It’s becoming hard to avoid Terraria, and that’s no bad thing. After a PC release in 2011 the game has received numerous (and significant updates), has been ported to consoles, is now on iOS and is coming to the Vita. It’s a game that is just as engrossing now as it ever was, and though the PC version is still the cream of a crop, its ports have done a great job of providing a decent experience for their respective platforms.
The iOS port of Terraria is admittedly severely limited by a platform clearly not intended to play this kind of game, but this doesn’t stop the game’s brilliance from shining through. Couple this with the sheer appeal of having Terraria available on the go (as well as a nice low price of £2.99) and you have enough reason to plunge back into this wonderful game all over again.
For those who are unfamiliar, Terraria is a sort of mix between a 2D RPG and Minecraft. There’s a large randomly generated map – full of secrets, loot and bosses – in which you can mine and craft. The map is made with mining in mind, on the surface there are enemies to fight but not much to see; it is when you go below that the game truly begins. You will discover all kinds of caves and sanctuaries, full of monsters and loot, as you mine your way through precious metals in order to craft yourself better gear. You can build whatever you want with these materials but, unlike in Minecraft, creation isn’t the focus here. The creation is fun and open ended, but the real appeal of Terraria lies in exploration and discovery.
All of this works excellently, the core gameplay loop is immensely satisfying and scarily addictive. There’s a great sense of progression to Terraria, you are always working to the next milestone and there’s always something to do. The beauty of Terraria lies here, you start out vulnerable and alone but you build your way up. You will encounter new things in your travels and new obstacles, some of these will feel insurmountable, but when you return later with better gear and greater knowledge and pass through with ease. This creates a real sense of empowerment, and adds purpose and direction to a game which so easily could have lacked both these elements.
What was great about Terraria in the past mostly remains great. The world on the iOS version is smaller (understandably), but it still feels large enough to sink dozens of hours into. None of the depth seems to have been sacrificed, everything works as you expect it to and it feels like an emulated version of the proper game rather than a toned down port. This isn’t Terraria pocket edition.
The big change in this version is the controls. Terraria works with touch controls (due to some smart interface design), but it doesn’t work perfectly – far from it in fact. The controls in this version of Terraria do get in the way; they lack finesse and as a result make combat frustrating and movement slightly awkward. This isn’t always the case, a lot of the time things work perfectly, but they don’t work as well as on any of the other platforms (especially PC), and you do feel limited by the controls rather than your skill far too often. Also getting the interface onto iOS means things take a lot longer, all the changes they made make perfect sense but it is unavoidably cumbersome at times. This means you aren’t likely to lose yourself in building epic houses in the same way you did on PC, as things feel like more of a hassle. Also building structures to make materials (like obsidian), or to help fight bosses felt like tactical fun on PC, but now feel a bit arduous, meaning you are far less likely to play as inventively.
The way control works is that you move via a virtual analogue stick, and virtual buttons accompany each usable item. This control only appear when you use them, which allows you to see the game properly, and makes the whole thing far less cluttered. The item related buttons are also all well suited to the task, as each item controls in a different way. The sword gives you the ability to attack both sides while moving one way, while the pickaxe gives you all directions to play with. You can also mine with more precision by touching and holding on blocks. This creates a little zoomed in view (like text magnification on iOS), and means you can mine as effectively as on PC. This does take more time than on computer, but it’s a neat feature that works rather well.
The controls are all adequate, and all seem like the best you could do on the platform, but this doesn’t make them great. Sometimes it becomes clear Terraria just shouldn’t be played this way, which is rather a damning criticism. Control issues do make certain parts of the game less viable (especially boss battles), but luckily there’s still enough fun to be had in Terraria to more than make up for this.
The core of Terraria is still very much accessible in this version, and that core is still excellent. There’s so much content here which isn’t impeded by the controls, and its quality content also. On top of that, having Terraria available on the go is just really awesome. It works as a great quick fix game, and a great boredom buster. There’s always something to do and you can play it for as little and as long as you want, and still gain some sense of achievement. It may not quite belong on iOS, but it still works. You may be better served waiting for the Vita version, but there’s still no real reason to not pick this up from the app store. You are getting so much for your money, and though it could be better, it’s still pretty excellent.