Many games set out to be a sandbox--an interactive world filled with options and untapped potential--but Terraria embodies this concept in a way few games do. The game drops you into a 2D pixelated world with a handful of tools and tells you to explore, dig, build, and, oh yeah, survive. Now that the adventure is on consoles, there's one more way to lose hours mining for ore, and you can do it with a friend or three on the same screen.
Since its release on the PC in 2011, Terraria has sometimes been referred to as a two-dimensional Minecraft, and though that comparison is somewhat unfair, you'll notice the structural similarities between the two games straight away. Progressing through Terraria means chopping down a lot of trees, digging a lot of dirt, mining a lot of stone, and fighting a lot of monsters. Just about everything you cut through with your pickaxe, axe, sword, or hammer provides a resource with which to build and craft new items. Wood can be fashioned into shelter or platforms. Ore can be used to build armor and tools. Even cobwebs are valuable for making fabric, which in turn can help you craft things like flags or robes. There are a wealth of opportunities in the world, and it all starts with a few tools and some trees. What follows is up to you.
While the PC release dropped you into a randomly generated world with no instructions, the console version of Terraria includes a tutorial that gets you up to speed with gathering resources, changing the environment, and building shelter, all of which are essential skills if you are going to survive your first night. It also gives you a primer on crafting items such as torches and walls, which are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many things you eventually have the means to create, including impenetrable armor, magic potions, fancy furniture, and boots that let you double-jump.
Even so, Terraria is a game you might want to play with a guide close at hand, whether it's a more experienced friend or a source on the Internet. While the game's crafting system is good at telling you what you can build with what you have in your inventory, it's not always great at telling you what might be crafted if you find additional resources. Also, the game's bosses and non-player characters tend to have very specific summoning criteria, which you're unlikely to stumble into without countless hours of exploration. An in-game guide (the first NPC you encounter in the game) is there to consult for some early help and crafting advice, but his menus can be a bit unwieldy, and his tips cover only so much.
Then again, maybe you don't want the help. There's certainly a lot of joy in the untainted discovery--in choosing a direction, saying "I'm going to go that way," and seeing what happens. Maybe you'll dig deep and find hidden caves and treasure. Maybe you'll journey upward and find a floating island. So what if you don't discover how to get the best armor. So what if you don't fight every type of monster. Maybe that's not what the game is about for you, and that's OK. Terraria lets you play how you want to play.
It's the sense of discovery and the promise of new rewards that help make Terraria such an engrossing experience. It's the exciting feeling of "Oh, I've never seen this material before. I wonder what I can craft with it?" that serves as a great incentive to keep you playing until the wee hours of the morning. You always feel like you're making progress, and the rewards (even the purely cosmetic ones) tend to be worthwhile.
When playing with a console controller as opposed to a mouse and keyboard, you get an interesting trade-off. While most actions in the game are faster and more fluidly performed on the PC (including item switching, inventory management, and, most importantly, building), the acts of digging, putting up walls, and grappling (with a craftable grappling hook) are actually faster and more comfortable with the controller.
Digging with a controller in particular is a welcome time-saver, because you do so much of it during your time in Terraria. By aiming in a direction with the right stick and holding down the action button, you automatically dig a hole forward that's just big enough for you to walk through, making it much easier to pick a direction and simply explore than by using the individual pixel digging of the PC version. If you find you need the added fidelity that a mouse might provide, however, you can click in the right stick to get a more free-moving cursor (this is particularly useful when building structures).
If you don't want to explore alone, you can easily gather four people around a single TV for split-screen multiplayer, which works very well provided you have the screen real estate to accommodate a quartet of adventurers. You also have the option of going online with up to eight people, but there are some unfortunate limitations. Unlike the PC version, which lets you run a permanent server but requires an IP address, the console version swaps these pros and cons: you can't create a permanent server, but it's also easy to invite people from your friends list into your world. In some sense this might be for the best, since your friends are perhaps less likely to gleefully destroy your hard work and steal all your carefully crafted items, but it does make it a bit harder to find people to play with if your friends don't own the game. There is no quick match or lobby option.
Along with the new controls and split-screen multiplayer, there is some new content that, at least at launch, is exclusive to the console versions of Terraria. This content comes in the form of some new armor variations, a few new uninteresting enemies, and a new boss. While the new zombie boss may sound enticing, none of this content is especially exciting when compared to everything else that's already in the game. Also new is an auto-drawing map, which is an extremely helpful addition for new players but slightly dilutes the more do-it-yourself nature of the PC version.
Even without the additions, however, Terraria could not be accused of lacking content. While deceptively simple at the start, Terraria has many layers of depth that are dug up only with hours of playing. Even the "small" world option could take many hours to fully explore, and that's not even on the unlockable hard difficulty level, which adds new items and enemies.
Terraria is a great game packed with content regardless of where you play it. Your platform of preference may depend on what you hope to do: If you want to build magnificent structures above- and belowground and show them off with a dedicated server, you will have a faster, easier time on the PC. If you simply want to explore and fight monsters with friends (maybe while sitting in the same room), then the console version might be more your speed. Be careful not to get too comfortable on your couch, though, because when Terraria sucks you in, you might find yourself digging and crafting for far more hours than you originally intended.