Diggers on the move: Indie darling Terraria goes mobile

I had a brief but passionate affair with Terraria back when it first launched on the PC in 2011. It was a heady time—my colleagues and I were in the grips of a shared obsession with Minecraft, and Re-logic’s 2D entry into the nascent explore-and-build genre stimulated that drive to explore, build, and fight baddies in a style reminiscent of classic platformers. Terraria's requisite cave spelunking and resource hoarding is frequently interrupted by undead hordes and savage boss battles, and an increasingly ludicrous arrangement of powerups and equipment kept our interests piqued.

A port to mobile devices was all but inevitable, especially in light of the game’s debut on consoles. And now it’s here for a mere $4.99 on the Apple App Store, with other mobile platforms reportedly on the way. I must admit I’m pleasantly surprised; Distilling something as chaotic and complex as Terraria into a mobile device is no mean feat, and while it lacks multiplayer support (a real shame) it’s a near-perfect facsimile of a game that’s already pretty great.

Terraria looks gorgeous on the latest iPad.

Terraria is big. Once you’ve created your character you’ll be dumped onto a fairly large world that’s ripe for exploration, armed with a few tools and whatever knowledge you gleaned from the tutorial—I’d recommend giving it a go, if you’re new. The action centers around exploration, resource gathering, and crafting gear and equipment to take on increasingly sinister baddies—think Minecraft with boss battles. I definitely recommend checking out the official Terraria wiki; it’s built with the full PC version in mind so many referenced features aren’t necessarily in the iOS version yet, but it’ll give you solid ground to leap from.

The control scheme was always going to be the hardest part of porting an action-centric game onto a touchscreen device, and Terraria hasn’t quite nailed it. You’ll control your character with a virtual thumbstick; bog-standard for mobile platformers, but it fails to do justice to the original’s frenetic pace. This is par for the course with mobile games, as you’ll need to juggle tapping on a screen while holding whatever it is you’re playing on.

The controls take some getting used to.

The developer has actually done some rather clever things to ease the transition. Consider the equipment: swords can only attack laterally, so a simple slider pops up on the right side of the screen whenever the sword is equipped—slide left or right to attack in the appropriate direction. Switch to a ranged weapon, and you’ll get a thumbstick that let’s you fire in any direction. Now switch to a tool like the axe or pickaxe, and that thumbstick is accompanied by a grid around your character so you can get an idea of that item’s effective range. If you’d like to get a bit more precise—putting some flourishes on your palatial estate—you can touch the screen directly to get a magnified view of the action. The game’s balance has also been adjusted a tad, with enemies being a little less exuberant to begin with.

These are reasonable compromises, and while it all still feels a bit clunky, it’s a sensation that’ll only get better with time—and you’ll of course be better off if you’ve never played the PC iteration in the first place, as much of my misgivings are rooted in being so used to the freewheeling Steam incarnation. Five bucks well spent, folks—grab it from the App Store, and enjoy.

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