Can you dig it?
What happens when you mix a little bit of Minecraft with a dash of SteamWorld Dig? I am not entirely sure, but I bet it would be something like Terraria, now available from developer Re-Logic on the 3DS eShop. Originally released in 2011 for PC, Terraria has been ported to Nintendo 3DS with several tiny tweaks.
Although Terraria shares many elements with other sandbox crafting games, it separates itself from the pack with unique gameplay and execution. Within Terraria’s 2D pixelated world, players will find a well-balanced combination of exploration and tinkering that is sure to stimulate their resourceful ambition and satisfy their inner craftsman. Terraria itself is a relatively abstract game, allowing the player to decide what to do and where to go at all times. With no actual objectives or guidance, the game’s progression is driven only by the player’s motivation toward creativity and discovery.
In a nutshell, Terraria is a game about building stuff. The crux of gameplay lies in various resources which you gather by exploring, mining, harvesting, looting, farming, fighting, buying, and scavenging. As the player builds more and better stuff, more stuff yet becomes available. For example, once you gather wood, you unlock the ability to build a wooden table, and with a wooden table, you unlock the ability to construct a wooden sword. Additionally, if you have gathered lead ore, turned it into lead bars with an acquired furnace in order to craft a lead anvil, you can then use your collection of copper bars to forge a copper shortsword. With around 2,000 in-game items, your once-humble virtual workstation has the potential to become a massive factory capable of producing advanced items such as chandeliers, crystal balls, Orichalcum Waraxes, Frost Staves, and even Lightsabers.
The path to more advanced construction is not quick nor easy, however. In order to achieve higher tiers of craftsmanship, the player must constantly grind for resources, build more and larger buildings in order to attract specialized NPC characters to the world, defeat several bosses and, of course, explore the depths of Terraria’s vast underground. With discovery in crafting being the main emphasis of the game, the minds of Re-Logic did an excellent job of developing one of the most satisfying crafting systems to date.
Although Terraria may exhibit a deceptively simple presentation through its art style, players will be delighted to dig into the many layers and intricacies of the various tiers within the complex crafting system. The lack of direction and general freedom within the game, while being a potential detraction for players yearning for a more guided experience, gives a great sense of wonder to the exploration of both the physical terrain as well as the seemingly limitless possibilities in crafting. In an attempt to slightly nudge players forward, Terraria automatically, yet subtly, alerts the player to new crafting “recipes” every time a new material is discovered. The recipe system does an excellent job of adding a sense of invention and excitement to crafting while leaving the responsibility of actually finding and gathering the materials up to the player. Also, the game paces the crafting progression by assigning workstation prerequisites for many items in addition to the required materials; although the player might have all of the required ingredients to craft a Mythril Blade, they can only do so after acquiring a Mythril or Orichalcum Anvil.
With the majority of the game’s real estate and precious resources being under the earth, players can expect to spend a good chunk of their time mining through the ground, swinging away with their trusty pickaxe to create and discover large networks of subterranean caverns. In a smart design choice to break up the monotony of digging, each randomly generated world of Terraria conceals several underground tunnels, caverns and hidden shelters containing loot or materials awaiting excavation. To further entice players to keep burrowing through the world, random deposits of ore are scattered throughout the sediment, with rare and precious minerals being stashed deeper underground. Thankfully, while digging deep into the earth can be a dark venture at times, ore deposits give off the occasional glimmer to catch the player’s eye and lead them to the allegorical buried treasure. Furthermore, the player can freely traverse several interconnected biomes, such as desert and jungle areas, that each provide their own native materials found only within their specific borders.
While the hunting and gathering of materials is intrinsically fun, Terraria brings a degree of unnecessary frustration to such tasks. The auto-pickup feature is nice for the collection of common materials the player will frequently need, such as wood or stone, but it gets annoying after automatically picking up an unwanted acorn for the hundredth time. This occurrence would not be such a problem if it were not for the limited slots available in your character’s inventory. While you can open the inventory menu, scroll to unwanted items, and discard or place them in chests if you are lucky enough to have one near, I found the process to be cumbersome when trying to make room for a newly encountered valuable item. Also, I found that my character’s inventory was almost always full, despite my ritual of frequently returning home to purge my bounty into neatly organized chests of items and materials.
As a side note, Terraria is populated by several harmless critters, such as bunnies and frogs, that serve as ambient wildlife to be ignored, killed, or captured. Although they can be sold for money once captured, I can not help but feel there is a missed opportunity in not using them as materials or health if the player opts to kill them.
