There aren’t enough games that you play as the villain. Incidentally, I had a chance to play two of them: one is a modern refresh of an older game—Destroy All Humans—and then there is Terrorarium. You might hear “Terrorarium” and think, “man, that sounds like a terrarium, but with more terror” and you’d be sort of right. A terrorarium is, apparently, a “murder garden” and you have the chance to play as that murder gardener.
Terrorarium is a third person, isometric puzzle game. You play as a villain who plies her horticultural trade in a series of those aforementioned murder gardens, full of deadly plants, hazards, and pitfalls. You also are a breeder of small creatures called Moogu—creatures you can toss and command in a way that is very similar to Pikmin and their eponymous plant creatures that do your bidding. Moogu are also plant creatures—mushrooms in this case–breed by the gardener, to do her bidding.
A murder garden sounds like a harsh environment, but Terrorarium’s graphics are bright and colorful—there’s no savage gory murder, just cute gory murder. And most of what will die are the many Moogu that lay down their lives for the gardener’s vile whims as they face the various horrors of the terrorariums. If you want something cute and inoffensive, Terrorarium manages that, all backed by a soundtrack that would fit into a late 90’s, early 00’s animated movie with an antihero protagonist.
Now before you run off and start telling everyone that a Pikmin-like game is out for PC, you might want to read on. See, part of Pikmin’s draw, and by extension, many of the games developed by Nintendo, is its satisfying gameplay. Terrorarium, on the other hand, is not so satisfying, and has a myriad of other problems that end up keeping the whimsically cute world of Terrorarium from reaching its full potential.
Playing Terrorarium isn’t very fun. Controls feel loose, and dealing with the Moogu is slightly frustrating. You can summon your Moogu to you, or have them stay behind by putting them to sleep, which allows you to pass through hazards they can, and vice versa. For reasons unknown to me, my Moogu number would drop even when I wasn’t near a hazard. Worse, if I recalled my Moogu in a tight environment, they would inexplicably fan out inside or close in, and run over hazards that would kill them. When tossing Moogu at a target, it feels like the reticle is just a suggestion, because the Moogu often don’t land where you aim. That’s just some of the finicky issues I’ve had with the Moogu.
But playing with the finicky and easily dead Moogu aren’t the only problems. There are a few bugs that really kept putting a damper on my gameplay, and I don’t mean ones that you’ll find in one of the gardens, I mean level ending bugs. Fruit—usually the end goal of each garden—would sometimes fall into places I couldn’t physically reach. My gardener, when jumping off of a platform, would sometimes be stuck falling through mid-air until the game killed her and restarted the level. And that’s another thing: you can fail for reasons easily outside of your control.
If you lose all your Moogu and can’t breed more, or if the Gardener touches a single object that can harm her, the level is over, and you have to try it all again.
Some puzzle games feel tight, with cleverly constructed levels. Terrorarium’s default levels are not very clever, tight, or fun. Few original ideas are employed, and I’ve run into a good amount of pure bad design multiple times. Going through tunnels without being able to see the path you’re supposed to take isn’t fun. If you disliked the original twenty-something levels like I did, part of the draw of Terrorarium is the ability to customize your own murder gardens, and play with those that others created.
The only community made levels available during my review time were those put out from a design competition. Those were obviously curated, but there is some really great stuff there that employs Terrorarium mechanics in ways the original developers didn’t even consider. That’s where the real potential for Terrorarium is: the user made levels.
Too bad using the level editor isn’t the best. I found the level editor to be similarly finicky. As far as level editors go, it’s very simple, and easy enough that anyone should be able to jump in, and with a bit of tinkering, starting pushing out their own murder gardens for Moogu to uh, frolic in.
Terrorarium has a lot going for it, but none of it has baked long enough. Controlling the Moogu is finicky, and default levels are lackluster, and missing creativity. It has colorful graphics, and a soundtrack that is extremely apt, but they don’t tighten this messy package. Terrorarium might be leaving Early Access, but it really should keep growing a bit before harvest.
Terrorarium is available tomorrow on PC.
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