Terrorarium review – Garden of Terror

When reviewing games, one warm-up I use is summing up the game in a single sentence. Badly, because this was never going to end well.

Terrorarium’s summary? Green grandma kills countless cuties in quest for best intergalactic murder-garden.

Still with me?

Terrorarium is out now on PC. Having previewed the early access back in July 2019, I was keen to see how far Stitch Media’s Terrorarium had progressed for its full release one year later.

Thyme to turnip the beet

Our green grandma is the “Gardener”, an alien who creates Terrorariums for the Intergalactic Horrorcultural Society gardening competition. Giant, monster filled terrariums, if you hadn’t already got that.

The dark humour is spot on, and it’s certainly one of the more unique platformers that I’ve come across. The matching music is a darn delight. There’s a kind of sinister quirkiness that matches well with the sheer weirdness of the premise.

But don’t be fooled– this ain’t no gardening simulator; it’s a 3D puzzle platformer. You’ll spend your time traversing each level with the help of the smol squishy Moogu, avoiding death via crazy carnivorous plants along the way. Each Moogu type has a different ability to help you through the puzzles, from Thick Moogu weighing down platforms, to Spicy Moogu setting weeds alight. Moogu die, a lot, and that’s kind of the point, but kill off all of them and it’s game over.

The puzzles themselves are great, but gameplay relies heavily on your Moogu count. As such, Moogu pathing can become the difference between fun puzzling and hair-tearing frustration. The full release has improved the pathing somewhat, but they still get stuck more often than I’d like, leading to level restarts.

One significant change from the early access mechanics is how you replenish lost Moogu. The original breeding loop chaos where Moogu bred with the corpses of other Moogu has been done away with, sensibly replaced by select points where Moogu can multiply.

I kind of miss the squishy explosions and Moogu corpses littering the screen. I don’t know what it says about me as a person.

Gardeners know all the dirt

The main draw-card of the full Terrorarium release is the long-awaited story campaign. This has been implemented in the form of cut scenes which add much needed context. The petty rivalry between the gardeners rivals Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess and Lady Merton, which was a real highlight.

The Moogu themselves are goddamn adorable, particular the Thick Moogu with his grumpy little face. The overall visuals have always been beautifully bright and fun, with the night-time biome a personal favourite of mine.

Much like a moth, I can’t get enough of pretty glowing light sources.

The areas I assumed were unfinished in my original preview turned out to be the “edges” of a round terrarium, which I suppose works with the premise. I still can’t help but think the edges could have been jazzed up a bit though. It still looks a bit rough.

Plant your own garden of terror

The developers have been pretty upfront that the main thing they’re keen for players to enjoy is using Maker Mode to plant their own murder gardens. The mode doesn’t have any tutorials, but luckily it’s not too difficult to get started. There’s a lot of care evident in the development of this mode, like the trademark humour that’s carried on into the description of assets.

The original 24 campaign levels have been scrapped and built from scratch, reflecting the hard work that’s gone on for the last year. The upgrades also unfortunately mean that old community-made levels are no longer compatible, meaning the community has had to restart.

They’ve gotten to a great start however, with the Inaugural Intergalactic Murder Gardening Contest – a Terrorarium level design contest for students in game design schools across Canada, the USA and the UK. What they came up with was so dastardly that the grand prize winning level was used in the official campaign.

Final thoughts

I’m still a bit bitter about my favourite part of early access (the crazy death/breeding explosion loop) being removed. I guess that’s an issue I’ll work through with my therapist.

The strength of Terrorarium is its potential as a playground for budding game designers. And if you like cute little guys, and a solid dose of dark humour, this is a goodun.

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