Take one glance at Terrorarium by Stitch Media, and it’s impossible not to think of Nintendo’s Pikmin. Both games share a similar premise with a lone traveler utilizing an armada of diminutive aliens to overcome obstacles. Terrorarium veers left, though, by encouraging the willful destruction of your cute companions as opposed to building their numbers. The result almost feels like a spoof of Shigeru Miyamoto’s lovable plant buddies that, with time, could become a respectable counterpart.
Players control the Gardener, an elderly, and perhaps sadistic, woman in command of an army of tiny creatures called Moogu. These cute critters can be gathered together, told to wait, and lobbed at obstacles. Moogu come in a variety of types sporting unique abilities. Gassy Moogu, for example, can inflate themselves to allow the player to float. Spicy Moogu ignite flammable objects such as wood and plantlife. Two types of Moogu can be carried at a time, with additional types coming from eating the fruit of Moogu trees.
While Pikmin values building items and growing an army, Terrorarium revels in the concept of self destruction. Stages usually require players to sacrifice Moogu, whether it be using them to trigger explosive vegetables or offering a set amount to the end-level tree. When Moogu die, the remaining horde use the corpses to spawn new Moogu. That means you’ll need to intentionally slaughter Moogu in order to get more of them. End-game messages reinforce this theme by teasingly asking the player how many Moogu died for their success or outright calling them monsters.
Just because death is often the answer doesn’t mean you should completely throw caution to the wind. If Moogu multiply too much, their large numbers will overwhelm the player which leads to Game Over. A meter on top of the screen represents the maximum number of Moogu allowed per stage. Thus, Terrorium becomes a balancing act of skillfully growing and depleting Moogu supply.
Stages present a series of environmental puzzles to overcome. Some obstacles can only be traversed by the Gardener or the Moogu. One stage featured two routes: one filled with water while the other was a spike pit. The Gardener can cross water but Moogu cannot. Conversely, spike pits are a no-go to players but a non-issue to Moogu. The solution came in having the Moogu wait on the edge of the spiked path while I crossed the water to the other side. I then beckoned the Moogu across the spikes to the end goal. Most of the introductory stages I played were similarly easy and decently entertaining. One of the more devious levels forced me to continually sacrifice Spicy Moogu by tossing them into a long series of spiked logs. Corpses piled up in a hurry, and since Moogu are attracted to corpses, I had to reach the end faster than the Moogu could reproduce.
Terrorarium’s 20+ stages aren’t the most visually interesting (especially compared to Pikmin’s charming “little person in a giant world” theme), but players can build their own in the Maker Mode. The editor puts all of the game’s assets at player’s fingertips with levels being made from scratch or from three presets: Mountain, Dungeon, and Sprint. Mountain stages are designed to be tougher from the outset. Dungeon focuses on more complicated, puzzle-like layouts. Lastly, Sprint levels encourage speedy playthroughs. Creations can be uploaded to Steam Workshop where other homemade stages can be downloaded to play. The easy-to-use tools make slapping levels together a breeze, and players can instantly hop in them for quick test runs.
Terrorarium taps into some of Pikmin’s magic but seems to differentiate itself enough to stand on its own. The premise has potential, so hopefully the later stages ratchet up the challenge and creativity. I’d also like to see additional types of Moogu added to the final game as there’s only a handful at the moment.
Terrorarium is currently for sale in Steam Early Access with a release date to be announced at a later time.
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