An obtuse naming convention such as void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium may immediately cause people to turn the other cheek. However if they look past the awkward title, they will find an intriguing blend of genres coated with a interesting visual style. It may not be for everyone whether it the simplicity, the lack of environmental variety, or that special something that keeps people coming back; but Void Terrarium was a great way for someone like myself not usually into these games to experience this genre.
Before I get into the mechanics, it’s important to lay out the plot to understand their place in the scope of things. You play as a little robot named Robbie in the fungi-ridden apocalypse who stumbles upon a little girl (later named Toriko), who appears to be the last remaining human on the planet. With the help of a larger AI, you set out to collect resources and food to nurture the girl back to health. Bringing back resources open up the option for crafting items to assist in this as well.
All of this is rolled up in a giant ball of “-lite” genres. Going out in the world is set as a dungeon crawler rogue-lite game. Actions are done as a turn-based mechanic on a grid, so each movement you make in the world is one movement the enemy is making as well. This includes combat that results in unremarkable back and forth punching with numbers flying off representative of the health. This can all be helped with some RPG-lite like mechanics though.
Leveling up for instance will bring up two upgrades ranging from stat boosts to special skills. Exploring the wasteland can result in weapons or mods being discovered to bolster your venture. Health is gradually regained as you maneuver through the tight passageways whereas the EN will decrease in turn as it acts as Robbies’ “battery”. All of these add up to experiences in each run that vary drastically.
The dungeons themselves in Void Terrarium are pretty lackluster suffering from repetition in design. This is partly due to the procedurally generated levels instead of more finely crafted ones. Each layer in a dungeon includes long tunnels connecting a handful of larger rooms. The tunnels are dark allowing only to see slightly in front and behind Robbie. This means its easy to be surprised by an enemy, and incredibly stress inducing when you get surrounded. Outside of enemies and a few items per level, they are pretty barren. Even design wise, you’ll see plenty of the same plant-life, broken machinery, and more, sometimes with nothing more than a color swap.
Each layer has a portal that Robbie must arrive at to move further. However, there are things that get in your way. Creatures and robots litter the dungeons and pose small to large threats. A little buglike creature will drop a section of corrosive upon its defeat while a turret may shoot you in a straight line from afar. With the dungeon being procedural, it can be rough to run into a monster house (lots of monsters in one room) or be hit by 4 different lasers at once. Just another one of those things that can either cause frustration or appreciation.
Traps are also problematic in the dungeons. There are items to make them easier to avoid or point them out on your map though. Running into them can lead to multiple issues such as lulling you to sleep. Another may warp you to another section of the dungeon layer. One may just cause damage. As if the creatures werent enough to watch out for, these traps can royally mess you up too. The status effects, while quick to dissipate, are abundant in tbe world of Void Terrarium.
All of this talk about being threatened leads me to the death outcome. When Robbie dies, he is sent back to the main hub area. All progress is lost in terms of leveling, but items are (mostly) retained. Since Toriko requires food, any found can be transferred to a safe for safekeeping. Other items are broken down into resources that can be used on blueprint crafting. The blueprints themselves, when not given by your AI companion throughout the game, can be found in the dungeons as well. These can also give permanent stat boosts, so its important to try and craft them. The progression continues even in failure and is a great motivator to keep diving deep into the world.
Going back to your main area gives you the Tamagotchi-inspired hub where you can deck out the terrarium of Toriko who lives in it. When I say Tamagotchi-inspired, I do mean Tamagotchi-inspired. Right down to the Pet Nanny application at the bottom left of your screen detailing hearts, the number of poops, and whether she needs to be fed. Searching for items in the apocalypse can be concerning, especially if they can’t be found. Even worse when the Pet Nanny notifies you Toriko is on the edge of death and needs immediate help. Sometimes you just have to have Robbie die so you can get back in time, preferably with the items necessary.
On the surface, all of these things are really well implemented. It comes down to the player as to how tolerable some of it is. It can be a real bummer having to ditch a trip in the wasteland because Toriko is hungry. Thankfully even in failed trips, you still gain resources. Combat can feel simple in some ways, while feeling tactical in others. Having 6 enemies notice you in a room is frightening, but funneling them into a tunnel to fight you one at a time works pretty well. Even food storage has to be carefully considered. Food can spoil or be contaminated, so feeding it to Toriko may be more harmful than good – but it’ll still prevent her from starvation. Despite how simple and friendly the game can be for players, it also does a great job keeping you on your toes.
Void Terrarium is a beautifully stylish game filled with interesting concepts that differentiate it from other games in its genre. It may not prove as challenging for those experts, but will still have plenty of obstacles from making it a cakewalk. It’s worth jumping into this world of desolation to find the last spark of hope, and there’s much to keep you invested along the journey.
*A review code for the Nintendo Switch was provided by NIS America*
*Void Terrarium is set to release in the US on July 14th, 2020 for both the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.*