Reach For the Sun: Stem Games

Reach For the Sun (by Filament Games) has been on my list to try for a while. This week I finally picked it up during a Steam sale and gave it a try.

I played through the classic mode and then gave strategy mode a try; after growing each plant, I found myself wanting to use my hard-earned seeds to buy the next one. As an educational game, Reach For the Sun is particularly successful in that  — aside from the game actually being fun — the player needs to prioritize like a plant and play accordingly. Only one thing matters, and that is producing fruit before winter comes. The rest of the plant — roots, leaves, additional stems — is in service to the goal of producing enough starch and absorbing enough water and nutrients to make those fruits.

Squash plant blossom drawing with llamaDo I remember the chemical equation for water and CO2 to make starch? Sort of; it hangs out at the top of the screen during play, and as you collect starch from your leaves, relevant molecules will drift around the screen. Especially in classic mode, the game is pretty fast-paced, so there’s not much time for looking at the molecules. But the equation isn’t the point. Reach For the Sun does a nice job making a rough understanding of photosynthesis intuitive, and introducing a little bit of advanced botanical vocabulary. I felt like the differences between the available plants didn’t much affect gameplay, which should be addressed, and that the problems your plant faces — pests, frost, blight — are too easily remedied at the beginning. Plants can’t shake off bugs on their own, so it’s strange that, playing as a plant, you click on a pest insect eating your leaf and it falls to ground dead. Later, though, you can buy a praying mantis to hang out next to your plant and eat those bugs, which feels truer to the spirit of the game’s premise and is also definitely my favorite part.

Overall I quite liked this little game. I’d like to see it expanded to include perennials and a wider variety of plants, and perhaps even multiplayer scenarios. The real-time classic gameplay would lend itself quite well to a multiplayer mode. Different settings might be interesting: grow in a garden or in a wild space — the challenges would be quite different, and give players an idea of why garden plants require so much care. As it stands, I’ve played for a couple of hours and feel like I’ve mostly accomplished what there is to do; with some expansion, I would happily continue to play this game for fun, and invite friends to play as well.

Nice work, Filament.

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