Review by ZeroHiei
"A fresh blend of nostalgia, but like any coffee, bitter."
2D gaming is slowly becoming phased out in today's gaming scene - there's simply less and less demand for it. And the rabble who clamor and insist on games remaining in their glorious 2D ways, placed upon a golden pedestal and only to be viewed through rose-tinted goggles? Nostalgia buffs and retro-maniacs whose bark is the only thing noticeable and don't earn enough in the real world to have a bite. Some game developers choose to revamp one game over and over, slapping a year on the title, tweaking a few world objects and calling it a day. Fortunately for them, these games are snatched from the shelves as soon as they hit, ready to be ravished by a pack of unquestioning neanderthals. For the companies who had golden products but nothing else lately, they have to resort to feeble "renewals" and "remakes" cashing in on their old products, and so does it become apparent that their half-hearted attempts are just that - unfinished, coarse crap that's thrust out the door before play-testing is even finished, unworthy of even being a cash cow milker. Worse still, indie developers are bogged down by a limited budget and technology. Grand visions trapped by a catch-22 that only came into place when the golden age of 2D ended and we moved onto the PSX-DC generation. And in the 21st century and a world of deteriorating quality, what can we expect from yet another 2D game?
Treat Terraria, if you will, like a giant Slurpee of many flavors. To me, it's a coffee blend of old flavors. I grew up with sprites and hopping around on the X and Y axis. I collected, like any other child, LEGO bricks and built myself staggered towers of monstrosity that threatened to bury me and my room in a shower of colorful plastic. And let's not forget the inevitable fantasy of buying my own home, instructing the designer to build it according to exactly how I like it... if I win the lottery. Terraria, however, isn't Powerball or Mark 6. It's an effort = reward job where you have to work your way up... down towards Hell to extract the best and rarest materials to make the shiniest armor and building blocks for your characters. Your building blocks are determined by how much effort you're willing to put forth - you can simply whack away at common dirt, wood and stone, and build yourself a poor shed that falls apart at the breath of termites, or you can venture down to Hell itself, beating back the minions of miscellaneous descent as you collect more equipment and shiny bricks. All this to the soothing blips and midi that really do sound like they belong back in the SNES era.
I myself prefer a building with a shell of glass - easily accessible base material, but beautiful in conjunction with other materials, and strengthened by a backbone of Obsidian - rare hardened ash producible only by cooling lava with lots of water. All who live in my household are treated to the same furniture I procure for myself - a silk bed made from finely spun cobweb collected in the dank recesses of underground caves, and several tables and chairs crafted at the expense of an entire forest. For my illumination needs, I collected gold and silver ore, beating them into bars to be made into dangling chandeliers with iron chains. For the reading lights on top of my tables, I procured water candles stolen from the exceedingly dangerous dungeons, as well as golden candles made from the eponymous ore.
My book shelves are lined with unintelligible tomes stolen, yet again, from the dungeons of angry skeletons and spinning heads of doom. I traveled to Hell itself and back to line each corridor with special furnaces of Hellfire for the warmth of my home. At the very top of my glass tower is a swimming pool, filled painstakingly with hundreds of buckets of pure water. At the very bottom? Several lava traps that instantly vaporize friend and foe alike, be they a goblin army or mindless zombies hurling themselves into the red seething liquid hate. And to top it off, my home is lavished with golden brick walls, smelted from the ore I put so much effort into tracking down. I have, quite honestly, no idea how many laps I have taken into the jungle of caves and lava that sprawl across my Large map.
All this effort to produce a massive looming structure that casts a shadow that reaches across half the land. All this effort, that can be destroyed in an instant should another player decide his amusement is worth more than your time. You are forced then, to decide if you would rather sit back and gaze upon your creation solely for your own amusement, or share your lands with your friends to build castles of grandeur beside each other, growing the land dynamically whether you are online or offline. And of course, risking the occasional player griefing invasion of dynamite and a mocking laugh. The latter is truly regrettable. Of course, if you are the host of the server and decide that the suspension of immersion is better than wasting several days of effort, you can simply copy paste your world elsewhere before going to bed.
This is, however, not an option for non-hosts. If your home is bombarded by the modern Jacobin Club or wannabe-Al Queda, and both are the equivalents of terminal patients of genital gangrene, your disappointment and regret will hit a new high for days to come. So what solutions are in place to prevent this? Well, you can host a private game, but a slip of tongue will draw uninvited guests... so to be quite honest, there isn't one. Play solo, or don't build giant structures. And that's a quarter of the draw of the game gone.
So let's look at the other side of the blend - action. If I had to use 2D games as examples, Terraria is Metroidvania combat meets Legend of Zelda health and magic system meets Harvest Moon digging meets a really ****ing big sandbox. In a large map, it can take an entire real life day just to dig downwards to Hell. In fact, if you tab out and set Vampire Killer to play during nighttime, it doesn't just feel 'right', you actually feel like you're playing an SNES game with mouse support.
The action is extremely smooth - collision and hit detection are spot-on, and liquids respond to each action you take. Well, real lava probably doesn't flow this fast, but that's negligible. And for a 2D game, it actually is really impressive. That is not to say the system doesn't have its flaws, such as a fatal accident from simply standing near a cube of falling sand, or liquids that spread themselves so thin you can't tell if they're there. It looks safe, but then you step in really thin lava and explode into various chunks of gore, plastering the nearest small, horrified creature with blood and guts.
The whole experience takes me back to Cave Story, which sports a very similar physics engine. But compared to a game dated 7 years old, Terraria is far and away better at what it does. There are varied weapons for all situations, each useful for different monsters or bosses. You can mix together your own potions and create platforms to prepare yourself for boss fights. You can plan ahead for almost anything. And on paper, it sounds like an incredible action game. Unfortunately, it suffers instead of a very simple problem - lack of content. There are about 16 normal enemies, but separated largely into 4 creature types - humanoid, casters, worms and flying heads. And the Man-Eater, which is really more like a very dumb Chomp-Chomp. And then there's 3 bosses so far, one of which just hurls itself at you, hoping to crush you with eye fluid, and the other two being major annoyances to deal with in anything but near-endgame gear. Balance for bosses and what they guard is frankly atrocious, because you get the best weapons after dealing with the only enemies worth using them on. Mind you, you can still go take the bosses on by summoning them at a Demon Altar, but there's really no point to it except for amusement and crafting armors that become obsolete when you can reliably farm the bosses. In short, if game balance was represented in real life by balancing a brick on a pencil, it's fallen off and crushed your foot to boot.
The flaws, however, can mostly be fixed through content patches and bug fixes, and a very strict screening of who you let into your game. At the time of writing this review, patch 1.02 has already made its way onto my HDD via Steam, fixing some of the problems that plagued the game and even added a sticky grenade for good measure. And like all good coffee, the memories of bitterness are soon replaced by something else - a promising waft of an irresistible aroma.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/24/11
Game Release: Terraria (US, 05/16/11)
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