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How a Video Game Helped Me Overcome My Fear of a Beloved ‘90s Comedy

This popular indie is finally available on Nintendo Switch.

Grounded video game
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You find yourself in a familiar world that somehow seems…unfamiliar. There's green grass and gross dirt, like you're used to, but it all looks massive — even the random forest mushrooms you find have caps as wide as a school bus. You're only a teenager, and you've been reported missing. But you don't seem preoccupied by that — or the fact that you've been shrunk down to the size of a button.

Engaging and whimsical, Grounded arrived for Nintendo Switch (and PlayStation consoles) on April 16 after enjoying a few years as an Xbox exclusive. The new version includes crossplay for all available platforms, which should be useful for its up-to-four-person co-op. Or you could stick to going it alone, depending how terrified you are of oversized ants (you can always use the game's mollifying Arachnophobia Mode to take care of the spiders).

Grounded is all about survival through Bill Nye-level enthusiasm for science.


Much like all your favorite late '90s and early '00s fever dreams, includingA Bug's Life, The Ant Bully, and Antz , Grounded is inspired by the 1989 sci-fi comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In that movie, which felt like a terrifying warning from the future to me as a child, an enterprising scientist accidentally, you know, shrinks his kids, leaving them to battle giant bugs and befriend a helpful ant. Why was the decade that followed filled with so many fairy tales about ants and/or shrinking children down to their size? Perhaps Honey and older media like '60s Ant-Man comics inspired parents to make their problems feel bite-sized. But hey, at least it inspired Grounded, which is also gleefully set in the '90s.

The game is all about survival through Bill Nye-level enthusiasm for science. As one of four, fairly interchangeable playable characters, you'll find yourself strangely small and trapped in a backyard. Your goal is to piece together your fuzzy memories and use the abandoned lab you've found to get big and go home. In the process, you'll discover the metaphysical in-game currency "Raw Science" by completing quests or fastidiously searching your surroundings. It'll earn you crafting blueprints for D.I.Y. defense tools made from cracked acorns and pebbles, or skill "mutations" like Meat Shield, which augments your health pool.

In other words, Raw Science will help you stay alive, which is most of the challenge of this kid-friendly environmental survival game. Grounded is never as unforgiving as something like Rust, in which you're up against hostile creatures and online players with guns. The only thing really difficult about Grounded is staying as open to the world as it wants you to be.

Arachnophobia Mode turns scary spiders into harmless blobs.


First, you'll have to get used to drinking dewdrops to stave off dehydration, and you'll need to make peace with any of your long-standing objections to bugs. Grounded is full of them, all kinds of them — chunky grubs, blinking fireflies, an intimidating selection of ants, and so much more. These bugs form the basis of your diet (Weevil meat has a spongy texture, and is easy to come by) and your daily showdowns. An ambling group of Fire Soldier Ants, for example, can easily destroy your health bar if you aren't prepared; even the game's crude, mid-tier armor options made from things like foraged sap and bee parts won't protect you.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to conquer as much as you can. A constantly replenishing task list at the top left of your screen will remind you of all there is to do: craft the upgrade material Whetstone, investigate another lab, collect more Super Chips for your friendly helper bot BURG.L, who gives you access to new items and quests. Through collecting these Chips, you'll discover that Grounded's main storyline can get dark — you are, after all, a child who's been inexplicably experimented on. But the tone of Grounded stays mostly in after-school-special territory. (It’s never heavier than the end of Bridge to Terabithia, which set the contemporary bar for how much tragedy can befall PG media.)

On a more delightful note, Grounded is bursting with the same fantastical quality of many enduring children's stories that encourage an interest in nature. Thriving in the wild is less about conquering the landscape than it is about total unity — with friends, food, and the unpredictability of life. The game’s arrival on Nintendo Switch is a pleasant extension of that belief, something that's innate to us all.

Grounded is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Microsoft Windows.

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