Terracotta Review

Terracotta by developer Appnormals Team and publishers Freedom Games, plusDSgamesPC (Steam) review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Terracotta, ancient stone warriors, or action puzzle game? Why not both? Terracotta is an interesting title with a focus on solving puzzles while alternating between Yin and Yang, the goal to bring balance. Unfortunately, Terracotta doesn't strike a very good balance between concept and implementation.

While I don't normally do this for my reviews, I'm going to put a notice right here: Terracotta, at the time of me writing this, is receiving patches fairly often to fix at least some of the issues I have experienced with it. While I liked the concept and if most of my issues were resolved it wouldn't be a huge deal, but there are currently some game breaking bugs. As such, I can't recommend picking up Terracotta until some time has been given for the developers to fix some of these issues.

In Terracotta you take on the role of one of the Terracotta warriors. All the Terracotta warriors, except for you, have been cursed, and it's up to you to rescue their spirits. You will need to traverse multiple realms, bringing balance via torches in order to cleanse your fellow warriors. Alternating between the realms of Yin and Yang, discovering new abilities, and mastering different mechanisms are all required to accomplish your goal.

Terracotta is a mashup of two genres: action and puzzle. Sometimes a little more biased towards one genre than the other depending on the level, your primary goal is to balance the torches. Pay attention that I said "balance", not "light them all", although they do all need to be lit to progress. Each level will consist of a number of torches, both unlit and lit. Some are purple, and some will turn blue when you activate them. The number of torches and their current state can be seen at the top of the screen, and are divided between blue and purple. You need to fill all the dots, as well as have an equal number of blue vs. purple, then stand on a specific panel in order to clear a level.

The game is divided up into different elemental paths that constitute the stages, with each stage being further divided into levels. At the beginning of each level you can step on a stone to activate a tree which functions as a checkpoint, and at the end of each stage you will face off against a boss. Levels are generally fairly short if you know what you're doing and don't mess up too often, but can also take a long time for some of the larger ones, especially if you keep screwing up. You do have a health gauge, and taking too much damage means you have to restart the level. The thing to remember here though is that you have no invincibility frames on hit, meaning enemies can combo you to death given the chance.

Thankfully you have a number of abilities at your disposal to help you out! The most important of these is the ability to alternate between the realm of Yin and Yang. While in Yin mode you cannot run, but enemies will be unable to move and mechanisms will pause in their function. You can use this realm to plan out your puzzle solutions, as well as skirt around the enemies that you more than likely don't want to deal with. The realm of Yang is where the mechanisms and enemies are in motion. Enemies will move and attack you, mechanisms will activate, and you move a lot faster.

The next most important ability is channeling Tao. Basically this allows you to activate mechanisms by pumping a bunch of Tao into them during Yin state, and then they will activate upon returning to Yang. Some mechanisms are always active as well. Tao can also be channeled along the ground in Yin mode. Upon returning to Yang, the Tao will create walls which can be used to: redirect arrows, box in enemies, protect yourself from enemies while standing on a pressure switch, or activate certain pattern switches by matching the design.

You only have a limited reserve of Tao, but can recover all of it when needed. Unfortunately, you either recover all of it from where you left it, or none at all. I'll give an example. Let's say you activate two statues that cause wind to blow and dropped a line to deflect an arrow at a switch. If you recover your Tao, it returns the Tao from the two statues and from the wall, meaning you would need to set those up again if they are required for a puzzle but you ran out of Tao while trying to solve it.

As you continue through the game, you will occasionally learn new abilities, such as a short term shield to protect against arrows, or the ability to send out a ghost clone to draw enemy attention. Certain abilities can only be used in certain realms, and most have a limit on them, whether you have a timer on the ability use, and then it enters a cooldown, or if you need to meet a specific requirement before use.

At this point I'd like to give a few… words about the abilities. First off, while they aren't all strictly required to solve the puzzles, most of them are and will be used fairly often in the stage you find them. Also, jumping and dashing are abilities, and they're on that timer I mentioned. Once you jump once, let's say, you then have a limited time to keep jumping. Once the timer runs out, you have to wait for the ability icon to refill before you can jump again. The same holds for the dash.

Now, I'd like to point out how frustrating this is when you put in a series of large blocks you need to jump up, but are forced to stop 5 times on the way up because you have no more jump for the next 3 seconds, or if you're running along a path and go to jump, only to fall off the path because you are currently on cooldown. Add to this that the jump and dash are most likely going to be your main mode of avoiding enemies, that you cannot kill and can only get stunned under specific conditions, and this gets really annoying really fast. The rest of the abilities? Sure, no problem with how they function, but the movement techniques can get you really frustrated.

