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Review: Terraria asks you to just keep digging

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Terraria is a game I’ve intended to play for quite some time.  It’s an action-adventure RPG hybrid that has garnered comparisons to Metroid and Minecraft and everything in between.  The PC version of Terraria received universal praise and built a devoted following.  When Re-Logic announced in February of 2012 that they would no longer be continuing active development of the game, many PC gamers were heartbroken.

In to save the day came 505 Games, who took on the task of porting this beloved PC title to consoles.  Possessing a targeting system suited for a mouse, and a menu setup that lends itself to PC gaming, it appeared they had a tall task in front of them.

Thankfully, 505 Games succeeded, doing justice to a PC hit and introducing the game to a new forum.  With a new control scheme suited for the sticks of a controller and a tutorial for beginners that explains the basic concepts of the game, 505 made sure they gave their new audience a background in what is a rich gameplay experience.

As I journeyed through Terraria, wondering how much more there was to explore and achieve, I was consistently blown away by the depth of the game. While several small flaws kept this game from being a classic, it is certainly a game that warrants adding to your library.  Continue on below for my full review:

Terraria

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

(Xbox 360 version tested)

The Awesome

  • The world is yours to mold; makes every game and world unique to the player
  • Charming music which changes to fit the mood of your location
  • 16-bit graphic style is vivid and alludes to the retro nature of the game
  • Control scheme was altered to perfection for consoles

The Not So Awesome

  • Sound hiccups when mining certain materials
  • Unclear overall objectives

Buy: Buy if you like platformers, building, and anything in between

 

Gameplay

Although Terraria has received a few comparisons to Minecraft, Notch’s indie behemoth, the games bear little similarity outside of their low-res graphical style and building elements.  Terraria’s heart rests in the exploration of its randomly generated worlds, which makes each new world a player steps into a different experience from the last.

When I first glanced at the download size for the console version of Terraria, I was puzzled when I saw that it came in at a miniscule 33 MB, wondering how a game of small stature could be the exploration time-sink it had been advertised to be.  My fears were squashed, however, as soon as I jumped into the gameplay.

A brief tutorial gives the player an explanation of how to begin their experience, by showing how to use your starter tools and making the player familiar with Terraria’s crafting system.  After the player builds their first house, buildings that serve as safe havens and attractions that bring NPC’s to your world, you’re set loose into a brave new world.

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Terraria hands the player a set of basic tools with which to explore and discover their world, putting the reins of control in the player’s grasp.  Digging up blocks and stone with your pickaxe, chopping down trees with your axe, and slicing enemies with your sword, your own curiosity is the engine that drives Terraria.

No arrows or markers point you to an objective, no fairy on your shoulder guides you in the right direction, and no hand-holding leads you to a destination.  In a far cry from the industry standard where you’re lead down a set path, Terraria asks you to become your own guide, storyteller, and craftsman.

Terraria asks the same question that rests at the center of The Matrix: how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?   With your equipment in tow, the main exploration comes through digging towards the core of the world.  Each location is different in some way, such as lush plants in jungle sections and dense sand in the desert, which respond differently to your mining attempts. These locations hold distinctive materials which help craft items that aid you in conquering Terraria.

This leads to some interesting decisions for the player to make, as your inventory slots are limited.  How many torches will you make to light your path in the dark underworld?  If you find valuable gems which you can sell to merchants on the surface, can you afford to use a valuable inventory slot that might have otherwise gone to a life-saving potion?   Will you use your raw materials to protect yourself with armor, or arm yourself with powerful weapons? These are important questions that only you can answer.

As you go deeper and deeper and explore different zones, enemies of increased difficulty will pester you and attempt to make your life miserable.  Whether hornets in the jungle, skeletons in the depths of the earth, or vultures on the world’s surface, each location is home to a different set of enemies.

Your exploring, crafting, and fighting lead up to taking on several “bosses”, which appear randomly or are summoned to the world using demon altars scattered throughout the map.  These aren’t traditional bosses as they can be summoned by the player even after their defeat, but the challenge presented by these large enemies represents the closest thing to a boss players will encounter in Terraria.  They add a nice touch and another variant in gameplay from the base game.

