After spending a few hours with Terraria, I grew nervous about having to write this review. For me, the thousand pound pixelated elephant in the room was the game’s strong resemblance to Minecraft, both in design and philosophy. At first blush, Terraria isn’t like Minecraft, it IS Minecraft albeit trapped in the second dimension. The conceit is the same for both games: explore a large, randomized open environment (world size can be determined by the player) and eke out an existence by mining and farming the land in order to craft better equipment and weapons to fight off enemies. The longer I played, the more I believed that Terraria is less of a knock off of Minecraft and is simply a re-imagining of it.
The open nature of Terraria offers the promise of creativity limited only by your imagination. However, because the game is confined with a 2D play space, you can’t go in expecting to create those amazing feats of engineering and design as seen in “Best of Minecraft” Buzzfeed articles. That isn’t to say Terraria puts roadblocks to creativity. WIth various types of materials to use for building, the game offers a golden opportunity to express yourself.
In Terraria, there really are no goals or missions to really speak of. The game begins by putting your avatar in a randomly generated world. The first order of business is to build shelter from the more vicious enemies that appear at night. Initially armed with a sword, axe and a pick axe, you’ll carve deep swathes into the earth, collecting minerals and other materials needed to build a comfortable and ever expanding home before developing stronger armor and weapons. There are two control modes available: Simple and Manual. Simple is perfect carving tunnels through dirt, rock and ore. Manual mode is better suited for building as it offers the right level of precision necessary to create stately or ostentatious player homes. Throughout your adventures, you’ll stumble across NPCs to converse with and buy items from. Some will even take up residence in your home. There is no significant advantage to do so, except for having merchants close by, but they exist as kindred spirits in an otherwise hostile world. There is multiplayer in Terraria, allowing for you and a friend to take on the world together, collecting materials, fighting off monsters and battling bosses.
Though similar in terms of exploration and crafting, where Terraria differs significantly from Minecraft is the emphasis paid towards combat. With the latter, monsters typically appeared at night or within deep caves. In the former, you’ll fight monsters all day and night, with those encountered during the evening hours are far more vicious than their diurnal counterparts. Exploring further, you’ll discover items that will summon boss monsters. Death is a real possibility and depending on the difficulty mode selected, you’ll either spawn back to to where the game initially dropped you off (making pathfinding and breadcrumb trails a necessity) or suffer permadeath. Different armor and weapon classes are available providing you’ve got the materials to develop them and as to be expected, the better the materials, the more useful weapons and armor will be.
If you’re looking for a tranquil building experience, you won’t find it in Terraria. I find myself surprised how much I ended up being completely okay with that. With monsters always popping up, I was forced to stay on my toes, switching back and forth from a building mindset to a combat mindset at the drop of the hat. Granted, many of the enemies you’ll encounter are pushovers, but their constant presence means you’ll never experience much of a lull in gameplay (something I took issue with in Minecraft).
I cannot say if Terraria survived the transition from PC to handheld but I can say that the game plays and handles quite well on the Vita. The game doesn’t make extraneous use of the Vita’s features. You can select inventory items and menu options using the front touch screen and aim the reticles using the back touch pad. If there is a failing, it lies in the platform itself. My hands cramped up pretty quickly and I kept having to put the game down for a few minutes to relax my muscles. Your experience may vary on this one. Getting old is a pain, people. Don’t do it!
Terraria is an enjoyable, combat focused alternative to Minecraft that doesn’t ape Mojang’s game for the sake of taking advantage of consumer confusion. It has its own spirit and soul, allowing it to stand on its own two feet. Would Terraria exist if Minecraft didn’t? That is a discussion for another time. As a Vita game, it is perfect for long trips or vacations though make sure you are plenty comfortable before starting extended play sessions.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.