When you’re a game reviewer, you work under a curse. That curse is this: you are perpetually being asked to review games that look amazing and sound amazing. They have amazing sounding concepts and amazing looking trailers. Their cheek bones are amazing, they’d make amazing models. They have exquisite parentage, impeccable manners and peerless schooling. They get you all worked up and anticipatory, right up to the moment when you play them, at which point these flawless beauties tend to sick up on the dinner table and run home crying.
See, at the end of the day, most games are rubbish. Nothing lives up to your expectations, unless you are a mean-spirited and cynical person. Luckily most reviewers are, or at least become so rapidly. The world is just so full of awful shit.
Now and again, you meet a cursebreaker who lifts the dark spell and renews your faith in all things gamey. Take Terraria. It didn’t meet any of my expectations. Terraria looked like it was going to be bizarre nonsense. But it totally fails to live up to that expectation.
Heard of Minecraft? No? Well, forge yourself a wooden pick and dig yourself out from under your rock, my friend. Minecraft is one of the biggest indie smashes of the last year, a sandbox survival mining game in which you wander a vast randomly-generated world, chopping down trees, digging holes, building yourself shelters to survive the zombie-packed nights and building explosive powered rail tracks when you aren’t fighting for your life. Terraria takes this wildly successful formula out of 3D and into a Mario Bros style platformer.
I should be a bit brutal, I think, and knock points off for lack of originality. Because Terraria really is a Minecraft replica. The gameplay survives extremely well, and if anything the 2d graphics add charm and vivacity to the rather pre-Doom era appearance of its parental clone. But things are fundementally identical. You swing your axe, pick, hammer or weapon as you carve through the landscape, knocking down trees to harvest wood to build a workbench, on which you can build better tools, which allow you to dig deeper and faster to get to better minerals and components, that allow you build better workbenches and better tools, which let you go deeper faster, and so on and so on and so on.
By day, fluffy bunnies hop the landscape, accompanied by acidic bouncy slime blobs. By night, hostile zombies roam the earth and demonic eyes haunt the sky, and woe betide you if you haven’t sorted out a bunker to squat in, petrified, by that time. Anything you can kill can also become a component in your next bit of crafting. Slimes give you gel that makes torches, an early light source. Demonic eyes give you their lenses, which can make a nifty pair of goggles. Eater of Worlds (a ghastly flying beast that looks like a bacterium with mandibles) give me the creeps.
The further from your initial starting point you go in Terraria, the more florid and hostile the terrain gets. Miles below the earth is Hell, full of burning lava and huge bone serpents. To the east or west lurk massive oceans or chasms packed with corrupt beings hungry for your flesh. Far above you, out of sight, are the harpy-infested floating islands. This is what Terraria brings to the formula that really makes it work – there’s a such host of things to see and discover. See, discover, kill, break into constituents and then recombine as a flashy hat, in fact.
Crafting, as you’d expect, is the other big feature of the game. I started playing this around v1.4, where the only guide to making stuff was patience or the internet. v1.5 introduced a feature whereby the previously annoying and useless Guide, an npc who accompanies you from the start and offers some vague hints as to how to get along, now has a full library of crafting recipies. Hand him a nugget of junk and he’ll tell you what it’s good for. Previously, I’d have recommended the wiki sites as your essential tool to get the most out of the game. Now I’d say ask the guide and then go exploring until you find what you need.
If you build your home big enough, new characters come and join you, from whom you can buy various handy items, get healed or sell loot for hard cash. And eventually, you can gather the items you need to forge magical swords, rocket boots, exploding star guns and magma armour. Or find them lying around in handy chests, ready to be stolen. I’m sure Minecraft is already paying heed to this and adding in these features from Terraria – if not, why not? It makes the laborious digging and wandering a pleasure, to always be on the brink of finding something new and crazy.
The sound is good, catchy electric jingles in keeping with the S-Nes appearance of the graphics. Basic though those sprites are, they do the job nicely. They’re clear, engaging and even slightly scary in places. It’s an easy game to pick up and a hard one to put down, and I’d recommend it heartily. Especially when there’s multiplayer that lets you bring a fistful of mates to help you tunnel, and the promise of unlockable battles with huge, menacing bosses.
It also helps that the developers keep updating the game with new monsters, new terrain, new crafting items and new playing tools to help the game work. If an immersive lark of a game that won’t tax your wallet, your graphics card or your brain appeals, I’d stop reading and get exploring the cheerful depths of Terraria.