SubTerra (Windows)

Published by
Developed by
Also For
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  jlebel (2211)
Written on  :  Mar 15, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful

write a review of this game
read more reviews by jlebel


A fun game system that shares the spirit of ancestors like ZZT

The Good

Subterra shares something in common with Neverwinter Nights, Unreal, and ZZT; they've been kept alive with additional content by fans. An important factor that ensures these games are not quickly forgotten is the inclusion of level editors. Small communities tend to gather around these games because of the chance to create a new set of challenges that can be freely shared with others. Pieter Simoons has taken this further with yearly level design contests and subsequently including the best levels. His final release, version 2.5, has the yearly best from 2002 through 2007. Different people contribute their unique creations making the overall package diverse and interesting; this isn't one person's idea of fun, it's that of a community.

At it's heart Subterra is a graphically simplistic game system with solid gameplay mechanics that make for hours of enjoyment. A collection of puzzle challenges that require both quick thinking and fast reflexes. Some levels have tendencies towards slow paced logical solutions with the inclusion of levels that emulate Soko-Ban. Other levels have quick action; one such level cleverly borrows from snake games such as Nibbles. Some puzzles require the player to coordinate their efforts with objects in motion. Still other levels pay homage to The Incredible Machine and require the player to plan out solutions by counting on the chain reaction of various game objects. Many of the levels require multiple attempts and will test one's patience.

Subterra does what many other puzzle games like Soko-Ban, Boulder Dash and ZZT do, but adds more -- a lot more. The basic goal of each level is to collect enough gems and then find your way to the exit. As it turns out there are a plethora of ways to make the player fulfill the gem quota. Over 140 objects exist for this game system, each with it's own set of rules and interaction possibilities. Some of these objects include falling boulders, bombs, duplicators, conveyor belts, locked doors, switchable barricades, floating balloons, lasers, one-way pipes, object transmuters and many more. The player may be blocked by various terrain types such ice, water, and fire. Holding the corresponding "tools" such as skates, life preservers, and fire extinguishers grant passage. Several autonomous enemy types add additional complexity. One such example is the Munchkin which will revoke all possessed tools if you're forced to step on it. A handful of objects have been mentioned here but the possible combinations and rules guiding them are enormous.

Another good quality is the collection of MIDI songs included; some of the music is very pleasant and fits well with a puzzle-solving frame of mind.

The Bad

Even though Subterra is a enchanting package of gaming magic there are two personal annoyances. The first, though minor complaint, is that occasionally the game doesn't exit properly and must be killed with the Windows Task Manager. The other annoyance is rapid, repetitive sound effects when a level has many automated objects. An example is found in the first level pack Subterra Prime; the level called Laser Maze has a continuous stream of falling bombs and I found that rhythmic string of explosions irritating. Fortunately you can hit pause and scroll around the level with the arrow keys to study the layout of the level (this is encouraged), which has the added benefit of stopping the automation and the sound effects.

The Bottom Line

Subterra has something for all manner of puzzle-loving gamers. The level difficulties range from easy to ridiculously challenging, plus the game has two modes of difficulty: easy and hard. Boasting 500 levels in the final release, this is a game that can be played for many hours.