Terra Nil from Free Lives and Devolver Digital is a chill Zen-like environmental strategy experience on Nintendo Switch. Learn more in our Terra Nil review!
Terra Nil from Free Lives and Devolver Digital is a chill Zen-like environmental strategy experience on Nintendo Switch. The planet has certainly seen better days. Your task will be to use advanced nano-tech to transform desolated landscapes into colorful, vibrant, and alive ecosystems. Yes, you’ll be taking on procedurally generated maps based on four different biomes. Think of it as a reverse city sim in which instead of adding buildings and factories and other structures to increase your industry and technology evolution and boost your profit, you’ll be using special structures to purify the air and soil so that vegetation can grow, pollution can be reduced, and, eventually, the fauna will also be able to thrive.
Your journey will begin with a tutorial segment that will teach you the basics so that you can better understand what you’ll be dealing with during your time with Terra Nil on Nintendo’s console. Once you start a new restoration project, the game will take a moment to generate a new map for you to explore and work on. The initial cutscene will let you know right away that things are really, really bad with barren locations, wastelands, and more.
It’s during this tutorial that you’ll be provided with a book that will serve as a general guide to learn more about the different regions, flora, and fauna. You’ll also obtain the blueprints needed for the machines and structures that will aid you in achieving your goal. Step one will always be to restore the water and plant life of the area. Add some irrigators, pumps, and toxin scrubbers to get the ball rolling. Once that’s been taken care of, you’ll have to boost the plant diversity so that you can eventually have forests, wetlands, and more. All of this will be directly tied to the climate as well.
The final step in each cycle will be to recycle all of the buildings so that you can construct an airship that can take you to the next location. By doing this, you’ll open up even more space for the flora to thrive and for the fauna to take its place in the ecosystem. Fauna will show up as undiscovered in your book, but you’ll be able to take a good guess as to what each silhouette represents. Some will be able to live on a river near a forest. Others will live in the reeds of a wetland near a fynbos field. Then there are the predators that are also part of the food chain.
There are different approaches to how you can take on the wasteland to bring it back to its former glory. You can choose between a Gardener, an Ecologist, or an Environmental Engineer. Gardener will allow you to take a more chill approach to things, with plenty of resources at the start, lower costs for building, tutorials, and contextual hints. Ecologist is the standard experience, balanced to offer a more challenging but fair experience. Environmental Engineer is the hardest one of the bunch since you’ll start with fewer resources, building costs will be higher, you won’t be able to recycle if you run out of resources, and there are no tutorials or contextual hints.
Once you’re ready to go, you’ll pan the camera around the area by using the left analog stick, zooming in and out as needed by using the ZL and ZR buttons. You can also move the cursor with the right analog stick. By selecting a structure from the available blueprints by pressing the L and R buttons and then confirming your choice with the A button, you’ll be able to get started by placing a turbine so that you can provide some electricity to the area in order to power other structures. With electricity, the next thing to do is install some toxin scrubbers that can clean the soil.
Some buildings can be rotated by pressing the L and R buttons before placing them. This is important for buildings such as irrigators, which are used to water clean soil so that it can be fertile enough for greenery to grow. While increasing the area’s greenery percentage is crucial, you also need to keep an eye out for other resources. You need a solid rock to place a turbine, which is why you’ll sometimes have to use a calcifier to turn greenery into rock. That way, you can expand the electric grid and then build new structures to increase greenery or place a water pump to fill dry riverbeds.
Oh, and some buildings will have special abilities that you’ll need in order to be able to reclaim the wasteland! To check and use these abilities, press the Y button. Take, for example, the solar amplifier. By activating its ability, you’ll get to aim to create a controlled fire that you can then use to build some greenery to obtain some nutritious ash. Why would you want to burn greenery, fynbos, and some of your buildings with such tremendous heat? Because you can then use ash for an arboretum so that you can create forests!
I did run into a couple of issues with the game. The framerate took a dive several times during my time with Terra Nil, especially when playing in Tabletop or Portable Mode. The framerate hiccups would be accentuated when I, for example, changed large sections of land into a wetland or created large forests in one go. I also ended up not being able to launch the airship in one of the biomes even after locating some of the fauna with an animal observatory and reaching 100% recycling. I was able to fix this by going to the main menu so that the game would save, closing down the game, and relaunching. This made the launch button appear so that I could carry on with my journey.
Something that I do appreciate is that during the game’s jump from PC to the Nintendo Switch, an effort was made to make sure that people could actually read messages and important information. The development team has included an option that allows you to increase the UI size from the standard 1.00 up to 1.25, which can make a big difference when playing either in Portable or Tabletop Mode (or on a Nintendo Switch Lite) or if taking this one for a spin while in Docked Mode.
Terra Nil is a chill Zen-like environmental strategy experience on Nintendo Switch. As you use the available resources to bring life back to a wasteland of a planet, you’ll see the flora and fauna start to populate each biome as you directly work on affecting the climate while trying to achieve the right balance for all elements to thrive… right before recycling all buildings and contraptions to build the airship that will take you to the next location. Other than some framerate issues and a couple of bugs here and there, it’s a fun and relaxing journey to take on. Terra Nil is out on Nintendo Switch with a $24.99 price tag.
This Terra Nil review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy provided by Devolver Digital.