Minecraft launched a thousand "me too" copycats after its inception -- many of which offer the same experience with slight tweaks, and others still that attempt a unique overhaul in every way. Terraria falls into the latter camp, taking obvious inspiration from Notch's sandbox powerhouse and putting a unique side-scrolling spin on the formula. It evokes quite a few genres and it's an exciting alternative to those who feel as though they may need to explore a world beyond Minecraft's limits, both in terms of action and aesthetics. In many ways it's very similar, but it does hold its own as an interesting counterpart as well. It's unfortunate it needs a little more time in the oven, though.
Like Minecraft, Terraria's finally made its way to the Xbox Live Arcade for those hankering for a heaping helping of sandbox play. Immediately you're thrust into a menacing, unforgiving and randomly generated 2-D world, rife with dangers and enemies. There's a very brief and simple tutorial you can choose to partake in via the NPC that roams the newly-created world, but for the most part you'll learn more by trial and error or by researching what can be done online with the many resources at your disposal. You'll want to immediately start mining, collecting said resources, and get to work without sifting through the tutorial, anyway -- that's what this kind of building environment breeds: the urge to create.
Mining is a bit of a strange endeavor in Terraria, however. Forget mindless digging straight ahead -- that simply doesn't feel "right." Instead, you need to aim for the block you want to dig on next. This is admittedly a much slower process and requires more of a general idea for what you want to build. And build you shall. You need to think about building a habitat for yourself for when night arrives and stock up on the materials that will keep you alive. You can mine ores and precious minerals, as well as randomly located money, potions, arrows, and various other pieces of equipment to aid you on your journey. Every so often you'll even uncover a treasure chest rife with special RPG-esque items that inspire even more exploring and excavation.
Of course, this couldn't exactly be a treacherous quest without enemies standing in your way, and Terraria's rife with them, including the quintessential slime monsters as seen in a glut of role-playing games. The combination of searching for new items and slaying monsters is an engaging one, and it gives you a real sense of progression. Attaining new gear, relics, treasure, and other special items is rewarding and that's where Minecraft and Terraria differ so greatly.
Terraria is more of a traditional adventure game/Metroidvania in that messing about with the landscape and being creative isn't really going to get you very far. Though you can build and customize a home and other landmarks, you rarely need to go there or utilize it as anything other than a temporary shelter or space for all your items. The heart of the game can be found in its myriad adventuring exploits, which it does extremely well. It's a differently flavored treat, but one that can very easily cater to a different audience.
Where the few problems do lie are within the game's translation from PC to Xbox Live Arcade. Control issues as previously mentioned -- the Xbox 360 controller simply isn't as accurate as a mouse, and the screen orientation is such that aiming with the analog stuck becomes quite painstaking. You can select instead to use a cursor-like input, but when it gets down to it, the Xbox control scheme never feels much more than inconvenient. So great content aside, simple problems such as these (and a wonky multiplayer experience) keep it from reaching the heights like the original PC version did.
Terraria 's excursion to the Xbox Live Arcade is a welcome one, but it's certainly not without its own set of issues. There's a great experience to be found here amidst all the frustrating controls and spotty multiplayer, but as of right now it simply isn't as polished as it could be. Perhaps after a few updates and considerable revamping it will reach the heights of "must buy" status like Minecraft's Xbox 360 port.