Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Review: Terraria - When Samus Aran and Simon Belmont Go to Minecraft.
Usually, I have some idea of what I'm going to write about daily in any given week, or at least a range of topics. Also, typically, if I'm interested in purchasing a computer game, I've followed the development cycle for some time and I'm anticipating the release date either to wait for official reviews, or damn the torpedoes, I'm buying it. Sometimes I get blindsided, and yesterday was one of those times – on both fronts.
A little independent game called Terraria launched on Steam yesterday, when I happened to be checking for sales. I watched the trailer for the hours-old release and something about it immediately grabbed my attention, as it appeared to be a fast paced platformer with RPG elements, with... what's this? Randomly Generated Worlds and... a crafting/building system? A quick couple Google searches later and my interest was piqued. What little information I could find mostly described Terraria as “Minecraft in 2D.” A side-scrolling retro platform action/RPG with the ability to dig up resources, craft tools and weapons, and build your own custom structures with a day/night cycle, nighttime being dangerous. Uh oh. Here we go again. With a price point of $10, I took a chance, and eight hours of my day mysteriously vanished.
The comparison between Terraria and Minecraft is natural, as much as the diehards in the emerging Terraria community across forum posts, message boards and wikis hate it. There are a lot of similarities between the two games, but to call Terraria a “Minecraft clone” is a misstatement, as though the two titles share many common elements, at their respective hearts they are about different things. Terraria owes at least as much to classic NES titles like Metroid and Castlevania as it does to the father of the sandbox building/exploration genre of games that is slowly expanding beyond creepers and pickaxes. Minecraft, and the soon to be released clone FortressCraft for XBox Live are, at heart, about building, with other elements present for variety's sake. Terraria is a game of exploring caves and dungeons, fighting monsters and getting treasure, with crafting and building as means to an end. I'll come back to this point later.
Terraria starts with a simple character customization process, with a few outfits and hairstyles and the ability to color hair, skin and clothes however you like on RGB sliders. Then, you select whether the world is to be small, medium or large (there is an end to these worlds, they are just massive) and let the program create it randomly for you. You start in familiar territory. Fresh world, a few basic tools, chop down trees to get wood, make a crafting bench and start cranking out slightly more advanced items, dig down to collect dirt, ore and stone... The first difference a player familiar with Minecraft will notice is that there are monsters in the daytime... and they are relentless. Luckily, you can make a simple sword quickly.
There is a LOT less digging and rooting about needed to find the sorts of cavern complexes and dungeons that are at best uncommon treats in Minecraft. As an RPG gamer, taking this bit of a game I already love, showing me why it was my favorite component of Minecraft, and putting it on center stage is how Terraria hooked me in. The dungeon exploration feels a LOT like Metroid Prime, except imagine being able to play that game with the ability to blast or tunnel through any wall or floor. Treasure chests have interesting (and sometimes very powerful) items, rare crafting resources and coins and they are worth the effort to dig them up. Breakable pots containing lesser treasures and crystalline Heart Containers a la Legend of Zelda round out dungeon exploration, which also features a wide variety of monsters, depending on how deep you go.
With all this dungeoneering, what's the point in building a house at all? It is just there “because I can?” No. The building system in integrated into the gameplay in a few key ways. First, building rooms or structures that are furnished and have walls (side walls/roof made of stacks of wood or stone and a “back” wall which is a texture placed on the background of the area) some light and a door will attract NPCs. You start with one NPC, The Guide who follows you until he is given a home and who dispenses “tips” which will clue you in on some basics. After fulfilling certain conditions, provided there is a space for them to live, others will move into your town/fortress/2D condo. Those coins I mentioned? Various NPCs selling goods and services including the Merchant, Nurse and Demolitionist show up and move in. Defending these structures and the NPCs in the game's random events is another twist on an already solid set of mechanics.
Some nights, a Blood Moon rises, which allows zombies to spawn faster, and lets them kick in the doors to your buildings and attack whatever is inside. Even more rarely, a Goblin army complete with mages who teleport through walls and thieves who pick the locks on your doors attack intent on wiping you and your NPCs out. These events are random, deadly and exciting. Boss Monsters very rarely spawn randomly, usually having to be sought out and defeated, but when they do, they will also attack your house/town. Boss Fights represent the mid/end game and from the relatively easy Eye of Cthulhu to the nasty Skeletron, they drop loot and crafting materials worth the effort to kill them.
In addition to being a product launching with all of these features, the multiplayer component shown in the early “Let's Play” YouTube videos is working, and mostly stable with only a few latency related glitches scratching the paint of what, for many players, will be the draw for this title. Multiplayer is brutal, especially with fewer than four players, as there are MANY more monsters and they spawn faster. It allows for drop-in drop-out play, and virtually any game where users can change or build in the world tends to be more fun with friends. I have high hopes for multiplayer to be tidied up, as Terraria is promising regular balance and content updates, so we should also see more random events, more items, maybe more bosses and monsters too!
Overall, this is $10 incredibly well-spent, the retro sprite graphics and core gameplay has been smooth so far, bugs have been rare and mostly non-intrusive and the music, changing depending on where the character is and the time of day/night (with special themes for events and bosses) has been solid. It has a steep learning curve, but to be fair, so did the games it pay homage to. I think I'll be playing this one for a while.Blog Gadgets