There seems to be a big trend at the moment for games that give you the tools and the minimal amount of training before pushing you firmly out the door into a big wide world and leaving you to it. People obviously love these games, otherwise the behemoth that is Minecraft wouldn’t be so successful and I wouldn’t be playing a myriad of imitators and games inspired by Mojang’s success to cover over on my indie games blog. The reason they’re so popular is that they combine the joyous elements of adventure and exploration with imagination and creativity. You can journey to the ends of the world to find new lands and opportunities, or you can stay at home and build whatever your mind can pluck out of the crazy and random ideas floating around in there. Terraria may be yet another one of those games, but it’s not just a cheap imitator like so many turn out to be; it’s a game with substance and enough content to end up wondering where the hell the day went.
Terraria was originally released for the PC back in 2011, but it’s finally made its way to console after 2 million copies sold and decent critical acclaim. Its colourful 2D world looks like a mash-up between Metroid and a 2D Minecraft; with fluffy clouds and a bright blue sky straddling a world that’s full of opportunity. Before you even begin you’re set the task of creating the character who will inhabit this crayon-sketched land, with the choice of more hairstyles than one of those haircut magazines you flick through as you wait for your mop to be trimmed. Next up you need to name your world, choosing a size that best fits your play style. Personally I never went below large, because I like a lot of space explore. Finally you need to decide whether you’re going to be playing online or not, meaning anyone can join your game unless you select ‘invite only’. Be warned though: you can’t pause the game in online mode, as I found out when I came back to the game to dozens of tombstones that signified my untimely deaths.
Before you jump into the game properly you might want to try out the tutorial to learn the ropes. I didn’t do this initially and I got a little lost, so I eventually went back to the tutorial and started a fresh new world. Basically, the first thing you should be doing is gathering some resources and building a home. We’ll get to why this is important in a moment, but be sure to make it high on your list of priorities or you’ll regret it once the sun goes down. So, you set off chopping down trees for wood, digging deep into the ground to get at those precious ores, and maybe chomping on a mushroom or two while you’re at it. There’s so much to do to begin with that it’s easy to get lost in the scope of it all, but once you’ve got your first sturdy shelter out-of-the-way you’ll be able to concentrate on doing what you want.
Building what you want is simple enough, although the controls can get some taking used to. Take, for instance, you want to build the walls for a house made of wood. You can select the wood in your quick-bar easy enough, but then you have to place it in your world. There are two methods for doing this; the auto cursor will latch on to the nearest block in the direction you push the right stick, while the manual cursor or ‘mouse mode’ does exactly what it says on the tin and acts like a mouse cursor. The former is easier for mining as you don’t have to keep shifting the cursor around to cut out a tunnel, while the latter makes it easier to build things as you can put blocks where ever you like (providing they connect to something). The controls are obviously going to be easier to work with on the PC, but developer Re-Logic has done well adapting mouse controls for the console version and, bar the odd mistake where you put one block of stone in completely the wrong place, they work well – at least for anything outside combat anyway.
It’s not that the controls are completely awful in combat, they’re just tough to get to grips with and it can be pretty frustrating in your first few hours with the game. Once you create more powerful weapons it can get less aggravating, but that’s more because your weapons do more damage – making the fights shorter – rather than the controls being less unwieldy. Doing things with the bow and arrow instead of a sword somewhat improves things, as the sword can only point sideways, so make sure to create a lot of arrows!
Some enemies clearly take a few inspirations from your typical RPG stock; with blobs of various colours, skeletons and, erm, bunnies. There are more unique enemies than your typical crowd though; with giant worms, demon eyes, vultures and, although almost inevitable, zombies. Zombies and demon eyes only come out at night, which is why I mentioned that building a shelter is one of the first things you should be doing. A house can be fitted with doors, protecting you from the zombie hordes that you should really avoid facing off with until you’re well equipped. Elsewhere you’ll be wondering if you’ve got a dead rat in your pocket as you make your way through a desert landscape only to be chased by a pack of angry vultures. I can’t even count the amount of times I was killed by angry vultures early on, and it was made worse by the inventory system.
Hitting Y brings up the menu system that consists of crafting, the inventory, equipment and housing. Crafting is obviously where you’ll be crafting all your gear and building materials; here you can build a work bench where that you need to make certain items, and the same goes for the anvil and hearth. Next up, the inventory is where you’ll be putting all the items you’ll be carrying around. Things put on the top row will make it to the quickbar, which is what I’m going to come back to in a sec. The equipment page is where you can change armour and clothes, as well as other vanity items, and finally housing is where you can assign homes for the various NPC’s you’ll meet on your travels.
It all sounds simple enough, but the inventory is where my biggest bug bear lies. The problem is that you’re going to end up gathering a lot of items, which quickly fills up what initially looks like quite a lot of space in your inventory. You can trash things, but you’ll still get confused at the mess it turns into. This is made worse when you quickly want to select a potion to heal in the midst of battle, and the time spent trying to find it in the inventory can get you killed given that accessing it doesn’t actually pause the game. Moving an item up to the quick-bar helps, meaning you can access your gear straight from the game, but it only has 10 slots (you can also assign an item each to the d-pad directions) so you have to make a choice about what you’re going to take on your journey so you’re not frantically trying to select the right item during a battle with 5 floating eyeballs!
Speaking of eyeballs, there are also bosses in Terraria – but you’re going to have to work damn hard to defeat them, and often even summon them in the first place. One of the big bosses is a giant eyeball called the Eye of Cthulhu, although this is actually one of the easiest bosses in the game it still remains quite a challenge. Eventually you’ll be facing off against rock-hard bosses like the Wall of Flesh, which you’ll summon in the Underworld once you’ve dug down that far. While you can defeat these bosses on their own, eventually, but you’ll have an easier time if you bring along some friends for the ride.
It’s rare these days to see games that support split-screen, and even rarer to see one that will let you have four player split-screen romps. Terraria lets you do this, but you can also have up to 8 players in a world if you prefer to jump online. Obviously this speeds up all the work you have to do in digging up and creating your world, but it’s also a lot more fun than the solitary nature of being in a deep cavern all by yourself.
Hours and hours into Terraria you’ll be wondering if you’ve barely scratched the surface, and you’d be right to wonder that as this game is massive. Hit select to bring up the map and you’ll marvel at the scope of things, that your 2 hours of exploration has barely made a dent in the world that has been randomly created for your enjoyment – or utter frustration. It can seem like a chore at times, and it can be so hard that you’ll grip your controller tight and grind your teeth. Ultimately though, it’s a rewarding game that ends up being one of those games you’ll dip into time and time again, still finding something new. Creating your own buildings may not be on the scale of a 3D world like Minecraft presents, but as a mash-up of different genres rolled into one sweet yet tough bite to eat, Terraria continues to deserve all the accolades it’s gained since its initial PC release.