Terraria (Xbox360)

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Gaming is a strange beast. As time goes by, everything my experience tells me that I think I know about gaming is gradually being shown to be wrong. I am continually surprised again and again by the innovation of game studios and how they manage to use an already-established idea and evolve it into something unexpected and refreshing.

I’ve watched, experienced, and, in my own small part funded, technological breakthroughs in gaming over the years. From PC speaker beeps to synthesised voices and now digital surround sound, I’ve enjoyed firsthand how gaming embraces the advancements of technology.

Gaming technology has gone beyond most predictions of a few years ago and this is along the lines of what we would expect. It makes sense to see studios trying to break new ground and avoid simply manufacturing clones of other games. New games try to be faster, prettier, louder; anything to make themselves more desirable in the rat race. To this end, most reasonable people would surmise there’s no room in a cut-throat industry for anything that isn’t cutting edge, and yet – bizarrely – there are still games being released that defy this logic.

Terraria Screenshot 1

Re-Logic is digging deep

Terraria is one of these games. It’s a prime example of developers hopping on to the “old-school retro” games bandwagon – and the strange thing is, this wagon seems to be steadily gaining traction. Perhaps a little too much traction. Terraria – and similarly styled games being released lately – would tell us that Old is now quickly becoming the new New, and it’s not clear yet whether this is entirely a good thing for gaming.

Debatable merits of old-school-styled games aside, Terraria is a simple game both in concept and in execution. After only a few minutes of play you get the feeling that this has all been done before – and that’s because it has. If Super Mario Bros. had a lovechild with Minecraft you’d name it Terraria. A bit of an awkward relationship but nevertheless a simple concept. Take out the third dimension of depth from Minecraft and make it a platformer and you’ve got the execution. See? Simple.

In fact, Terraria is so much like Minecraft that if you’re familiar with Minecraft then you can skip to my conclusion. For those Xbox 360 users who are not part of the six million who have purchased Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition (yet), you’ll need a run-down of Terraria: Terraria is a 2D platform-styled crafting, building, light RPG.

Terraria Screenshot 2

What’s mine is ores…

Players begin by creating a character sprite from a series of customisable features and then choosing a world. The crafting aspect comprises of resource gathering using the provided hatchet, pick axe, or sword – simply jump around the realm and start hitting things. Once enough resources have been gathered players can make tools or utilities such as a crafting table, forge, or anvil, all of which provide further crafting options.

In the midst of all the crafting and exploring, building a shelter before nightfall is critical to avoid the meanies that come out at night to eat you (yes, there are night-dwelling zombies). Shelters have to meet certain criteria to be passed off as a shelter, but when complete they offer a safe haven for stowing resources as well as a new spawn point for players and a rally point for NPCs.

Terraria Screenshot 3

2D may mean it’s missing depth, but it certainly isn’t lacking any

The light RPG element consists of attracting the NPCs to your shelter as you expand into multiple rooms and by obtaining new and more powerful tools and weapons. Certain NPCs offer specific benefits to the player and will require set conditions before they will appear, or must be located and rescued.

Terraria allows drop-in/drop-out co-op (four player split-screen) on one console or multiplayer over Xbox LIVE. In both cases there is a toggle for PvP and setting specific teams (more than two, too!) which allows for inter-party conflict and more secretive whereabouts for non-aligned players. The greatest problem with the split-screen is the amount of HUD detail crammed into one tiny quadrant – things can quickly become tricky to read or see and if you don’t have at least a 40” screen split-screen will not work well.

Despite Terraria lacking that third dimension it still has a lot of depth and in my time with the game I have barely managed to pick at the surface. The increased time spent in combat is not reflected by XP or leveling up, which I initially found a bit peculiar, but as I spent more time with Terraria I realised the balance was just right without having high-level characters in the game beating up on lower-level ones. The closest you will get to a level-up is in better loot and equipment which seems a better form of balancing.

Terraria Screenshot 4

Copper ore, gold ore, the choice is yours – just take your pick!

Terraria has taken the good things from Minecraft and reproduced them into a two-dimensional world, although there are numerous tweaks to the game to make Terraria stand out on its own too. The online multiplayer with an option for teams and the inclusion of NPCs being attracted to your home are new in the Minecraft genre. There is clearly a deviation from the building focus on Minecraft with more time spent in exploring Terraria and fighting beasties as well as random events (such as the Goblin Invasion) and multitudes of diverse monsters. The worlds in Terraria are unbelievably massive and there is no shortage on hours spent chipping away at things to open up the world and to loot resources.

Terraria Screenshot 5

Ore’s well that ends well

Terraria will appeal to the casual Minecraft fan but Minecraft purists will probably bemoan its lack of depth (literally and figuratively). If you are into mindless chipping away of your time, exploring deep dark dungeons for lost treasure, spelunking, or a co-op mining experience, then Terraria is just the ticket for many hours of fun. Even if you’re just looking for a (slightly cheaper) alternative to Minecraft or enjoy flooding dark caverns with cave water, there’s something worthwhile for you in Terraria. Although Terraria is always going to live in Minecraft’s shadow, and has obviously taken inspiration from Minecraft, it’s a sensibly smart move to do that from one of the best Xbox LIVE Arcade titles – and for that reason alone, I can highly recommend this. It’s ore-right in my books!

Good: Fun co-op experience; huge worlds; working from a winning formula

Bad: Some could feel it is too much of a Minecraft clone; very cramped screen real estate in split-screen; tutorial is not very useful