MY MECHANICAL FRIEND, ROBBIE!
Void Terrarium is a puzzling entity. Going into it, I expected a mystery dungeon-esque experience. Something that while simple, provided a challenge. Fortunately, that’s precisely what I got, despite a few caveats. Decisions that made the game needlessly frustrating. I do want to point to the out-of-the-box approach though. It was refreshing and different. After all, the protagonist is a robot named Robbie. I can’t think of many developers that do it like Nippon Ichi does. The worlds are always unique. They’re not afraid to take risks. Sadly, that creates a title with a see-saw effect. There is good, but there is bad. Honestly, I went through a lot of emotions, but that’s enough chit-chat. Let’s beep boop into an over-analytical look at this title.
A ROBOT AND HIS HUMAN
We begin as a rat. You’re scurrying about, in search of – I assume – food. As you crawl through small tunnels, you’ll eventually find a metal husk. Curious of this, you climb up into the head, realizing the warmth within. As you’re gnawing at wires to clear out a home, there’s a flash. Sparks fly as the rodent is thrust out, burnt to a crisp. I didn’t expect that. My initial reaction was that this creature controlled the robot somehow. How silly of me. In actuality, it was meant to shock, and it did. Shocked the rat too.
As Robbie, you continue on until coming across a giant glass container. Odd, but you think nothing of it. You walk on, but as you do, you notice something. About half-way, a large pile of leaves. Kind of weird. Curious, you begin brushing it away, revealing something. You can’t believe it. Is that – is that a girl? You leave the bottle, bewildered. Mere seconds after your discovery, you’ll meet a computer – A feminized artificial intelligence that explains this child’s significance. That girl is the only piece of humanity alive. The entire race is gone otherwise – destroyed by this A.I. Filled with regret, this lone girl’s presence has made the A.I. determined. She aims to help this fragile being.
INPUT THAT INTO YOUR MODULE!
Void Terrarium is a somber tale, taking place in a post-apocalyptic era. There’s a contaminant ravaging the world. Spores from a deadly fungus have spread across the surface. So much so that it forced humankind underground. Accepting their fate, they’d go on to dig tunnels throughout. I’m personally a fan of this. It explains why the dungeons are all procedurally-generated. Known as the Subterranean Expansion Initiative with Smart Mapping, this causes corridors to perpetually change. It went far in sucking me into the lore. Sadly, this information comes amidst a giant dump from the get-go, and that’s where it loses me.
Instead of creating mystique, it feels as though the game actively fights it. Any question I had was just as quick to be answered. It nullified my reason to want to play on. I didn’t starve for answers. That’s not to say there’s no lingering curiosity. There is, and another mystery to reveal will be introduced later; much later. In fact, several hours in. And there lays in the issue. Void Terrarium never does enough to keep your attention. The only intrigue lays with this strange girl. I was hooked personally. I’m also very passionate about literature. I wanted to know their approach. For the average Joe though, not so much. The reason for this is pacing; it’s never consistent.
Let’s get into the more positive aspects. The interactions between Robbie and the A.I are so charming, despite him not verbalizing words. Conversations were one-sided, but I didn’t mind it. The way the A.I. conveyed the perceived responses were concise. I never had a problem deciphering it. Another aspect that sold me was the silliness. Consumed by guilt for annihilating the human race, the A.I. becomes a parental unit. She’ll be the mother, while you’re the father. The first order of business is figuring out a name. It’s quite a dilemma too. It can’t build resentment. It has to be a name that’s accepted and not ridiculed. Thus Toriko is born.
I did find some minor localization errors while going through the story. They were never significant, often relegated to simple words being absent, such as “the”. Or words appearing twice, but again, it was quite rare.
ROBOTIC MAYHEM COMMENCING!
Grinding; it’s a polarizing aspect of RPG’s and it’s sub-genres. No one wants to set aside an hour or two just to bulk up. While leveling is still integral in Void Terrarium, it’s handled in an interesting way. You begin each area at level one. Once you finish, you’ll realize any experience earned is pointless. Think of each dungeon as a self-contained game. If you begin a new one, you’ll revert back to square one. It eliminates that tedium of having to constantly engage in combat. You’re probably wondering if little Robbie will ever get tougher, and he will. You’ll be able to permanently up his strength. This is where that out-of-the-box approach comes in.
