I may find it difficult to articulate the odd charm Terrorarium has amongst its faults, but if you like Nintendo’s Pikmin series… This game is for you. It’s fun for a while, frustrating at times, and ultimately seems to be just about on the precipice of greatness.
Terrorarium is Stitch Media’s second foray into the expansive sea of Steam Games that are available and their first attempt at a 3D title. Unfortunately, it shows.
Previously, Stitch Media has worked on interactive documentaries, experiential storytelling projects, and website work. Their first game is titled Rival Books Of Aster. It’s a deck-builder that screams Magic The Gathering. It seems an unusually large jump for Stitch Media to go from Card Game to three-dimensional gardening-based platform puzzler, but you’d think that their breadth of experience would make light work of such a project, especially considering the popularity of titles like Lemmings and Pikmin, which are clearly being emulated here. Sadly, while they may have been able to flex their development muscles in the air… They don’t quite stick the landing.
Terrorarium, after 20 or so minutes, simply felt like a chore to play.
The Moogu Are Probably The Best Thing About Terrorarium
The Moogu are Stitch Media’s Fungal response to Nintendo’s plant-animal hybrid Pikmin. They are probably the best (and worst) aspect of the game. First and foremost, they are adorable. I wouldn’t quite compare them to The Mandolorian’s ever-popular Baby Yoda, but… Yeah. For strange mushroom-creatures, they’re pretty adorable.
This, however, juxtaposes heavily with The Gardener’s character model. In my opinion, at least. I found Captain Olimar’s substitute to be almost off-putting to look at. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as the little old lady looks like… Well, a little old lady. Except she’s not quite an old lady. She’s green, for one. That, and she’s naked apart from a jacket and some yellow wellies. I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but I just didn’t like her. She had a smug look and an intense gaze that I really did not enjoy. Anyway…
The Moogu are probably the cutest game mechanic I’ve encountered since playing fetch with Bear in The Last Of Us Part 2.
However, They Are A Frustrating Mechanic Executed Poorly
Sadly, though, I only found them cute for around two minutes. When actually playing Terrorarium, the Moogu are a bloody nightmare. I never properly played any Pikmin games, so I don’t know if this is a common problem amongst this specific sub-genre of puzzle games, but the Moogu are simply as dumb as shit.
In Terrorarium, there are environmental obstacles such as water and lava that instantly kill the Moogu. Being integral to progress in the game, you kinda need them alive. However, the Moogu clearly don’t care about this. Again, and again, I found the Moogu wandering off into water and drowning while I was standing still. The game does have a whistle mechanic which calls all the surviving Moogu to your position, but this has a cooldown. Mainly, I found it useful if one or two Moogu are lagging behind, or if you’re walking over a bridge.
However, you can’t use this constantly, and it is not always that effective. Moogu can get caught on plants and edges as you traverse each level, and more often than not, I found myself having to go back to get them. The player character has slow movement and no movement abilities, so this becomes more and more tiresome as you go on. If it was once or twice, I could live with it, but as soon as that old woman’s green lips leave that whistle… The Moogu scatter. They fall off of edges, decide to take a fatal swim, and get burnt up by lava. They don’t care for your progress, and frankly it is infuriating.
For A Game That Doesn’t Look Too Spectacular, It Pushed My PC To Its Limits
Right, this is what really bugged me about Terrorarium. More than the suicidal Moogu and more than the creepy, green old woman. Terrorarium isn’t anything special graphically (sorry, Stitch Media), yet it almost killed my PC.
I don’t play and work on the best set-up; I know that. However, I can play a number of games comfortably on fairly high graphical performance. Just last week, I was giving SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE a go, and that was beyond fine on high settings. However, when I play Terrorarium… I found myself genuinely worried about my PC.
