Terracotta is a puzzle action game set in ancient China, drawing upon Chinese culture and Taoism to deliver a world jumping experience.
Terracotta’s story draws inspiration from the real life Terracotta Army, made for the first Emperor of China. In this version of the tale, the army is composed of once-living men that have been turned to terracotta by a spell, their souls trapped. You play as one such statue, brought to life by the Moon Goddess using the toil and soul of a humble farmer. Their task is to free their fellows from their curse; all eight thousand of them. It’s a shame they see you as an enemy to attack.
Gameplay is split between two worlds; not an uncommon mechanic for puzzle games, but Terrotcotta makes the two worlds unique. Yin is a dark, slow underground world, where most of the puzzle solving takes place, but it is in Yang, a world of light and action, where things really happen. The goal of every level is to light a number of blue fires, in an equal number to already lit purple fires. Doing so balances the energy of the area, allowing you to undo the ancient spell upon the terracotta warriors, freeing their souls.
The world of Yin, is a dark world without life or movement, a tomb for the dead. The player moves slowly, enemies don’t move or attack (apart from bosses), and puzzles do not activate. You can still move around and explore, getting a feel for the puzzles and working out how to activate them, but as long as you don’t walk off a cliff you can’t get hurt.
In the world of Yang, everything is alive and energetic, a dream of an afterlife. This is the “happening” world, where puzzle parts and enemies move, and the player moves at a sprint. You’ll probably spend most of your time in this world, as moving at a snail’s pace can become aggravating, especially on some of the larger levels. Switching between the two worlds can be quite disorientating at first, but you quickly become used to it.
Qi Energy is your primary way of interacting with the world and the puzzles within. At its most basic, Qi can be projected in Yin to create walls in Yang; useful for bouncing arrows and trapping annoying spearmen, but it can also be drawn on the ground, activating platforms or walls. Qi can also be projected directly into some machinery to activate it, such as large automatic crossbows.
There are also five abilities unique to each world, many of which are used in puzzle solving. The first unlocked are Shield (Yang) and Token (Yin). Shield summons a Qi barrier, blocking projectiles. When used to block a projectile from an enemy, a Token is generated that allows you to summon a clone in Yin, which then can be targeted right back at enemies or puzzle targets. Some abilities, like shield, are somewhat confusing to use, and take some time to get used to.
Do you like running away from people trying to stab you? Well you’ll be doing a lot of that in Yang, as despite the fact you’re trying to save them, the eight thousand terracotta soldiers will be trying to kill you. For me, they roughly fall into four categories. Foot men, armed with polearms or swords, run after you and attempt to attack. Thankfully they have a charge up time, allowing you to move out the way or dip into Yin to escape, but you can get crowded easily. There are also mounted troops that can charge you down if you cross their path.
Other enemies fire at you from range, usually on top of a pillar or somewhere unreachable. Crossbows fire directly at you, allowing you to block the projectiles with Qi walls, or the active Shield ability, but others fire in an arch, going over such defensive measures. It’s important to remember that projectiles, as well as charging attacks, are only paused if you enter Yin; meaning if you re-enter Yang in the wrong spot, you can be hit by something you thought dodged.
The type I thought of as “commanders” are the more interesting of the group. Around them is a red whirling area that gives off sparkles, which in Yin is impassable, but while in Yang entering it causes them to attack. To prevent this, you need to strike the commander with a projectile, either bounding a crossbow bolt at them or targeting them with an archer clone. After falling down, there will be a brief period you can pass. But confusingly, the red circle never disappears. After a number of times, I noticed that the sparkles stopped when it was safe to enter the red zone, which is quite hard to see. Perhaps this could be made more obvious?
One thing that stands out is the amazing soundtrack. Made using traditional Chinese instruments, the beautiful melodies are again split between the two worlds, with each world having two analogous tracks. Music in Yin is slow and quiet, while in Yang it’s quick and dramatic. It certainly sets the tone for the worlds, and is also simply beautiful to listen to. The graphics are also beautiful, apparently using the traditional Chinese style “Guo Hua”. The animation of the sprites are very clean and flow well.
I have to say, there are parts of the game that seem unfinished. There isn’t anything that’ll prevent you from progressing through the game, but there are visual problems, like textures glitching or being misplaced. Sadly, that kind of thing breaks the player’s immersion. There are also problems with some of the mechanics, such as the odd ability timers, that I think could do with some reworking to be more player-friendly. However, the game has already been patched at least six times since its release, so it’s clear the developers are working to improve it.
Overall, Terracotta is a fun and interesting puzzle game with intriguing mechanics, a beautiful world, and a good story. If you enjoy games that make you think while having a degree of action, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.