PLEASE READ MY REVIEW BEFORE ASSUMING THAT MY BIG BLUE THUMB IN THE CORNER IS INDICATIVE OF MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS GAME; IT'S NOT.
Where to begin on this title... Growing Pains is a platformer, that much is easily discernible through its screenshots to anyone yet to play it. But platformers can come in all shapes and sizes; some are casual, some are Indie (whatever that means), some will put a gun in hand and throw dozens of zombies at you, and some still will bend time and space to tell you a most wondrous tale of little men jumping left and right. But then there are some whose sole purpose is to aggravate, irritate, exasperate, peeve and pester you until your are near pulling the hair from your head. Some of these, still, can be fun. Take Super Meat Boy, for example, a game whose sole purpose is to tease you with the sweet candy of a new character or collectible, only to stick you in a multi-spike-walled room of death that you can't possibly hope to best until...oh, 100 tries later, when you finally, FINALLY, succeed!
Growing Pains can make SMB's Dark World feel like playing New Super Mario Bros.
Unfortunately for the sort of people who enjoy that kind of thing, Growing Pains isn't harder for the right reasons.
But let's start with the good: Growing Pains, even with it's very, very simple "flash game" aesthetic, manages to look like, well, a good flash game. Psychadelic lava lamp backgrounds move along with a hip techno soundtrack to keep the mood bright and cheerful. The rest of the moving bits consist of admittedly cheap looking wiggling rainbow gifs and semi 3D spike balls that look like they were lifted straight out of Bubzy 3D.
There's no story to worry about here, other than the clever premise behind the game. See your character, (we'll call him Cousin "It"), grows in size. It does this involuntarily, but this process can be sped up with the push of a button. Doing so allows It to move and jump around the level faster than he could before, although his larger size makes him no less susceptible to spiky ball death, and if the player isn't careful, It may be struck down by something that a smaller version could have easily avoided.
The levels that you must guide Cousin It through are broken up into individual gauntlets, each with their own rainbow gifs to collect before the exit to the next gauntlet will open. Each gauntlet is filled with spikeballs, moving and not, waiting to burst our hero into pixely bits. Getting smacked down by a ball to the face won't set you back far, however, just to the entrance of the gauntlet that you currently reside in. Your rainbow gifs won't reset either, so the threat of death only brings a lower total time, unless you die enough to burn through your finite supply of lives.
For the every level, of which there are only 9, you will have three medal options: Bronze, Silver, and Gold, each defining a level of difficulty. Bronze, for the most part can be achieved with little fuss, until the last few, anyway. Gold, on the other hand, requires a true measure of patience, regardless of level. There are rainbow gifs in every direction, and brand new spiky death traps in addition to whatever filled the level in the pubescent Bronze medal stages. You'll be lucky if you can even succeed one of these levels, let alone get a good end time.
Here, now, finally, is the bad bit. These types of games live and die by their controls. Super Meat Boy arguably has the nearest thing to perfect 2D platformer controls; any death I suffered in that game, felt like it was due only to my own negligence, and not to poor mechanics or unfair circumstance. Growing Pains does not benefit from a similar condition. Your character simply becomes far too slippery and uncontrollable, and suffers from stop/go movement syndrome. There is no buildup from when you are standing still to when you begin to move, and vice versa. There is only one speed, and that speed grows as quickly as your size, and often quickly moves you out of control. The greatest travesty that this game commits is that your movements simply don't feel natural. It felt impossible to develop a clear rhythm, and in a game about speed and precision platforming, that simply won't do, and the already difficult levels can feel near impossible to succeed in.
Now, to explain why, after all the negative and backhanded things I've said about this game, I've still given this game a passing grade. While I feel that the control doesn't live up to the very necessary standards set by it's predecessors, it's not necessarily broken in any way, just flawed. And, truth be told, I find the cheap graphics and the unique take on growth to be charming, in its own mediocre way. While I personally could not create a solid rhythm with the controls, I would be remiss to just assume that no one else could. Not to mention the simple fact that this game has some of the most devilishly difficult level design that I've yet encountered. And for that, Growing Pains gets a decidedly hesitant "thumbs up" from me.