Thankfully you can upgrade your abilities, either letting you use them more often, or shortening the cooldown between uses. As you roam about each level, you may see these glowing yellow coins. Each one acts as an upgrade point. Putting five points total into an ability will upgrade it. I did however have a few issues with the abilities. Sometimes when entering a new area with an ability to learn, the statue that hands them out wouldn't give me the ability, forcing me to quit to the title screen and then resume in order to unlock the ability.

Also, at one point I suddenly had a very large number of coins in my inventory. Next time I booted up the game, I was back down to my normal number of coins, but had lost two of my abilities. Thankfully they weren't required, just helpful, but it was a little frustrating. On the plus side, the ability statues are at the beginning of a level, usually at the very start of a stage, so it's not too much trouble to quit and come back to reset it, as annoying as it is.

Alright, so I think it's about time we start discussing the, quite frankly, staggering amount of issues I've had with Terracotta while playing. Many of these have probably been patched out as I went, and hopefully the ones that haven't will get resolved soon, but good lord are some of them insanely frustrating. First up is the number of times I managed to softlock, forcing me to either die and restart the level if possible, or quit back to title screen and try again.

This ranged from being unable to cross a bridge for no discernable reason, falling into a pond I could walk on but couldn't leave (which I believe is addressed in the most recent patch I saw), or clipping out of bounds. Occasionally I would also have certain gimmicks just not function until I reset or I would need to activate mechanisms multiple times because they didn't work the first time. Also, sometimes arrows will bounce off your Tao walls the opposite direction to what they should. No idea why, but I found this only happened mostly when the arrow was going straight down, and occasionally while it is going straight up.

The worst issue though has to be in the Thunder area. Basically, every time you finish a level, you screen transition to the next level by walking out the door at the end of the stage. I had the game crash way more times than is even remotely reasonable while trying to load the next level. After level 4, it was about a 1/3 chance of actually loading the level, otherwise it would crash. A 67% average crash rate isn't good, especially when the checkpoints are after the level and at the beginning of the next, meaning you're forced to redo the level and hope it doesn't crash this time.

Keep in mind that 67% crash rate is the average, not the worst. Some of the stages I made it through to the next on the first try. One took me 7 runs before the next level loaded. This only happens in the Thunder area, but seriously needs to be addressed. After the first few times I nearly dropped the game right there, but I'm nothing if not stubborn, so at least I can confirm for you guys, at least at the time I'm writing this, this is a very serious issue.

Other than the glitches and crashes, there are a few other complaints with the implementation. First up, the game is sort of 2D isometric, and…off-corner isometric? This would be all fine if more objects had shadows to help gauge depth, but they don't which makes a lot of jumps and arrow puzzles. A little frustrating when you think you're setting it up properly, only to be a few millimeters off, forcing you to redo the setup for the whole puzzle. A few arrow shadows could do wonders, or at least a line on the ground indicating where the arrow really is.

Thankfully you get used to it as you keep playing, but it's still a bit frustrating. The end panels for the stages also have a much smaller hitbox than is probably reasonable. No, seriously, the amount of times I died to a boss because I kept running over the panel but not activating it? Guargh. Other than that, I feel like some of the switches on the ground no longer have indicators while in Yin mode. I feel like they used to show as grey or black placeholders to show you where they were, but they don't anymore? That could just be me though.

Considering that the music and art direction are actually quite good, it's sad to see many of Terracotta's good points overshadowed by the bugs and glitches. The puzzles are all unique and I felt they were nicely planned out. The stage themes are well portrayed and the puzzles make good use of the themes. The puzzles also get you progressively more used to the abilities you've just received, as well as making use of previous abilities to keep them fresh in your mind. Honestly, given some more time and a few more patches, I think Terracotta could be a really great title, if not a little frustrating at times.

Overall, it's really difficult to recommend Terracotta at the moment. While the puzzles and mechanics are well conceived, the package as a whole has too many issues between game crashes and softlocks, only made manageable through frequent checkpoints at level starts.

Terracotta has wonderful potential that just isn't being realized as it is now. Perhaps in a month or two, and some more patching, Terracotta could be a game that really shines through, but not in its current state.

Score: 5 / 10

Updated Summary (December 12, 2022)

After the most recent patch release, patch 1.0.9 I believe, almost all of my major concerns with Terracotta have been resolved.

I tried to replicate my softlocks and was unable to, the game ran smoother than I remember, and checkpoints have been added into stages so you will no longer cry at losing a lot of progress in the longer or tougher stages. Furthermore, anything I had previously lost has returned to its initial point, including skills, and I was able to get them again.

I'm really glad to see the developers take such an active and quick response to the issues noted. With the adjustments, I would now consider Terracotta an 8.5 / 10.



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