Minecraft Review (Xbox360)

Oh, so that’s what all the fuss was about. Minecraft was always one of those games that you heard so much about, and yet purposefully avoided because you knew it was either going to be exactly as people said it would – addictive and time consuming - or it would be colossally disappointing. Following last year’s announcement that Markus "Notch" Persson’s indie cult classic was coming to the Xbox 360 however, it seemed finding out which Minecraft was going to be, was unavoidable.

The conversion has been handled by Scotland-based company 4J studios, a small studio who credits include a couple of original Star Trek titles, but more importantly ports of games like Oblivion to the PS3, and several Rare classics like Banjoe-Kazooie and Perfect Dark to the Xbox Live Arcade. It’s in good hands then we’d say, and whilst the 360 version may lack the ‘shine’ that Mojang has added to the PC version over the past year, it’s definitely been adapted and packaged to fit the XBLA market.

And here's one I made earlier...

When viewed in comparison to the PC version though, you can kind of see where 4J have tried to cater for an audience that’s a bit more fickle than the more stout desktop jockeys. There’s only one game mode – which is basically the ‘survival’ mode just with a few changes (The PC version also has a ‘Hardcore Survival’ mode, and a ‘Creative’ mode for those who just want to make stuff). You don’t have to worry about keeping yourself well fed, and food instead replaces any health you lost. There’s also a crafting guide, so you can see the pictograms needed to make all of the possible creations in the game, although things like potions and enchanting are not in it. Also, official ‘endgame’ content such as The Nether has been simplified. There are other changes as well, but honestly it only matters if you’ve played the PC version before – newcomers will be none the wiser.

It’s important to understand though that this, for all intents and purposes, is a bit of a Minecraft ‘Lite’ experience, but no less engaging. The first steps you take in your first randomly generated world is definitely ‘one of those’ experiences, and despite having some aids to help you (there’s in-game tutorial pop-ups); your first few cycles will be slow, bumbling, and probably even terrifying as night sets in. You get better, you get smarter, and you get faster, and before you know it you’ll slowly but surely turn into the great little industrialist. It’s strange, because despite starting up top on an open map (and you spawn with a map to help find your way), you’ll rarely find yourself exploring the surface as much of the ‘treasure is down below. Rare minerals, hidden caves, mobs… despite being less geared towards adventuring (again, elements have been taken out or simplified), there’s still adventure to be had if you put your mind to it. Or you could just build shit.

As I suspect many PC gamers have already figured out though, and what all you 360 newcomers will soon learn, is that the thing that’s going to keep people coming back to Minecraft is multiplayer. On the face of things, there’s no difference between doing a map solo, or doing a map with other people, but when you actually get inside the game and start mucking in, it’s funny how tasks you’d find slightly mundane in a solo-run become that much more entertaining. Again, the lack of the purely ‘creative’ mode means that it’ll be harder to replicate some of the great works you can find online, but simply having other people there to help you dig out the mineshaft, collect food, even fight mobs should they get the better of you… now if only Sam would stop stealing my stuff. There’s also split-screen local multiplayer available for up to two people.

The Nether World. The de facto ‘Endgame’ ... yeah, I’ll pass thanks

It’s just an inherent problem that open-world sandbox games have – too much choice. Minecraft especially I feel has this problem more acutely because anything you can do in the game requires a lot of time and effort in your part. You want to make a gate to The Nether dimension? You have to find Obsidian, which requires lava and water but also a Diamond axe, which requires you to start mining the earth which requires…. And so on. In a way having the crafting recipes open to you from the beginning is both a blessing and a curse – you don’t have to faff around trying to remember the pictogram for a door, but at the same time a lot of the discovery element are lost. What you see is what you get, and that’s it. Sometimes you look at the list and feel ‘is that it?’, but then the PC version hasn’t got that much more to do either.

To those who already know what Minecraft is, then the 360 version may seem a bit bare, but then this version isn’t really for you. 4J Studios’ adaptation fits in perfectly with the Arcade theme, and we hope there’s framework in place to slowly add in content and features, much like what they’re doing with the PC SKU. As we outlined above, once the initial ‘oooooo’ factor wears off, singleplayer does get a bit tiresome if you haven’t got a purpose, but then all you need is a couple of online friends or someone in your own house to share the experience with, and it becomes fun again. Now you’ll know what all the fuss was about too.

Top Game Moment: The first night you ever spend in Minecraft is uniquely fascinating and utterly terrifying, all at the same time. Shame it’s something you can only experience once.