Apocalyptic Tamagotchi Simulator
Adding to the vast collection of gaming experiences we didn’t know we needed, Void Terrarium is a Mystery Dungeon-style game, where collecting food and resources for the last surviving human is the main objective. Besides delving into dungeon-crawling, you also get to decorate the glass tube this human calls home; that way, she feels better about the fact she has mushrooms growing out of her face. In one of the weirder overall experiences I’ve had recently, Void Terrarium—in all seriousness—offers a unique tale of apocalyptic survival from a Wall-E-esque point of view, even if the gameplay is too tedious to be enjoyable for long.
As a wee mouse awakens a helper bot from a pile of rubble, this journey begins with a lonely trek into the unknown. After discovering the cause of this destruction—a computer with a weepy AI who was built to help humans—a mutual goal arises in attempting to save the life of a human girl found barely holding on in her destroyed home. Following her revival, keeping her fed and well-maintained becomes the mission, with regular trips into the world for whatever salvage is necessary to rebuild her habitat, spruce it up, and keep her from fading away due to malnourishment. Learning tidbits about what happened to this world, though drip-fed, is interesting throughout. As stressful as it can be to keep on top of everything you need while fighting through hordes of robot enemies, you deeply feel the need to keep this girl alive, so Void Terrarium succeeds in that sense.
Where Void Terrarium fails to engage the player is in its gameplay loop. Strategically planning out each step and attack to save up energy could be enjoyable, if it wasn’t for the difficulty curve. Harder-hitting special attacks use additional battery power from your robot, but in the deeper stages, it’s grueling to try to get past the toughest of enemies down beneath the layers of the dungeon without these attacks. Thus, your main objective actually becomes running around like a chicken with its head cut off looking for the precious batteries that renew your energy bar just to continue the already arduous journey presented to you. This may have been aided by interesting attack mechanics or abilities, but all in all, you’re simply pounding away at whatever is in front of you, waiting around for your health to regenerate, and continuing on in the quest for mushrooms and flies. It isn’t all bad, as damage types like corrosion and item utilization add a little bit of flavor, but it’s mostly a drag.
The best part of the dungeon crawling is trying to level up, where gaining passive and active abilities is really the best way to make progress. As a roguelite, being incapacitated resets you to default-form, with all your collected items turned into baseline materials, but in The-Binding-of-Isaac fashion, it kept things slightly interesting at the very least. It really is unfortunate that so much of the actual game is about going out for supplies, as the rest is quite pleasant.
After returning to the surface, using blueprints to craft items necessary for the terrarium, as well as keeping the girl fed, offers something less tedious and relaxing. Getting the glass bottle repaired and filled with items for the girl to enjoy is a feel-good experience that makes the rough edges to the dungeons a little more worthwhile. She’s adorable, and being able to provide something nicer atop this pile of rubble just felt nice. It’s an odd thing to play a game centered around dungeon crawling, combat, and strategy and feel the best about the side portion where you clean up a room and decorate it while talking to an eccentric computer, but hey, Animal Crossing is pretty popular.
Void Terrarium looks great, with its dark and ominous environments and chibi-esque stylization. The soundtrack keeps things dark and dour, adding to the overall atmosphere created here. The music is definitely a huge plus considering what you’re doing most of the time while looking at this beautifully-crafted world.
Overall, Void Terrarium is just an odd mix of ideas. Mystery Dungeon titles are popular, but this one sadly offers a weak example of mechanics in comparison to the broader genre. From there, being able to go full Tamagotchi with a girl in a glass bottle was intriguing and kept pushing me through the tedious and difficult dungeon crawling. A powerful story, moody soundtrack, and amazing aesthetic round out an experience that has a solid support structure, but less than awesome baseline gameplay premise.