A core mechanic is crafting. Each mission given by A.I. rewards you a blueprint. It’ll usually be items that’ll benefit Toriko. For instance, the A.I. learns of a human phenomenon. One called boredom. With this knowledge, she wants to rectify Toriko’s with a toy car. Before creating it, you’ll notice a set of stats tied to it. Could be +2 ATK, +2 DEF, or other upgrades. Think of it as a pseudo-level up. Create it and those boosts stay active for good. It’s important to note that this only works for first-time crafting. Not to worry as there are loads to be found, and I had fun doing so. It was always exciting to learn what it affected. Almost felt like Christmas.
Missions won’t be the only way to obtain these either. They’ll be randomly scattered around the tunnels too. Most importantly, neither require certain ingredients. All that’ll be needed is 1 of 4 resources. These are acquired by having items left at the end of a run. They’ll transform and fall into one of these categories.
I want to set something straight; I had fun. However, some decisions led to frustration. For instance, you’ll encounter an enemy with the ability to attract. Essentially, it acts like a vacuum. You and any enemy within the vicinity will be sucked into a cluster. You’re surrounded. This is a death sentence. Lord knows the amount of times I died. That’s not all either. There are other enemies that’ll burst into a corrosive minefield. As a metallic being, it’ll be lethal. As I tried fleeing, I was again swarmed. It felt unfair. Like the AI was actively cheating.
Finally, Robbie can be customized to achieve various things;
- With each level-up, you’ll have a choice between two abilities. Special blueprints can boost this number to three or four. Stat boosts or skills, there’re all here. You’ll also notice that each one is ranked by a star system. The lower it is, the weaker it’ll be. It’s simple to understand, and will go a long way in making the current run easier.
- Another thing you’ll find tied to blueprints are classes. You’re able to choose how you want Robbie to act. This also dictates which abilities appear more frequently. Do you want a fighter with attack boosts and skills being common, or a cleric with healing abilities and health boosts. The choice is yours.
MY ROBOT’S MALFUNCTIONING!
Usually, I’d put this in the summary. However, I felt it needed its own section. The frame-rate in this game is steady. There’re no stutters. Not surprising as the environments are bland And lifeless. It’s clear that this title shouldn’t demand much from the Switch. So, why does it crash? After the third time, I counted. During my playthrough, I had 8. Now, before you write this off, it’s not catastrophic. Void Terrarium is a compulsive saver. Whenever you enter a new floor or return to the hub, it’ll trigger auto-save. So, you’ll never lose hours of progress. Unfortunately, I was never able to purposely reproduce this. The only common trend I found was it occurring when switching layers. So perhaps it‘s the procedural-generation. Then again, it also happened during combat. It seems random honestly.
AND THE MECHANICAL VERDICT IS…
Void Terrarium has a fun gameplay loop but is a mixed bag elsewhere. There are some really interesting ideas though. 90’s kids will feel at home with the Tamagotchi feature. This’ll show you how Toriko is doing. She’ll get hungry, poop, and want attention. Then there’s the pseudo method of leveling through blueprints. It gave me a reason to explore. There’s also an endless dungeon that you’ll eventually unlock with a plethora of them. Unfortunately, there are infuriating moments too. Times when my death felt cheap and not due to lack of skill.
The music though is fantastic, presented with a techno/electronica soundtrack. With this aesthetic, it’s the perfect background noise as you’re traversing the tunnels. On the other hand, you have inexplicable crashes. These seem due to either Void Terrarium struggling with the action, or the procedural generation being too much.
This game is fundamentally good. There’s fun to be had, but the technical flaws shouldn’t exist. The gameplay can also get repetitive. So, I’ll say this, if you don’t mind some frustration creeping up, give it a try. If you’re not keen on it, maybe avoid it. Regardless, I can’t recommend it at full price. As a final note, you can pet Toriko. I know it’s not a dog, but hey, she’s still a good girl.
WAIT FOR SALE ON VOID TERRARIUM
“Some technical and unbalancing issues, but chock-full of charm and still a good time to be had”
Many thanks to NIS America for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.