Review: Terraria (Xbox 360)

After sinking dozens of hours into Terraria on PC, I was a little worried about heading back into the game. Would I be bored with it, having already played Terraria to death? Would the magic be less magical? And how on earth will all those keyboard commands fit on a controller? The answers to these questions are, in order, no, no, and a little clunky but good enough. Terraria is still a ridiculously compulsive procedurally generated 2D free-scrolling creative platform/mining construction game. How on earth all that fits into a microscopic 33MB download is anyone’s guess.

There’s no plot to Terraria, but rather a situation. You’re above ground and all this neat stuff is below it, so you need to harvest resources, create weapons and armor, build a house for the NPCs who will eventually wander by, and beat the living hell out of every monster, creature, beast, and boss in your way. The balance of combat to building to exploration is just right, leading you deeper and deeper into your unique procedurally-generated world.

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The basics are the same for Terraria as they are for any game in its genre. You start with nothing and harvest your way to badassery. It’s easy to compare to Minecraft but, honestly, it’s a cheap comparison that’s also wildly inaccurate. Yes, you collect resources and create stuff with them, but Terraria is far more an action game than Minecraft will ever be. Creation, which is the heart and soul of Minecraft, is more an entertaining diversion in Terraria. Once you’ve built and decorated your home base Terraria becomes an action platformer where exploring the world yields better resources to create stronger weapons and armor so you can clear the boss battles and explore even farther. You’ll run, jump, slash, shoot, explode, excavate, and occasionally build a mini-base deep under the earth so you don’t have climb quite so high in order to stash your latest haul.

This is an adaptation of a PC game, though, and the new format brings its share of gameplay tweaks, additions, and quirks. First and most notable is the addition of a map, which is a feature the original version desperately needs added. As you explore deep into the earth and the caverns get more and more complicated, it’s very easy to get completely lost. A few runs from surface to the depths will imprint the course in memory, but in the meantime Death By Monster in an obscure side-cavern that looked like the way home was a little too frequent. Fortunately this only meant the loss of some money, and you wake up safe in bed to try again, but a simple map would have helped avoid the whole issue. Now we’ve got one and it’s a definite improvement to the game, although it has a tendency to show areas that are a little bit beyond where the light from your torches can reach. On the one hand the map’s extra view distance feels like cheating, while on the other every little bit helps.

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The other big change to Terraria is the move to gampead controls. While swinging a sword has a straightforward effect, in that anything in its arc gets smacked, targeting with the other tools relies on more precise cursor control. The console version simplifies the process by having two targeting methods that can be switched between with a click of the right joystick. One version auto-targets the most logical block, which is great for opening doors or digging a horizontal tunnel, while the other method give manual cursor control. While manual ends up being the normal targeting method, automatic definitely has its place, and switching between the two makes navigating the world quick and easy. Unfortunately switching between tools is clunky, albeit serviceable, relying on the shoulder buttons to cycle through the active item list. The slight awkwardness meant I usually found it more efficient to hit monsters with the pick-axe than to switch to a sword.

The other updates aren’t quite so game-altering, but are still (mostly) nice. Pets have been added, and they follow you around until bad things happen, at which point they can be re-summoned. Multiplayer can be 4-player split screen or 8-player online, and single player can be set to let random people join or be locked out. Less useful is the occasional bout of stuttering when you travel quickly, as Terraria tries to keep up with loading in the surroundings. It’s not frequent and hardly a game-breaker, but it still feels strange that a modern console can’t smoothly stream a 16-bit style world.

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Closing Comments:

Terraria was utterly fantastic on PC, and has made a near-perfect jump to console. It’s always fun to generate a new world, get a sense of where the biomes are this time around, dig to the deepest depths, and power your character up to ridiculous levels with the equipment you create. Building giant structures may not be the game’s primary focus but it’s still fun to do, and there’s plenty of items that can be made to make your house more homey, or trap-y if you’re in a deadlier mood. Terraria creates a giant sprawling world to conquer, and the satisfaction of progression is always enough to drag you down to its most perilous depths.
score4.5
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)