Summary Judgement:  If you dig deep enough and long enough, you might just find where this game has hidden all its fun.

Developed by: Re-Logic

Available on PC

Most days I find myself very supportive of indie video games.  I got onboard with Minecraft when it was in an early alpha release because I saw the value in a game that offered a sandbox experience akin to playing with lego.  When Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft, tweeted about an upcoming indie game called Terraria, I paid attention.  In its demo reel, Terraria seemed like a cross between Wonderboy, Metroid and Minecraft.  Terraria’s ten dollar price point also seemed like a great way to stop myself from running out and impulse buying L.A. Noire, at least for a little while longer.  After spending a few afternoons with this 2D side scrolling adventure/RPG/crafting game, I find myself rather disappointed.

For my taste, Terraria is way too cute.  While the game offers a decent character customization system, something Minecraft does not, all of the characters that I created reminded me of those terrifying fifteen minutes I spent playing Maple Story circa 2008. The in-game music, which consists of two songs, one for day and one for night, descended from whimsy to saccharine within half an hour of gameplay.  Even the level design oozes cuteness.  During the daytime, the only monsters I found were “slimes” of various colour.  Sorry, Re-Logic, but slime didn’t intimidate me in Dragon Warrior and it fails to impress in your game.  At night, the floating “demon eyes” are reasonably grotesque but their impact is offset by the Maple Story-esque zombies that shamble about the map.  The real tragedy occurs when elements of the game design start subverting a serious mood in favour of cuteness.  Case in point, I should feel just a little anxious when spelunking in a cavern.  The fact that my torches light areas behind the cave, not just my immediate surroundings, makes any cave dive feel way too safe.  Pair that with the happy daytime music and it’s a recipe for enough cuteness as to make me want a hit of insulin.

In addition to being too cute, Terraria is too slow.  It takes forever to dig anywhere in the game.  Even when I upgraded my copper pick axe (yes you dig through everything with a pick axe, not a shovel) to an iron pick axe I still found myself envious of the fun my cat was having as he chased his tail.  Since digging for rare materials quickly became an exercise in tedium, I found myself running along the surface of the 2D world in an attempt to find some easy access to crafting materials.  Half an hour later, I found a scant amount of iron but lots of clay, copper, sand and “slime” droppings.

Terraria’s crafting system is hardly any better than its mining.  Building a workbench allowed me to press a button and see a list of buildable objects.  A few more clicks produced a bunch of bricks and a forge.  Upon placing my forge I could push a button and see a list of even more potential creations.  My problem with this system is two-fold.  On the one hand, there’s no room for experimentation and discovery.  Half the fun of crafting in a game like Minecraft is experimenting to see what materials turn into other things.  Terraria puts it all out there, perhaps reflecting society’s need for instant gratification in their games.  The other issue is that it takes too many materials to build anything useful.  Due to the slowness of the game’s mining, hunting for iron or silver ore is an excruciating grind.  This grind is made all the more demoralizing due to the high cost of building anything.  It takes three iron ore blocks to make an iron ore brick.  Twelve of those bricks are needed for a pickaxe.  During my hours of play, I never found more than fifteen iron ore bricks in a single mineral vein.  Good luck trying to build a suit of armour at that rate.  If this game ever wants to win me back, it needs to balance crafting with the time investment it demands for mining.

From my perspective, the game’s biggest failing is its mediocre status as a creativity engine.  Terraria boasts the ability to create a world.  The game’s in-game guide told me that if I build some houses, other NPCs might move in.  Although I built three rather nice single-family homes, I’ve yet to see any new neighbours – see my previous point about the game being too damn slow.  Assuming that the huddled masses eventually appear at the doors to my gated community, I don’t like that I can only offer them two dimensional constructions.  I’ll admit that this is a bit of Minecraft prejudice coming through in my review, but I can only build so many 2D wireframes before it gets boring. 

But Shaftoe, you could build a house shaped like a rocket ship for the people.

Fair point.  However, a person of my limited artistic abilities likes it when he can build things in an actual 3D environment.  Making buildings look pretty in Terraria requires setting other blocks in the background to give the illusion of depth.  I couldn’t make something look 3D on paper when I was in the 7th grade and I still have a hard time with it now.  I’d rather build a Saturn V rocket in Minecraft than a rocket shaped outline in Terraria. One feels like an artistic endeavour, of sorts, the other is frustrating and pointless.

In the final assessment, I find myself wondering where this game will find its audience.  Creative types who have already discovered Minecraft aren’t likely to invest much time in Terraria. The game’s over the top cuteness will probably drive away hard core gamers.  Casual gamers will run screaming for the hills when they realize how long it will take them to build anything useful.  I thought about Terraria as a children’s game, but I’m not sure if they possess the attention span to deal with the game’s slow pacing.  For want of any real fun, or internal gratification that comes with building a cubist sailboat, I don’t know why anybody would want to play Terraria.

Overall Score: -2