Terra Nil Review - Rejuvenation by Puzzle
Terra Nil is a puzzle strategy game in which you're dropped into a wasteland and need to build machines to restore the climate and habitat without running out of resources. Each level follows the same basic flow of starting out with a toxic patch of dirt that needs to be cleaned up and covered in grass, then that grass needing to be replaced with more developed biomes like forests or wetlands, and finally needing to both find homes for native animal species and clean up all of your machines. It sounds like a lot, but since your currency is greenery and most machines generate plenty of that when you place them, it's generally more meditative than strategically demanding.
The game has four major climates: the river valley, the tropical archipelago, the volcanic glacier, and an urban continental map. Although the core gameplay loop is largely unchanged between these, each has its own features that keep the game from getting stale. The glacier and continents map have very different ways of generating power, for instance, and the archipelago's focus on water and jungle is quite different from the initial valley map. Each climate also has its own tier 2 biomes, like tundra for the glacier or coral reef for the archipelago, and its own set of six animals. Finally, there are different helpful events for reaching climate milestones like certain humidity levels or temperatures, and most maps have their own way of recycling all your machines when you're finishing up.
Once you've completed the four main maps, you'll unlock an additional four that remix and combine the ideas of the original set. These largely don't introduce new ideas, but you do get more challenging layouts that use the power generation from one map and the climate from another. One of two of these might be too much to 100% if you're playing this as an entirely meditative game, but for the most part they add challenge without getting in the way of the game's relaxing core loop.
Still, it does have a couple of noteworthy flaws. The main one is that it's not always very good at communicating what's going on. I frequently had issues with not being sure why I wasn't allowed to place a machine in certain places or with only realizing that a particular set up wasn't good enough once I was already past the point of being able to undo it. This isn't a huge deal since the maps don't take that long to play and it's easy enough to just start over, but it also could have been rectified with clearer tooltips and overlays. Second, the price tag will be an issue for some people. I feel like the $20 I paid was fair for the 9 hours it took me to do everything, but it's harder to justify if you're just going to do the base maps. A fifth biome or user created maps could have gone a long way here.
Terra Nil reminds me a lot of something like House Flipper in that you're starting out with an ugly mess and turning it into something beautiful after a lot of very simple gameplay. If the idea of doing that in a natural setting instead of a house is appealing to you, it's pretty easy to recommend this. If you want something that's more strategically demanding or expect more than 10 hours from a $20-$25 game, this may not be what you're looking for. I'm hopeful that developer Free Lives will keep expanding and building on what's here, because I think there's a lot of potential beyond what Terra Nil currently represents.
Time to beat: 9 hours to do everything.
You can follow my Steam Curator page for more reviews in the future.