Whistle while you work…
Minecraft has been a huge part of PC culture for a few years now. A breakthrough indie hit for Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, it gave a renewed hope to thousands of struggling game developers that they too could hit the big-time. Minecraft sold millions, and it’s easy to see why. There’s no story, and little in the way of objectives, but there is freedom and creativity. From these ingredients players all over the world have created amazing things, from simple Youtube videos to programmable calculators. Now the sensation that is Minecraft has come to Xbox Live Arcade, in a slightly different form.
First of all, Minecraft is more expensive than your regular Xbox Live game. Costing 1600 Microsoft Points, it weighs it at around £13-14; this is a substantial amount for a downloadable game and being towards the end of the current console generation, this means it needs to compete with many triple A titles that are available for a similar price. In the last week I’ve seen L.A Noire, The Orange Box, and Halo: Reach all for under £10.
When you download Minecraft (a tiny file, just a few hundred Mb) and start it up you’ll be presented with some adorably pixilated company logos, and then the familiar main menu in all its simplistic glory. The game is very much like the PC version, things have been added and taken away, as befits the console, but the overall package feels very familiar and not too dumbed down. Obvious differences are the lack of any kind of modifications. There is an option for downloadable content, so I imagine we’ll be seeing texture packs down the line, but at the moment there’s no way to alter the main game.
The standard graphics are no bad thing as they are almost iconic now, and have been translated faithfully to the Xbox. There’s no effort to sharpen them up or re-texture anything, but the charming basic shapes and colours retain their style on a HDTV. The game may not look impressive technically, but it can look spectacular at times. When the day/night cycle brings about a sunset right behind some unusual landscape or a structure you’ve built, you’ll want to save the moment and thankfully by pausing and then pressing ‘Y’ you can share a screenshot on Facebook. (As it happens this is how we took all of the screenshots for the review).
The only new gamemode that we haven’t seen before in Minecraft is the tutorial. It guides you briskly through the basics of building tools and a simple house, and how you need to protect yourself at nighttime. Crafting is much simplified, with you just selecting the items you want to create out of a menu, and with the inventory becoming slightly more difficult to use thanks to a lack of mouse input, this is a most welcome change. Once you get used to the system you can craft quite complicated objects incredibly quickly, to the point where I think I prefer this system to the unusual and awkward pattern-matching required by the original. The PC version has always been about discovery in part, and finding new recipes was some of the fun. But now there’s so many, and the recipes are all available on numerous wikis, it’s much more efficient to have easy access to every design, rather than having to keep a computer screen open to a Minecraft wiki in order to check blueprints.
After the tutorial (which does show off a lovely little village as a hint of what you could do) you can create a new world in much the same way as you would on the PC. You can use custom seeds, and give the world a title, and then you are let loose. From here on the only notable gameplay changes are that the map is no longer infinite (although it is very large), there’s a few of the more recent PC updates missing ( no dragon boss), you begin with a map, and you can’t change the difficulty mid-game (although peaceful is still a welcome option). These differences all make sense given the switch to running on a console, and considering the limitations that this entails. Really it’s remarkable what they have managed to achieve on the Xbox, and by not over-reaching the game has that important sense of polish. I get the impression that the other monsters present in the PC edition could be added on later (and we’ve been promised regular updates) and the map size is somewhat of a non issue. Whilst it would be nice to have the same kind of scale as the PC version, there are no persistent worlds and there’s a limit of eight players in a world at any one time; this means there’s unlikely to be the same large-scale constructions such as the recreations of Middle-Earth and Rapture that we’ve seen previously.
The eight player multiplayer is a stroke of genius from the developers. Up to four players can mine on one xbox with split-screen, and really this is where the fun lies in the game. I spent a few hours running through the tutorial and then building a tower out of sand on the day of release, but it just seemed like playing the PC version again. It was ok, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. Earlier today I managed to get online with Le Petit Dodo, and it was a blast. Chatting on Xbox Live Party Chat, planning out excavations, screaming as we got buried alive or trapped by zombies, it adds so much to the play experience.
Minecraft is an amazing game for the more casual audience. You can easily pick it up and explain it to a friend and while away an hour or two. Sometimes you’ll get into it more deeply and embark on a project that could take a few days; whatever you do it feels fun. It may be simplistic, but fun none the less. More hardcore gamers may be put off by the lack of clear objectives and the easy achievements. There’s not a great deal to conquer in the game, but if you can set your own goals there’s no real limit to how much you could get out of this game. With that said, if you don’t have anyone to play with the world of Minecraft can feel lonely, and the somber music really doesn’t help this at all.
Overall, this is an excellent port, and the developers have made all the right decisions when brining it over to a console. There are issues but they’re more with the nature of the game rather than any kind of technical or design failings. The game simply isn’t for everyone and while the lack of boundaries can be inspiring, it can also leave you wondering what exactly you can do. I can personally imagine playing this for a long while to come, and if the promised updates become a reality Mojang could reach an audience that somehow might have let Minecraft pass them by. 1600 points is a little steep, but if you have a go at the trial you’ll know very quickly if this games for you.
+ Faithful port of a PC classic
+ Graphics have retained their charm
+ Control system has been redesigned to fit the Xbox pad
+ Multiplayer is fantastic, and four player split-screen is a huge bonus
– Can feel a little empty and pointless
– Some restrictions compared to PC version
Minecraft is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1600 points.