Like Minecraft, Terraria, from indie developer Re-Logic, is all about exploring, building and survival. Yet, aesthetically the two games are distinctly different. For one thing, Terraria is a side-scrolling game played in a 2D landscape whereas Minecraft is a 3D open world game with seemingly no boundaries.
Moreover, by mimicking low-res arcade games, the graphics in Terraria represent an even bigger technological redux than the block-based imagery of Mojang’s hit. The effect might be surprising if you come to Terraria as an existing Minecraft convert, especially if you’ve seen Terraria toys in stores and are expecting something similar.
If anything, however, Terraria’s retro styling gives the game an edginess that Minecraft lacks. Try building your first house and not be intimidated by the scary things that swarm all over it when darkness falls. It’s the closest you’ll get in pixel form to experiencing Night of the Living Dead.
Another admirable quality of Terraria is how much Re-Logic has derived from what might at first appear to be a limited canvas. As in Minecraft’s Survival mode, there are numerous tools and objects you must collect and build to stay alive. For this you gather basic elements such as stone and wood by digging underground or traveling across the varied landscapes the game generates it starts.
It is possible to amass a large inventory of crafting materials, tools and weapons but you can't have them all deployed at once. Hence, strategic thinking is required to decide what to have readily to hand in the so-called hotbar. Weapons are a given because an array of deadly foes - including zombies, slime, crows and what look like phantom rabbits - keep coming at you from both sides.
This only scratches the surface of Terraria, though. There is a multitude of achievements to play for that read like extreme Boy Scout of Girl Guide badges. In the process of collecting these you can unlock characters such as a nurse, stylist, painter and Goblin Tinkerer. Along the way you can visit different biomes, build awesome stuff, battle boss villains and increase the game’s difficulty, all of which might keep you locked to the screen for hours. If you reach the toughest levels and play at the right time of year, you might even see Santa.
The Steam version of Terraria for the PC is not a resource hog, which means it should work without a problem even on recent run-of-the-mill machines. Currently, it doesn’t come with in-built support for a controller. Given the easy-to-master mouse and keyboard controls and the lack of intense gameplay, however, you probably wont miss one even if you’re a console gamer.
Terraria hasn’t yet caught on with kids in quite the way that Minecraft has. That might be because creative gameplay is not as intuitive. Moreover, progress is harder to make in a world where constant danger means you can't explore and build just for fun. For creative gamers of all ages willing to stick with it, though, Terraria offers as much potential for imaginative expression as Minecraft. That’s assuming you figure out how to survive for more than a few minutes