Alien mushrooms and a grumpy granny are at the heart of the experience that is Terrorarium. As the game enters Steam Early Access, it shows a lot of promise to create a cute and casual action game with simple mechanics that inspires player creativity.
In Terrorarium, the player takes on the role of a sassy granny with attitude who is known as the Gardener. At her disposal is an army of alien mushrooms called Moogu: cute but terrifying creatures that uncontrollably breed with corpses of dead Moogu. Granny is on a mission to collect dangerous plants for her garden and is not afraid to kill her Moogu to get what she wants.
Terrorarium features two separate game modes: quick play and maker mode. Quick play features a series of levels that teach the basic mechanics of the game. Across the 24 levels of quick play, players are introduced to four types of Moogu—Spicy, Thick, Gooey, and Gassy—each possessing unique abilities that can be used to solve puzzles and avoid monsters to complete the level. The Moogu types also have different breeding multipliers. For example, the Spicy Moogu creates an additional five Moogu for every corpse they breed with. This detail is quite important in some levels by creating the additional challenge of managing the population size either by swapping equipped Moogu type or through carefully planned, deeply enjoyable Moogu murder.
Completing the quick play levels present varying levels of difficulty. Most can be completed in one run, while others can take a few attempts to ensure enough Moogu are kept dead or alive to meet the population restrictions. Later levels in particular are deceptively hard to manage and complete. However, all of the levels are simple enough to comfortably teach the basics without feeling too tedious or over-complicated.
Maker mode acts as a level creation tool where the player can make and share their own terrorariums. As the game enters Early Access, four basic level types can be selected with each base type encouraging different play styles. Maker mode has no restrictions, thus enabling complete freedom to create interesting content using the variety of assets available. Some of these tools include monsters, decorative plants, destructive terrain, and barriers. Whilst players are given the option to craft puzzling levels, they also have the freedom to curate garden spectacles which are instead for visual enjoyment.
Level creation offers players the opportunity to share their work with the Terrorarium community. Shared levels will be accessible to play in maker mode. This feature is the most exciting future prospect for Terrorarium as players can draw inspiration from the core mechanics introduced in quick play or ignore them altogether to develop unique puzzle solving methods using the assets available.
The cute, low-poly art style is Terrorarium’s biggest appeal as it enters Early Access. The Gardener’s sassy face, squishy tummy, and twig antlers give her such a cute, odd look that captures the player’s attention, even if they do not understand why. The colourful flora, fauna, and Moogu set amidst a subtle background allow them to pop in the landscape.
Terrorarium has a few minor issues that bug the experience which will hopefully be resolved by release. AI pathfinding makes monsters glitch back and forth on the spot before moving, preventing them from acting as a hazard and making them distracting on screen. Adding controller support could alleviate rough camera and gameplay issues. Additionally, some of the signs in the early levels do not depict the button for the control they are trying to teach, which can make learning mechanics difficult for some.
Developer Stitch Media is creating quite a different project with Terrorarium than it is familiar with. The studio’s past credits are mainly interactive or experiential stories and documentaries, some of which are tie-ins with other franchises such as The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Hopefully, Early Access will be a great opportunity for Stitch Media to receive feedback and create a refined game with a focus on longevity through community created content.
Terrorarium has the foundations for a fun, casual experience that will only further develop through Early Access as it finds a community following. Terrorarium will suit players who enjoy creating and designing their own levels, which gives the game a lot of potential moving forward as an enjoyable, sandbox experience. The game may not be revolutionary, but it will be pretty cute for casual, crafty gamers.