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The circle of life.

Terra Nil screenshot
Devolver Digital
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City-building games like Tropico or Cities: Skylines can often be stressful experiences where you’re forced to juggle a wealth of variables from keeping citizens happy to making sure roads work correctly. While having a complex web of mechanics is what fans of the genre typically love, Terra Nil takes a different approach and wildly succeeds for it. Instead of building grand cities, Terra Nil tasks you with revitalizing an Earth that’s been decimated, rebuilding a vibrant ecosystem piece by piece. It’s a fascinating spin on the city builder that often manages to feel soothing while delivering a highly topical message about ecological preservation.

Terra Nil is split up into different levels, each of which takes place in a different climate as you work to restore the planet. There are three clear stages in each level, which helps add a sense of structure to the entire experience.

Terra Nil has great visual design, making it easy to read how your choices are changing the environment.

Devolver Digitial

In the first stage, you’ll need to restore the land, using buildings to provide power and scrub the toxins from the land. Restoring a certain amount of land then allows you to place more buildings that create biomes, such as wetlands or forests. During this stage, you can also reintroduce animals to the ecosystem, transforming your map from a barren wasteland to a living, breathing place. The third stage is where Terra Nil shakes things up as you’re finally tasked with recycling all of the buildings you’ve placed, leaving the area to develop in peace.

While each stage has a different focus, all three work in tandem to restore the environment, and each is smartly tied together with mechanics like routing power and balancing resources. Terra Nil often feels more like a puzzle game than your traditional city builder as you need to weave together the right choices and buildings. Interestingly, Terra Nil gives you three options for adjusting difficulty, which can be dictated by the kind of experience you want.

The lowest difficulty, Gardener, completely scales back the resource management, making Terra Nil more of a game about crafting a gorgeous environment. It’s a laid-back mode that lets you focus on the beautification of the environment, but if you’d rather have a typical city-building challenge you can scale up to the other two difficulty modes, Ecologist and Environmental Engineer.

Seeing little animals mill around your newly restored environments is the cherry on top.

Devolver Digital

Whatever difficulty you choose, though, Terra Nil provides the unique joy of seeing something meaningful come from nothing. The art style of Terra Nil isn’t quite painterly, but it’s artistic in a way that emphasizes color, making each environment pop as you restore more life. This emphasis on color also helps make the game’s interface easy to read and interpret. That’s the key to what makes Terra Nil so compelling. You don’t need any experience with strategy games or city builders.

This year has been filled with massive hundred-hour RPGs and intense action games, so Terra Nil feels like a welcome reprieve. It’s the perfect came to cozy up with on a winter night, where you can help some cute penguins get a new luscious home to live in.

Terra Nil is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile via Netflix.

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