield blocks up in a row is wasteful since they will overlap one another, and having all your turrets on one side leaves the other side open to attack. However, you could also intentionally create lopsided automated defenses and plan on fending off dangers on the opposite side yourself. The freedom to place these blocks where and when you like creates a fun open-endedness to completing each level; you’ll rarely build a Chromaroid exactly the same way twice.
This combination of shooter, expansion, tower defense, and even puzzle gameplay might sound overwhelming, but Evergrow strikes a wonderful balance between action and planning by sending threats at just the right pace. You’ll rarely have more than a few hazards flying at you at any one time, and there are usually short bursts without any threats during which you can arrange your blocks as you’d like. Levels have no time limit, so you can take as long as you need collecting blocks and redirecting dangers. Besides gathering coins scattered about the stage, you don’t really need to move around much, since everything is drawn to the gravitational pull of your Chromaroid and will eventually float his way. There are a few “grow and survive” stages which pit your Chromaroid against faster and more consistent waves of enemies, but these levels usually deck him out with plenty of power blocks first, turning him into a tanky square of reckoning ready for the impending blitz. We actually didn’t realize it was possible to lose a level until the very last stage when a barrage of rockets hit our Chromaroid in the face all at once—since his core (the single square he starts as) is the only part that can “die,” most attacks merely reduce his size slightly with no permanent consequences.
That core Chromaroid—the tiny starting square with a face—is not only your weapon and goal throughout the game, but also your adorable responsibility. You choose your color of Chromaroid at the beginning of Evergrow and he becomes almost like a pet from that moment on. He smiles and laughs when you add new blocks to his body; he gives worried, sidelong glances to incoming dangers; he gets dizzy if you spin him around too quickly. He’s a lovable little square of personality, and it’s hard not to feel guilty when a smart bomb sneaks through your fingers and hurts him. As you complete levels, you get to watch him float to new areas of space, looking anxious when he’s pulled into a black hole or relieved when he escapes a fire nebula. Those different areas also act as level variations, challenging you to stages that are entirely dark and illuminated only by fragile light blocks or lightning flashes that briefly indicate if the blocks flying near are friend or foe. The different environments provide a nice change of pace and challenge, but they rarely overstay their welcome—by the time you’re tired of the black hole, your Chromaroid will already be flying away from it.
We love all of these aspects of Evergrow, but it is not without some flaws. Although the game starts strong in the tutorial department, it grows lax over time, failing to explain many of the new power blocks or enemies you encounter in later stages. The workshop menu where you’re able to upgrade power blocks and purchase special abilities—like the “dark finger” that lets you remove attached blocks by holding down on them—has similar problems, offering vague descriptions of some powers and what upgrading them specifically does.
Despite the number of different power blocks currently available, we would love to see even more variety. Some blocks are basically identical—like cannons and turrets—while others are entirely situational—like black hole light blocks—which reduces the total diversity. We would have enjoyed an accelerator block to increase the Chromaroid’s movement speed or support blocks that improve the range of the weapon blocks they’re touching. Other changes to make block placement more important, like super-powered blocks created by combining multiples of the same type, would be welcome additions to the overall strategy.
While those items are both more “like-to-haves,” our one major complaint about Evergrow currently is its vertical line of sight. On an iPhone, your visibility above and below your Chromaroid is extremely small. When bombs come flying in at him, it’s much easier to prepare for those coming from the left or right; if you’re attacked from the top or bottom it’s almost impossible to react in time. You can zoom out slightly by holding down on your Chromaroid, but in the heat of an enemy wave you don’t want to have to keep one finger on him, blocking part of the screen, while fending off threats. A permanent zoom out could help this issue, or adding incoming attack indicators that point where threats are coming from.
As it stands now, however, this layout makes “survive and grow” stages very frustrating when you are basically at the mercy of any vertical onslaughts. This is especially true since the flick controls aren’t responsive enough to allow you to disperse missiles rapidly—not only do you need to contend with the fact that your Chromaroid’s gravity makes sending missiles in reverse nearly impossible, but the game often simply doesn’t register that you’ve flicked a bomb and lets it continue homing in on your square. Thankfully, the defense-heavy stages do not make up the majority of the game.
This line of sight issue extends to movement, however. Your Chromaroid follows your finger when you drag it around; if you move slowly enough by dragging only a short distance away, he will remain close to the center of the screen. However, the faster you go, the farther your finger must drag, and the closer to the edge of the screen your Chromaroid gets. This means if you want to quickly escape in one direction, you’ll be running blind and potentially smack right into another bomb or a stationary mine waiting just off-screen. It’s possible this is an intentional feature to punish reckless running, but this prevents dodging and using movement from being a viable strategy even when your Chromaroid is a fairly small, manageable size. There is a purchasable in-game radar, but this only highlights coins as yellow dots; if it showed threats as red dots or any sort of indicator that you were about to hit an enemy, this screen-visibility would be less of an hindrance in both cases.
Despite these mechanical issues, we’ve still really enjoyed Evergrow. Its combination of space shooter, tower defense, block-placing puzzles, and Katamari-esque growth works surprisingly well together, creating a satisfying challenge that is never too frantic. Each level contains a set number of coins to collect and two bonus objectives to complete, there are eight color gems to track down, and four different endings to unlock, offering plenty of reasons to replay stages. And those replays are never repetitive thanks to the different placement of power blocks offering a new Chromaroid every time. Just the adorable, cheerful facial expressions of the Chromaroid are enough to warrant giving Evergrow a try, but its fun and unique gameplay provides a reason to stick around.