The textures, on both the game’s sprites and the environments, aren’t anything special. In fact, even though I was supposedly playing on high, I found them sub-par for other indie titles I’ve played. Each edge seemed a little too pixelated, and there wasn’t much detail in anything. Yet, for some reason, my PC turned into some sort of jet engine when I started playing. I know this isn’t exactly something I can prove through a written review, but it was really going. So much so that I actually decided to shut it down and let it cool off after just 25 minutes of playing.
I won’t pretend to understand how game development works, but Terrorarium clearly suffers from some optimisation issues which are fortunate not to render it unplayable. It performed well but ultimately left me concerned for my PC’s health if I wanted to go back to it.
Without Player-Made Levels, This Game Wouldn’t Be Worth It
First, I just want to say that I think the level design in Terrorarium is great. There just isn’t enough of it. Terrorarium has twenty-six in-built levels which tell the strange revenge story of The Gardener and her Moogu. It’s fun and light-hearted, but it’s short-lived. Each level is set inside a separate terror-filled terrarium, and this has ultimately led to each level being pretty quick to finish. I know, I know. I shouldn’t expect long, sprawling levels in this kind of game anyway, but each one just feels so limiting. There isn’t any degree of exploration, really. Each level is essentially a cluster of obstacles where the only real challenge is deciphering which order to tackle them in. Once you know how to combat them, it isn’t too hard.
I do want to say, though, that I did think each level was designed well. For the limited space they’ve allowed themselves, they use it all. There is a degree of overlapping, however verticality is utilised well in the levels, and I found that this made it a much more enjoyable experience.
However, when you look into considering the games’ full potential… You have to look at the level editor.
Terrorarium has an in-game level editor that players can get stuck into and make their own levels. Obviously, some limitations still apply, but I personally think this is the best part about the game. I messed around in it a little, and it’s very easy to use and navigate. However, I didn’t really come up with anything too difficult, as level design isn’t in my wheelhouse. From exploring the community levels, though… That’s where you find Terrorarium being used to its potential.
In a way, this made the twenty-six story levels seem more like an extended tutorial. The community levels were tough. Like, really tough. They danced the fine line between a welcome challenge and utterly frustrating. However, this is where I had the most fun. When I was failing a level here, it was because it was difficult. I wasn’t failing because my Moogu had wandered into the water all by themselves in an otherwise hazard-free environment.
On Steam, Terrorarium is currently priced at £19.49 / $24.99. Honestly, I don’t think it would be worth that unless for the level editor. I tend to try and judge a game for how many hours per pound I get from it. If it’s more than an hour a pound, it’s usually worth it. That’s why I’ve been so hesitant to purchase any Switch games; I don’t play it enough to justify the consistent £50 price tag. The twenty-six levels could easily be completed in 20 hours. However, with the added level editor… Theoretically, there is endless content to be had. I hope Stitch Media continues to support the game after its full release, as I really think that this could take Terrorarium to another level. However, that’s for the future… For now, the final thoughts…
Ultimately, Terrorarium Is Underwhelming
Graphically, Terrorarium is underwhelming, especially if you consider the near-fatal strain it puts on my PC. The gameplay mechanics are quite fun but are executed poorly. I also found that the UI could be done better. There is a jarring message that appears both when you fail and when you succeed. It also seems very dismissive of Moogu lives, which… Well, I found it a bit harsh. I understand they’re expendable, and The Gardener is hell-bent on revenge, but… The Moogu deserve some respect, right?
In addition to this, there are a few things which I think need to be added in order to aid gameplay. For example, The Gardener dies when there are no more Moogu available on the level. This makes sense, right? When you combine this factor with the fact that your Moogu often kill themselves, it becomes less fun. To add to this, there isn’t any indication of how many Moogu are left available on the map, so it feels like your deaths are almost random. Sometimes you lose your Moogu and survive. Sometimes you don’t. This puts you off attempting anything outrageous or risky in your gameplay and punishes you for trying. It’s hard to decide if this is the marker of a tough game or one that stifles an exploration of its levels and mechanics. I suppose the way people use the level editor will ultimately decide…