In a welcome addition to the 3DS version of Terraria, you are given the option to play a concise tutorial before being thrust into your first randomly generated world. If opting in for this new feature, the player will be shown the ropes of gathering necessary materials and crafting simple items such as a basic house for protection and a wooden sword for combat. While the tutorial is not entirely necessary, all but the most adventurous of players will want to check it out considering the game provides only a few hints of guidance once you begin.
Prior to starting or continuing an adventure, the player is allowed to create and select from three different customized characters. Despite the limited pixel-based nature of the small game sprites, the character customization feature is pretty robust — allowing the player to pick the gender, select from 36 distinct hair styles, and choose from virtually any color in the spectrum for the skin, hair, eyes, shirt, undershirt, pants, and shoes. Once the player has locked in their desired hero, they will then be granted their choice of three separate, randomly generated worlds in which to inhabit. One important thing to note here: the 3DS version of Terraria has only one world size option of 1750 X 900 tiles compared to the PC version’s three options of small (4200 X 1200), medium (6400 X 1800), and large (8400 X 2400) offerings — a design choice that publisher 505 Games attributes to the relative lack of power of the 3DS. Additionally, the 3DS version of Terraria lacks the option of assigning loot dropping or permadeath to a character, which is otherwise available in other versions.
The game starts off simple enough by compelling the player to chop down some trees in order to build a primitive shelter while either avoiding or splattering the randomly wandering slime enemies. However, just as the player begins to construct new items and gather more advanced resources, the in-game daytime inevitably cycles to night, prompting more deadly creatures such as zombies and demonic eyeballs to creep into the world.
Unfortunately, the combat of Terraria is its weakest component. The melee combat is unwieldy and repetitive; enemies were able to frequently slide in an attack despite my superior positioning as I invariably whirled my sword around. The ranged and magic attacks offer more variety to the combat via boomerangs, guns, shurikens, and the mana factor, although lining up and timing a precise shot is often difficult due to the uneven terrain. Also, as the player’s settlement advances, so do the variety of enemies it attracts. The game opens up to a vast array of enemies which makes the dull combat an even bigger bummer, and it is further magnified by the enemies’ simple AI.
Another category of weakness in Terraria is found in the controls. While the controls were a little awkward for the PC version, they were effective enough considering the requirements of the gameplay. For the 3DS version, however, the preferred method of crafting, building, mining, and menu navigation is performed with a stylus on the touch screen while the character movement and jumping is controlled with the face buttons. This optimal control configuration is just as cumbersome in action as it sounds in theory. However, it comes as a consolation that the touchscreen input method of constructing buildings in the 3DS version of Terraria is the definitive way of doing so.
Terraria is presented with a well-executed 2D pixel-based art style suited nicely for the 3DS, although the display may be a little too small for the preference of some gamers. The game is adapted to the dual screens, using the top screen to display the action while the bottom screen is allocated to toggling between a large overworld map, a zoomed-in view for precise mining and building, and the inventory menu for organizing and crafting. While each of the bottom screen modes function accurately and effectively within the confines of 3DS capabilities, I personally feel that the PC version is more intuitive and fluid. Additionally, there is no 3D option available — a decision once again attributed to the low-end processing power of the 3DS. And for one more side-note, the frame rate occasionally drops for a few seconds when things get a little hectic on-screen, which causes only a brief nuisance during gameplay.
The music and sounds of Terraria for 3DS are a fantastic adaptation of the original version. The sound effects are simple and succinct. The soundtrack is a unique fusion of chiptune and traditional instruments that effectively convey the game’s current location and mood while occasionally evoking the sensibilities of Danny Elfman’s iconic style of tune-smithing.
As an option for a more sociable gameplay experience, Terraria offers the ability for up to four players simultaneously. Gamers familiar with the PC version may be disappointed to find out that multiplayer is limited to local play only, however, with no option for download play — meaning each player will also need their own 3DS and a copy of the game to play together.
Largely, any particular person’s enjoyment of Terraria on 3DS will be defined by their personal gaming tastes. If you enjoy the popular open-ended crafting/survival video game genre, or you yearn to explore the vast depths of a new virtual world, then Terraria is a treasure just waiting to be discovered and delivers one of the best crafting systems available. Although I can not recommend the 3DS version of Terraria over the more complete PC version, other than for its obvious portability, it is an excellent option for anyone who has yet to jump into the imaginative playground world of Terraria. Gamers looking for a more guided experience will find nothing of value here, but the more adventurous explorers should be able to easily excavate hundreds of hours of creative discovery within.