I have a confession to make. I have always secretly wanted to play Minecraft. It was one of those games that simply looked like it would suck countless hours from my life, and I wouldn’t care. Alas, I am not much of a PC gamer, and therefore never decided to take the plunge, so when they announced it was coming to Xbox Live Arcade, I’ll admit I squealed silently inside. Minecraft is a hard game to describe when writing a review. What it does, it does very well, but it isn’t for everyone. The sheer freedom and possibilities are seemingly endless, and if you dig it, you are in for one major time suck.
Describing Minecraft is nearly impossible. I like to think of it as a giant sandbox where I can pretty much create what I want and explore. It’s a giant digital box of LEGO where I can create anything from a house to an entire castle if I want to invest the time. It is not all just building, either. The world is full of mystery and interesting things to find. There is no way I would possibly be able to discover everything in the span of a review timeline, but here are some experiences I did encounter.
When I first got into the world I was able to run through a tutorial, which I highly recommend if you have never played the game. This will teach you the basics, like crafting and mining. Once you get things down, you can create a new world that is entirely yours and begin building and exploring. I went straight for an island to clear out land and construct my first house. I literally spent two hours leveling the area and collecting wood to build my domicile. I got lost in the experience. After a while, I decided it was time to venture out and find some cobblestone to create a furnace for my windows.
On this journey, I began exploring caves deep in the sides of mountains, which in turn led me into a lava pit where I discovered some awesome minerals. I also ran into some creepy creatures and, thus, perished, losing all my items. Determined to keep things safe, I decided to throw the game into Peaceful mode (where monsters are non-existent) while I completed my house.
These are just some of the experiences I had within my first few hours of the game. Needless to say, I barely scratched the surface. The crafting system in the game allows you to create nearly anything you will ever need, granted you can find the right ingredients. It is an addictive system that starts off simple, but constructing some of the more complex items requires lots of work, dedication and patience. The payoff is glorious, though. The first time you construct a diamond pickaxe and mine that rare mineral, it really is satisfying.
Exploring the world around you is also interesting and fun. I literally dug a hole to the core of the world just to see how far it went. Then I decided to build a ladder to the clouds. There is so much to see and find, but be careful not to dig yourself too deep, or you will end up getting trapped for quite some time. I dug myself too deep once and eventually tunneled into a lava pit frying my poor character, once again losing all of my stuff.
Having not played the PC version, I was completely blind as to what to expect. Thankfully for those concerned, the difference between the versions is fairly minimal. Probably the most notable are the addition of the tutorial and the crafting screen. Players are no longer required to place items in the proper spot when crafting and instead resort to the 2×2 and 3×3 grid design. The game only shows players what it needs to craft the item instead of forcing them to know where each one goes. It’s much more user-friendly when not using a keyboard and mouse.
Controls feel fine with the 360 controller outside of your inventory screen. You could definitely maneuver this much better with a traditional keyboard and mouse combo. The 360 version will also be getting Kinect support in the future as along with mods and texture packs that PC players have been enjoying. Whether or not these will be premium or free DLC remains to be seen. You can also play split-screen with up to four people, or invite players into your world on Xbox Live. Online, you can have up to eight people in one world, which is actually really cool.
Visually, the game has a very novel look. Everything is highly pixelated and created using blocks. It is extremely retro and squared off, but that is by design. I have to admit, seeing a giant square sun and square pigs running around always makes me smile. I love the layout of things. The random quotes on the title screen and interesting facts and hints during loading are great to read. Music is also incredibly fitting and well done. Sound effects are minimal, but get the job done. Overall, the presentation is fantastic and, honestly, is part of the game’s charm.
Minecraft on Xbox 360 is a superb package that is well worth the inflated XBLA price tag. For $20 you get so much content that it is hard to argue the value, especially considering it is cheaper than on PC, and now more accessible for players without a gaming rig. Sure, it may not be as involved as the PC version, and the lack of constant updates and mods is disappointing, but the sheer content already included is more than enough. If you check out the demo and enjoy the premise, this game is a must own. There is simply so much to see and do here; you can literally get lost for months.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.