Just A Spot Of Gardening
Terrorarium feels like a nightmarish mash-up between a babysitting sim and an early Playstation 1 title. The result is something that’s far more cumbersome and frustrating than it should be. With some wonky AI, cheap deaths and Kamikaze Moogu that require constant hand-holding, this title has some serious problems at its core. Terrorarium will ultimately live or die by its community and this Indie has a chance of finding a loyal fan-base thanks to its surprisingly robust level creator and community-driven projects.
Before we get there though, Terrorarium features a 26-level story mode with a loose narrative tying everything together. This serves as your starting point to get accustomed to the main controls before diving into the creative and challenging fan-made levels. At the heart of the story’s conflict lies a woman known simply as “The Gardener.” This green, alien grandmother gets the ball rolling by taking these Moogu under her wing and heading to different planets.
A lot of these levels are reminiscent of old Playstation 1 titles – for better or worse – with simple textures and 3D shapes back-dropped against these A to B physic-based puzzles. Each level plays out as an obstacle course, with you controlling a unique set of units called Moogu. To begin with you control a simple blue variety but later on that’s complicated further by the inclusion of sticky green and fiery red editions, each with their own unique quips and traits.
The levels see you navigating across treacherous terrain with these creatures by your side. The aim here is to reach the holy grail of each level, coming in the form of a venus fly trap which you feed Moogu to. This releases a ball of fruit which, upon touching, allows you to progress across to the next level.
It’s an incredibly simple premise and this simplicity is given a healthy dose of creativity as the levels become harder and the obstacles more difficult to pass. Expect rolling balls, monsters wanting to eat you (and your little Moogus) along with lava, water and spikes. Each of these hazards must be approached in a specific way and the levels do a great job mixing things up and making you think outside the box.
Spikes, for example, will kill you instantly if you touch them. Likewise, if a Moogu touches water they’ll die too. However, The Gardener can wade through water while putting her Moogu to sleep with the press of a button. Moogu are also small enough to slip between spikes without being hurt. Both of these are combined cleverly early on and this serves as a solid foundation for some of the later levels, especially with the introduction of unforgiving snowy wastes.
Lava is lava regardless though so touching that will result in an insta-kill too. Not all the hazards and obstacles work well though – tunnels for example obscure your view completely despite the translucent outline of your character. This causes some fumbling around to find the right location to travel and if there’s a monster or obstacle just outside then it can result in a cheap death.
Unfortunately the Moogu you control are unpredictable, to say the least. The game does try to quell some of that with the aforementioned sleep button by pressing Q. At the same time, holding down the spacebar allows you to whistle over a small radius and magnetize these creatures to your location. This is probably the most useful tool in your arsenal as the Moogu tend to wander off a lot. Expect them to get stuck between rocks, wander into water and even randomly enter enemy paths if you’re not paying attention.
Therein lies one of the biggest problems with Terrorarium. It’s not enough that some of these levels are challenging and need to be maneuvered carefully. On top of that, you also have to babysit the Moogu and more often than not, you;ll find yourself holding spacebar constantly to keep these troublesome critters as close to you as possible.
Episode 2 saw me repeating the same section repeatedly because two of my Moogu got trapped under a rock and couldn’t be called back. Another time the fruit from a venus flytrap landed awkwardly and because it was out of bounds, forced me to restart the level again. Late on, some seriously tricky obstacles were navigated but my Moogu got stuck on a jagged piece of rock on a raised platform. Unfortunately pressing spacebar saw it jump headfirst into water. With no checkpoints in sight, I was forced to restart this entire section again.
The ideas are certainly here though for a fun and imaginative title. Aesthetically the game makes great use of its vibrant colours and the animation is pretty good during cut-scenes. The different levels are varied and there’s certainly a consistency to the art across the game. However, Terrorarium features roughly 3 or 4 different music tracks available and most of them have a very catchy motif. While this sounds good on paper, playing for hours on end does tend to audibly grate on you after a while as you hum these same tunes repeatedly when they crop up.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and despite some frustrations with the game loop and controls, Terrorarium has a lot of promise when it comes to faith in its community and creativity. The former comes in the form of different levels and already there’s a lot to choose from. Given a Level Design competition took place prior to Terrorarium’s full launch, there’s a hefty amount of content to get through and enjoy.
If you thought the story levels were difficult though, wait until you try some of these. There’s a couple that are ridiculously challenging and others that just feel nigh on impossible. No doubt there’s a lot of material here to enjoy and if you’re sold on the premise and the story mode, there’s endless hours of fun to be had. Whether you’ll have the patience to see this through and stick it out for the long haul though remains to be seen.
Alongside these levels is the aforementioned map creator and tools. There’s a lot of creativity to be had here and everything from plotting enemy paths for patrols to scaling and rotating water and other hazards are easy and intuitive to use. These use the same basic premise as the main story levels but there’s so much fun to be had with this mode that it quickly dispels any annoyances and gripes with the main gameplay.
You can control everything from the number of Moogu you start the level with to the number of walls you need to smash through to reach your goal. There really is a lot of variety here and it’ll be interesting to see how this develops over time. Given the review copy we were provided didn’t include the ability to publish levels of our own, it’s hard to say how easy, difficult or even how long it takes to upload these files.
Taken on its current merit and compared to other games of its kind, Terrorarium doesn’t do anything special with its story mode. Some of the gameplay mechanics are unnecessarily cumbersome and the Moogu are more of an annoyance than they perhaps should be. There’s definitely potential here for a real Indie darling to develop over time and the map maker will be the real star of the show here, no doubt.
Between some irritating bugs and a sorely lacking checkpoint system, Terrorarium is a real marmite game that you’ll either love or hate. The map maker is just enough to save this from being a complete disappointment but beyond that there really isn’t a lot here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. For the asking price, I’d recommend checking out some gameplay videos and perhaps even trying a demo before paying for this.
All of our videogame reviews are also featured on OpenCritic
Verdict - 4/10