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Players interested in a multiplayer experience for Terraria will not be let down, as the Xbox 360 version offers both split-screen and online multiplayer.  When more players are added to the equation, the vibrant world of Terraria turns into an even more chaotic, exciting experience.  Personally, single player was more my speed, as I could take my time and explore all the nooks and crannies of the game, but having multiplayer there as an alternative was comforting for my drifting mind.

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Most impressively, 505 Games had to take a game which leaned heavily on the precise aiming mechanics of a mouse and adopt it to console controllers, no small feat.  The new control scheme they adapted for the console version of Terraria was impressive, allowing the player to switch back and forth between automatic and manual targeting.  While auto targeting was intuitive and suited for the grind of mining, manual targeting lent itself to the more precise placement needed for platforms and building blocks.

Graphics

As a kid who grew up on Super Nintendo, I felt at home with the 16-bit sprites in Terraria.  While I appreciate the strides in technology that have allowed the creation of some beautiful games, many developers have let their focus on graphics diminish their games (looking at you, Crysis series).

This was not the case with Terraria; though they went with a style that won’t blow anyone’s mind, it fits their game perfectly.  With a game that resembles the Super Metroids and Symphony of The Nights of the world, the vintage style of the visuals represents the vintage package of the game.

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Character creation at the beginning of the game gives players the opportunity to create an avatar as realistic or ridiculous as they choose.  Want a purple man with a green afro, or a yellow woman with a pink ponytail? Both are possible, along with thousands of other hair, body, and clothes color combinations.

The defining contribution of the graphics was the role of lighting, as your most vigilant enemy turns out to be darkness.  In addition to the darkness of the underworld being home to some of Terraria’s most imposing creatures, nightfall brings a new set of enemies who are even more determined to end your life.  Get cornered at an inopportune time, and you’ll be cut down in seconds.  Nightfall will cause inexperienced players to head into one of their houses for safety, while veterans will brave the night pursuing items and riches.

Sound

Terraria’s sound meshes perfectly with the graphics and gameplay.  Playing this game transported me back to a time when DLC and game updates were not a part of gaming vernacular.  It seems far-fetched that a simple series of beeps can create a memorable soundtrack, but that’s exactly what was achieved here.

The music varies depending on the time of day, your depth level, and the area of map.  For example, the night music is ominous and reflects the powerful enemies that come out at night, indicating that you should head inside until you have more powerful equipment to take on these creatures.  During the day, the starting forest area’s music is calm and light, creating an atmosphere that is friendly for players of all skill levels.

One of the only drawbacks of this sound style was the harshness of the tone of some of the effects.  For instance, when using your pickaxe on sand, the response was rough and almost painful, whether played through speakers or a set of headphones.  This happened with several other materials, but was a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

Final Thoughts

If you couldn’t tell from the rest of my review, I was blown away by Terraria.  I am partial to games with twisting stories and narratives, which don’t sell as well in today’s instant gratification world, but Terraria is a game I would consider a must play for gamers of all generations and attention spans.  Terraria has an atmosphere that will remind older gamers of the pixelated games of their past, and offers a varied experience that will keep hyperactive gamers attention.

Having racked up the gameplay hours attempting to conquer every square inch of Terraria for this review, I still feel the urge to pick up my controller and jump back into the swing of things.  This is a game for the passive and the perfectionist, where you can do enough to get by or attempt to collect everything in sight.

Terraria has some small issues which keep it from being a true masterpiece.  Along with the sound issues, the freedom of the gameplay also gives the player little idea of where to begin.  For those who need a push in the right direction, a more streamlined experience with definitive goals and objectives would have been a nice inclusion, as many will struggle with having to find their own way.

Despite these issues, Terraria is a shining example of what indie games should strive for.  A modern take on a retro game style, Terraria is a reminder that developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a fantastic game.  Whether you’re flying with rocket shoes, drilling your way through meteorite, or building homes for the inhabitants of your world, Terraria shows that games don’t have to be complex to grab your attention.  I give Terraria an EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas, and recommend that you play it as soon as possible.

Terraria for Consoles Launch Trailer [HD]

 

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Kyle Neubeck

The author Kyle Neubeck

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