If there’s one game in the world that has been cloned to death, it’s Mojang’s seminal sandbox block-builder, Minecraft. Most of the ‘me-too’ versions of it have been content with simply offering a vastly inferior experience that seldom adds much, if any, interesting new content to the tried and true formula. Every now and then, however, you come across a more interesting project, such as Terraria. Using the Minecraft gameplay loop as its blueprint, Terraria endeavors to create a similar sandbox experience on a flat, 2D plane, offering up something that feels familiar, yet distinct in all the best ways. Now, eight years on from launch, it’s finally found its way onto the Switch, and while it’s far from perfect, Terraria on the Switch offers a satisfying take on the sidescrolling classic.
For those of you out of the loop, there’s no story (at least not overtly) in Terraria, you’re simply a person who’s dropped in a new, strange world and tasked with surviving within it to the best of your ability. Upon booting up and pressing on through the impressively in-depth character creation screen you’re transported to a randomly-generated world that’s packed with monsters, dungeons, caves, jungles, and all manner of fascinating life that coalesces into an impressive ecosystem. What you do in this ecosystem is entirely at your discretion, but what’s for sure is that when night falls and the zombies come for you, you will die if you’re not prepared.
To fight back against the cruel hand of nature, your character has the capacity to craft and build things as needed, and this talent has near-limited uses given the enormous breadth of materials you can potentially work with. Just about everything you encounter in nature can be collected if you have the right axe, pickaxe, or whatever other tool the situation calls for, and – once you’ve built yourself a crafting table and an anvil – you can then use these materials to fashion armor, weapons, and stronger tools to increase your odds of survival. It’s not all about war, however, as you can also use the materials to build houses and fill them with all manner of furniture and decorations. What’s more, if you build a house to the right specs, there’s a good chance a friendly NPC will come along and live in it, usually offering up a new service or shop in exchange.
Terraria is an enjoyable experience, then, because there’s always something more you can be doing; it’s the kind of game that slowly blossoms outward as you come to grips with its systems. For example, once you’ve understood the basics of forging swords and building guns, there’s an impressively in-depth system for modifying the stats of your weapons and armor to read up on and experiment with. Killing certain early bosses, too, opens up the possibility for newer, more powerful ones to come your way if specific conditions are fulfilled. Similarly, randomly occurring events can shake up the status quo – such as pirate attacks or Martian invasions – and give you (plus any villagers you’ve recruited) the chance to fight some unique enemies and collect rare loot from them. And that’s not to mention the deep, myriad biomes to explore, each of which is sure to take hours to parse in their entirety.
The double-edged sword of all this is the fact that none of it is strictly required. Yes, there is technically a ‘final’ boss you can fight which takes no small effort to encounter, let alone defeat, but Terraria is very much a game centered on player choice. If you want to wile away your hours building the most gorgeous village that your mind can deliver, you are certainly welcome to it. If you’d rather spend your time relieving every single cave you come across of the ore and treasure it contains, you can do that, too.
To many players, this open-endedness will prove to be a breath of fresh air, but to many others, it may prove to be rather daunting. Those of you that prefer a story to guide your efforts or in-game ‘pats on the back’ to keep you motivated on the path to the final goal may want to think twice before diving into this one, as Terraria is the sort of game where you can only get out of it what you’ve put in. You will never ‘beat’ Terraria, it’s simply a matter of what you decide to say is your own win condition.
One factor that bears mentioning for this Switch port is the occasionally frustrating controls, which in some ways make this version feel a bit inferior to the PC equivalent. The main issue comes down to the usage of the cursor via the right control stick. Sensitivity can’t be tweaked through the menus, and the cursor proves to be too sensitive for pulling off things that require more finesse. This can be mitigated by using the D-pad to navigate a small grid that pops up over the tree you’re trying to chop or the ore you’re trying to mine, but this, too, feels awkward to use. It’s perfectly playable, of course, and you grow a little more adept at managing the cursor as you put in the hours, but it’s the sort of thing that never quite feels right and makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel a little off.
The flipside of this, however, is the fact that playing in handheld mode gives you full access to touchscreen controls, which really help to streamline a lot of the hokeyness of the physical controls. Let’s say you want to cut down a tree. Holding your finger on the screen will cause your character to swing their axe at the tree you’re touching, while a small window next to your finger will show exactly where the cursor is going so you can adjust as needed. Just like that, what proves to be a hassle with the controller is made intuitive through touch control. This extends to other areas, too, such as how you can pinch the screen to adjust the zoom, or drag and drop items on the inventory screens. Terraria certainly isn’t a bad experience when you’re playing on the big screen, but we’d say that playing in portable mode is easily the best way to play it on the Switch.
Another negative that bears mentioning is the complete lack of local co-op at the time of writing. Though the developers have stated that it will arrive in a future patch, there is currently no way of playing on the same console with a friend nearby, which will certainly prove to be dealbreaking for many. Luckily, it’s not a complete miss, as you can play with friends online (provided you’ve paid for Nintendo Switch Online), but still, the omission of local co-op is glaring, not to mention strange, given the relatively high price of this Switch version relative to versions available on other consoles. Let’s not forget that the Wii U port featured local play, but even barring that, one would think that including local split-screen wouldn’t take much more effort, if any, than online play. At any rate, if you’re looking to get into Terraria so you and your friends can play, you’ll either have to wait for the developers to patch it in or make sure that everyone has their own Switch and copy of the game.
As for its presentation, Terraria hardly disappoints on the Switch. The Stardew Valley-esque visuals (which actually pre-date that game by some time, we should note) are simple, but effective, with the real stars of the show being the impressive animation and detailed spritework featured with the bosses. Obviously, Terraria isn’t the sort of game that pushes the limits of experimental art styles or mind-blowing visuals, but it knows how to effectively convey what it needs to with its relatively simplistic looks.
Fortunately, it runs great, too; we didn’t notice any dropped frames, even when the screen was full of eyeballs, slimes, and zombies. As for the soundtrack backing all the crafting and fighting, it proves to be equal parts playful and intense, shifting genres as needed when the action rises and falls. Admittedly, the soundtrack is a rather generic and forgettable set of tunes that aren’t all that likely to make an impression one way or the other, but this inoffensive style is befitting of a game that can be rather grindy, if that’s what your goals necessitate.
Should you buy Terraria on the Switch? Well, that’s a rather nuanced question. On one hand, you have a stable version of an enjoyable, content-rich sandbox classic that can be played both at home and on the go, with that latter option proving to be an intuitive take. On the other hand, the current lack of local co-op is pretty damning for many, especially given that this Switch version is selling for a notably higher price compared to other modern versions. We’d ultimately give this one a recommendation, as the dozens of hours of content and simple, open-ended nature of Terraria’s gameplay prove to make a strong case for why this one deserves a spot on your Switch’s home screen, but if co-op is an important factor for you, we’d suggest you either wait this one out or just pick it up for another platform.