Terraria Review

Dig in.

An old man awaits at the entrance of a dungeon. Stricken by a mysterious curse, he urges you to return after the sun has set, to free him of the madness that has infected his body. So you spend the day amid the grassy splendor of Terraria, surveying caves, slaying rabbits and slimes, as the hours tick by. Once night has set, you return to the old man, to free him of his curse and reap whatever rewards he wishes to give you. It turns out that the little curse transformed the old man into a demonic skeleton, a hovering monstrosity that unleashes holy hell upon your poorly equipped explorer. The battle rages for 10 seconds, maybe 20 if you run away at the onset, and then you're left staring at your corpse and wondering how you could ever defeat such a beast.

But there's no reason to be deterred by such a thorough beating. Terraria uses an empowering sense of discovery to grab you, and that unrestrained freedom is a double-edged sword. Free to explore the untouched lands, you may happen upon a monster much more powerful than you, or you may find a chest filled with precious treasures. You're never sure where your travels will lead you, but your curiosity is always rewarded. You may gain knowledge, such as knowing not to talk to old men at night, or happen upon a cache of gold, which can be used to forge a powerful sword. It's a world bursting with possibilities. Terraria is an incredible adventure that continually excites your imagination with the endless secrets that await.

An apartment complex reaching toward the sky gives your helpers plenty of room for themselves.
An apartment complex reaching toward the sky gives your helpers plenty of room for themselves.

Terraria debuted on the PC almost two years ago, and I was worried how such a mouse-heavy game could make the transition to a traditional control scheme. After a little practice, my worries were thankfully banished. Movement works remarkably well on the Vita, which makes sense given that Terraria feels like a 2D platformer. Performing precise jumps and grappling up walls feel even better using an analog stick instead of keyboard keys, so there's joy in traversing the world that didn't exist before. However, movement isn't nearly as important as excavation, and that's where patience matters. No longer can you dig precisely with a mouse; instead, you use a stick. The game has two options, manual and smart, which have different strengths and weaknesses. If you're clearing a deep hole, smart is blunt and effective. If you need to focus on individual blocks, manual works fine. Unfortunately, your cursor is controlled by both the right stick and the back touchpad, and there's no way to disable the second scheme, so you do have to hold the Vita carefully lest you dig haphazardly.

Terraria is an incredible adventure that continually excites your imagination with the endless secrets that await.

Discovery is the essence of Terraria, but thankfully that doesn't extend to basic play concepts. The PC version struggled to communicate exactly what you were supposed to do in this expansive world, and though the Vita version doesn't spell out every detail, it does a great job of pushing you in the right direction. Shelter is the most pressing matter for a lone explorer. Chop down trees to gain wood, and then use that wood to build a house. Once you lay out the frame, you need doors and a chair to complete the requirements, and that's where you get your first hint at what makes Terraria so appealing. You're told to make a crafting table, and by standing near it, you can make the rest of the pieces to finish your house. And there are a lot more items you can craft beyond that. With a bevy of weapons and armor, clothes and decorations, there are tons of tools you can make that help you become a better explorer.

A little snow never hurt anyone.
A little snow never hurt anyone.

The items you can craft are clearly spelled out for you, so you're never unclear about what's possible. Once you acquire any of the plentiful materials strewn about the land, you learn how you can use them to craft something that could help you on the journey. Turn cobwebs into silk and then combine that with wood to make a bed. Melt silver nuggets into bars and then pound those into a shining suit at your anvil. By seeing exactly what items you can create, you're pushed to gather those materials as quickly as you can. You want that jungle hat, right? Well, you better find an underground jungle and gather spores if you want to sport that fine protective gear. An enticing cycle of hunting for materials followed by reaping a reward crops up in the early moments. Once you have golden armor and tools, you can venture further, which allows you to access even more powerful weapons.

Much of your time in Terraria is spent digging elaborate tunnels beneath the surface. It's there that the most precious resources are buried, so you grab some torches and try to fend off the skeletons and bats as you dig ever deeper down. It's a slow process that stays compelling for two important reasons. First, with so many secrets hidden below, you continually stumble upon exciting new areas. Maybe you land at a place filled with bioluminescent mushrooms that can be brewed into a handy potion, or find a makeshift house hiding a treasure chest. You never know, so you keep digging. Second, there's a puzzle element to digging successfully. When you chip away at rock in the deep end of a lake, you have to figure out how to manage your dwindling supply of oxygen while going further down. Or you may have to divert water toward smoldering lava to create obsidian. You're always planning the best possible route, while fending off enemies, which keeps you engaged during those solitary hours carving out earth.

It would be so much easier to mine this meteor if aliens weren't flying at your head.
It would be so much easier to mine this meteor if aliens weren't flying at your head.

Once you harvest enough gold to drape yourself in it, you may wonder where you're supposed to go next. Well, thankfully, there's a guide who can point you in the right direction. Building houses attracts non-player characters, and each has his or her own way to help you. The guide tells you that it's finally time to fight a boss, and even details how to summon it, which is a godsend if you're lost. If you have an explosive in your inventory, a blast-happy dude moves in who happily sells you dynamite and bombs. There's no way to know exactly what will lure more NPCs to your commune, so just experiment with everything possible. None of them are necessary to complete your adventure, but they are a handy resource when you're stumped. Just make sure you fortify your walls. You wouldn't want a goblin army killing your only friends.

Combat in Terraria is often simple. Killing slimes is more about positioning than deeper tactics, so most enemies serve as a distraction rather than a serious roadblock. Of course, you could play with permadeath if you want a real challenge, or lose all of your items upon every death, but such consequences were so severe for me that I didn't want to venture forth, which defeats the point of the game. The normal option is that you lose money when you die, which is a gentle scolding more than a serious setback.

Digging a helevator is the quickest way to reach the bottom of the world.
Digging a helevator is the quickest way to reach the bottom of the world.

Be prepared to die a lot when bosses make an appearance. Every battle is against a massive beast that dwarfs your feeble adventurer, so you have to be smart and well prepared if you're going to come out on top. If you collect enough shooting stars beforehand, you can craft mana crystals that let you use magic. It's much safer to shoot magical strikes from a distance than to get up close with your warhammer. Still, there are many different tactics to take out the various bosses. And, who knows, maybe you won't have a chance to plan out a strategy at all. The Eye of Cthulhu randomly appears once you've become powerful enough, and it's crazy to fight this flying beast while in a subterranean jungle. Always be prepared for a fight; you wouldn't want to lose your hard-earned money because you forgot your bow at your home base.

Terraria is a perfect fit on the Vita. Playing this adventure on a handheld is a huge bonus to a game that was already incredibly well made. Now you can mine for hellstone while sitting on the throne or on a bus, so you're always making up an excuse to play for five more minutes. But watch those minutes spiral into the thousands without you even realizing it. And once you go as far as you think you can, you unlock hard mode, and there are even more items to craft and bosses to defeat. Terraria includes the updates to the PC version, so there are lots more bosses, items, and even biomes than when the game was first released. It takes a special game to make you fully care about all the little activities you're taking part in while still keeping your eye on a faraway prize, and Terraria deftly balances those ideas.

The Good

  • Constant string of enticing rewards
  • In-depth crafting system lets you make all the weapons and items you need
  • Terrifying boss battles
  • Huge worlds begging to be explored
  • Perfect fit for a handheld system

The Bad

  • No way to disable back touch

About the Author

Terraria was one of Tom's favorite games of 2011, and it's even better two years later. He sunk dozens of hours into it for this review and plans on playing many dozens of hours more.