"People need to understand that Minecraft isn't a game anymore," claimed Andrew "Redigit" Spinks, creator of indie hit Terraria, "it's a genre." Of course, he could have merely been defending his own creation against accusations of being a Minecraft clone. But I think he has a point. A quick glance through the most popular games on Xbox LIVE Arcade will make it pretty clear that Minecraft is no longer the only blocky sandbox building game out there.
And calling Terraria a Minecraft knockoff is doing it a pretty huge disservice. It may not be something else entirely, but the differences are vast enough that both games fill their own respective niches. And there's never been more than a friendly rivalry between the two. In fact, Minecraft creator Notch has admitted to getting a few ideas from Terraria.
Nonetheless, those of you who are thinking about picking up one or the other might find it useful to compare them side by side to find out which one suits your play style the best. We've gone ahead and done this for you. You're welcome.
The most obvious difference between these games is the fact that Minecraft takes place in a 3D world, while Terraria's setting is 2D. This has enormous implications on the way each of these games plays. For instance, Minecraft will let you construct entire 3D buildings, while Terraria will limit you to a cross-section perspective. Minecraft will allow you to build spacious houses with enormous rooms. Terraria will let you do the same, but with your 2D limitations, your buildings will never quite feel like they have that grand sense of scale.
Exploration is also greatly affected by this: in Minecraft, it's easy to get hopelessly lost; in Terraria, finding your way back home is a matter of remembering if it's to the left or the right. Now, opinions on this are going to vary. Some may be frustrated by the sheer enormity of Minecraft's world, especially after finding something awesome like a diamond deposit then not being able to get their hard-earned haul back home. Of course, for others, being lost is half the fun.
Both games allow players to explore randomly generated worlds, so no two players will ever have the same experience. Minecraft's world is endless. Literally. You can continue walking in any direction, and the game will continue to render landscape for you to explore. If you need more resources, just walk further out to generate more world in which to find mineral deposits.
Terraria, though, gives players a limited world. You can select a world size—small, medium, or large—and, admittedly, the small worlds are pretty enormous themselves. Yet these are nowhere near infinite; even the largest world will eventually have an end point. On one hand, this keeps the experience grounded, not allowing you to wind up dozens of miles away from your start point. On the other hand, you're limited to a finite supply of resources, and not all of them are guaranteed to be conveniently located.
Speaking of resources, Terraria actually has a neat feature that allows you to carry resources from one world into another. That means that if you have the best armor in the game and decide you'd like to play on a friend's server for a while, you can take this armor with you. This also means that you can score a ton of Demonite ore, for example, in your friend's world, then bring it all back to your own. This actually helps to offset the "finite resources" problem. If you simply can't manage to find enough ore in one world, just generate a brand new one.
Of course, there are people out there who consider this cheating, and they refuse to carry any items between worlds. I suppose if you don't like this feature, you're free to not use it. I have to admit, though, it's incredibly useful, and Minecraft has nothing like it.
Crafting in both games requires a lot of knowledge that you probably won't get inside the game. So either way, you're going to be spending a bit of time perusing online tutorials. However, discovering crafting recipes in Terraria is much easier, due to the fact that order/placement of your ingredients doesn't matter. As long as you have all the ingredients for an iron pickaxe in your inventory, for example, you'll be able to make one. In Minecraft, you can make an iron pickaxe, but you have to know the exact pattern in which to place each of the ingredients.
Now, neither system is superior; each has its pros and cons. Terraria just downplays the importance of crafting, making it a quick and simple process. In Minecraft, crafting has a huge role, so players are given an incredibly deep system to compliment this gameplay style.
Another thing to consider is that Terraria has an insane amount of items to craft—far more than Minecraft will ever have. Terraria even goes over the top, allowing players to craft sci-fi weapons like Phaseblades and Space Guns, while Minecraft sticks with the more down-to-earth selection of swords and arrows.
However, Minecraft's building feature is much more complex. With its Redstone circuitry and special note blocks, for example, Minecraft players can make some incredibly creative things. Want to build a music box that will play an entire song note for note? Sure. How about making electric door traps? Check. Someone has even built a working adding machine (basically a simple computer) inside Minecraft, a feat that simply couldn't be done in Terraria.