We live in some pretty sad times in this industry where any game that even resembles another game can be considered a ripoff. Of course, with so many ripoffs of Minecraft plaguing app stores, you can't help but be cautious. A while ago Terraria was wrongfully considered to be a shameless 2D ripoff of Minecraft, only to later have a riff on itself made in the form of Starbound, and I'd be lying if I said my initial (and thoroughly wrong) reaction to Starbound didn't involve something akin to fan-rage claiming they basically just put Terraria in space.
Maybe I'm just too dense to see the blatant differences between Terraria and Starbound at first glance, or maybe I'm just one of many who thought the same, which is the reason I am going to delve into this topic to save others from falling into the same trap.
Where am I...?
Because there is no better way to start talking about the differences between games than how they open. Let's start with Terraria, as it came before Starbound. In a very similar scenario as Minecraft, Terraria has you placed in the middle of nowhere, stranded on a big chunk of land with a guide NPC, who basically tells you what to do. From there, it's up to you to use any resource you have to build a house to... house your NPCs. It is all rather straightforward. Take a block, place a block, et cetera
To boldly go where no RNG has taken us before.
Starbound, on the other hand, opens with you on your own personal spaceship. From within the spaceship you get a series of quests to do, much like the Guide NPC's instructions in Terraria. The difference here is that doing quests actually yields "rewards" (which I say with quotes as I find them particularly useless in the beta). The real cool thing is at the bottom right of the screenshot above: The game actually provides you with a backstory as to how you're in a spaceship miles from home in the first place, and these vary between the seven playable races in the game. While it doesn't really matter all that much in the end, it's a nice touch to provide a bit of context in a genre where random generation is key.
The Character Creation
Every great two-dimensional ripoff of Minecraft needs a good character creation tool in which to design your own personal guinea pig to fall victim to your misplaced explosives and shoddy maneuvering around monsters and environmental hazards.
Terraria features some pretty basic customization features, mostly between different hair styles and character colour palettes. Apart from that, there's also a sex selector. All in all it isn't all too impressive.
Look at that sexy beast!
Statbound clearly has the upper hand in this regard. In addition to multiple races to choose from on top of the basic options from Terraria, you can also modify your clothing from the get-go, as well as your posture/personality.
Digging is an integral part to both of these games, and if it wasn't apparent to you with the abundance of pickaxes with each official screenshot, then I recommend either an optometrist or a kindergarten education. The long and short of it is that in order to progress through each game one must delve deep into the dirty caves underfoot in a desperate and nearly futile search for rare ores. But which one of these handles the process better?
Dig a hole, dig a hole...
In Terraria, one player would pick one block at a time with relative ease. Simply hold left click on the block you wish to break while the pickaxe is equipped and the block will eventually degrade into dust and take up inventory space.
9 blocks in a row!
Starbound actually starts off much, much slower than Terraria does, but once you get your hands on an actual pickaxe instead of that cool Dead Space plasma cutter from the start, you learn you can dig at a demonic pace. Nine blocks can be broken simultaneously with your first pickaxe, and it makes cave exploration a breeze.
When Terraria came out, the biggest feature that made it stick out from Minecraft was NPCs, at least until Minecraft did much the same thing later in its development. Starbound follows suit, and introduces its own breed of NPCs, so lets compare the two.
Now if only they'd pay their rent...
In Terraria, NPCs are more or less there to fulfill a job. They are always at your disposal, taking shelter in the house you built and providing services, though apart from one boss fight, not much else. One interesting aspect is that sometimes when you communicate with them they will talk about other NPCs behind their backs, which is always amusing, referring to their randomly generated names accordingly.
But he looked at me funny.
Starbound makes a departure from this method by having NPCs scatter across the many globes, and depending on the ecosystem and the situation you will encounter many races of various affiliations. I noticed that a majority of the time they are willing to talk with you and let you into their city to do business, so long as you wreak no havoc. Other times you can encounter bandits, cultists (above), and other hostile entities bent on hunting you down and taking a similar form. The key difference between the business NPCs, however, is that you'll never explicitly know what services they are offering. At the risk of sounding racist, they often look the same (no particularly outstanding features) and just because a unit looked like an NPC that sold seeds before, that doesn't mean that same unit won't be selling fruit, instead, making shopping a little less streamlined (especially given that they are randomly placed in the world instead of housed in your HQ).
Now, this is something that Terraria lacks, so it probably isn't fair for me to include it, but I think it should be mentioned as it is a major difference between Terraria and Starbound. Starbound features survival mechanics such as food (of course) and introduces a new temperature mechanism where you have to make sure your character stays warm, which is whenever you're in the presence of fire or wearing warm clothing. It is a shame, then, that the game (currently) doesn't support a mediumcore or hardcore mode like Terraria does, because apart from respawning in your ship away from where you were last scavenging, there are no repercussions for failing to meet survival conditions. However, I do have reason to believe that at least a hardcore mode will be added, due to the "mode" tab next to your character select menu.
I think many of you may possibly consider me biased for singing so many praises for a game that hasn't even been released yet compared to a game that had been out for years and still updating. Well, good news, I do have many great things to say about Terraria, and here's one of them; the combat.
Terraria has the advantage of being particularly "flexible" when it comes to melee swings. Your weapon (except the shortsword or pole) hits around in a wide arc, eliminating the need to "aim" in a vertical jump with a swing, instead smashing everything in its way. All you have to do is choose the direction of the attack by facing either left or right and then striking. Exceptions to this, however, are weapons of a precise nature. Shortswords can only attack directly in front of them, but with added speed. Poles attack in any direction in a stabbing motion, guns and wands fire projectiles with aim, and so forth.
While Starbound is largely functionally similar, it does have one lousy flaw with it: The animation. The animations of weapon swings is frustratingly rigid. Many times I tried to hit a small case of pixels (in-game currency) with my sword, only to find out I can't swing most weapons below my knees, forcing me to finely pick at it with a pickaxe, or use a two-handed weapon. And in cases where you can swing in a large radius the animations are, at least currently, really abrupt. Rather than having a weapon fly across the screen you find yourself treated to a couple frames of weapon motion. Again, this is the case of melee weapons, not things like arrows or guns.
Music is another thing Terraria does better than Starbound. Not only is it considerably catchier and more memorable, it fits nicely with the sprites of the game in a "cutesy" way. Starbound's music isn't necessarily bad or uninspired at all, but none of the songs made much of an impact to me in the way that Terraria's did, and some songs seemed really repetitive. But the truly bad part of Starbound's songs is that it plays a song for every hostile encounter, something which Terraria smartly reserved for boss encounters only. It can be considered useful, such as knowing if you're in danger in a dark cave, but it does leave a sour taste in my mouth... er... sour ring in my ears... whatever.
This is gonna be weird. Both games feature sprite work by the same artist, so to actually compare the two together as separate entities is a bit of a strange thing. However, I have to say that I find Terraria far nicer to look at than Starbound. Largely because Terraria's animations are all finished, and Starbound's are still rigid due to being in the beta. Although there is also the fact that there's just something undeniably crisp about the visuals in Terraria. I can't put my finger on it, however.
Who's the most retro of them all?
The Log Gathering
This is kind of a cheap-shot because Terraria's log gathering is pretty standard, although it did introduce the upward "domino" effect for cutting a tree from the bark, but Starbound does it so much better. I don't want to go into detail as a picture is worth a thousand words.
Unfortunately due to my unquestionable lack of talent as an architect I can't exactly demonstrate the following via screenshots, but I can tell you some key differences in how this works on a functional level.
Terraria has a method that has you placing blocks on a two dimensional plane. Basically you stack blocks on top of and next to each other. To get around the fact that you can't actually put blocks in a third dimension (aka, that wall behind your player) you are capable of crafting block "walls" to fill the background space. Terraria also allows you to actually shape your bricks with a blow from the hammer, offering for some pretty neat construction that Starbound can't do.
But Starbound does add one cool convenient feature to building, and that's allowing you to put walls behind your player by right-clicking instead of left-clicking. In fact, most of Starbound's house-building is streamlined and hassle-free, apparently at the expense of being able to do less with the architecture overall. But whereas you can build a simple house in about five minutes (exaggeration) in Terraria, you can achieve the same feat in about five seconds, thanks to responsive brick placement and forgiving reach.
The Adventure Factor
Hold on to your hats!
It's funny that a while back in order describe how Terraria was fundamentally different from Minecraft you would say it had a larger focus on adventure than terraforming or building. And that was true. But when Terraria's competitor Starbound focuses considerably more on adventure than Terraria, that puts the original 2D terrafformer in a weird space.
Way more time spent building here...
And speaking of space, that's where Starbound actually takes you. From planets, to solar systems, to galaxies, and then some, there's a of travel involved. After all, your starting point is a spaceship, so you may as well put that to use. Planets are generally palette swaps of each other (you will find different-colored but identical aliens on different planets, some with swapped levels of hostility to you) with a different biome to separate them, whereas Terraria has biomes all placed in a single world. But while it may seem monotonous for Starbound to take such a simple approach to how planets work, travelling to other planets is always a joy, waiting to see what you will discover. New villages, new different alien combinations, and more importantly, new dungeons. Yes, where Terraria had one dungeon, Starbound has them in spades, hidden deep within the bowels of each planet you explore. Those cultists have to have their gatherings somewhere, after all.
...Than building here.
The long and short of this section is I spent way more time (ratio-wise) exploring worlds in Starbound than in Terraria, and more time building in Terraria than in Starbound. I hardly built anything in Starbound at all, as a matter of fact.
That's all I have for now. I can't explicitly tell you which is better due to the fact that one of them is still in beta, but I can tell you how they currently stack up to each other, and all I can say is I definitely like where Starbound is going and definitely want to see more of it in the future. What game would be more up your alley?