Minecraft is far and away one of the most popular and famous independent games of all time. Millions of players have acquired the sandbox game on PC, half a million more have a version of it on their smartphones, and the game even has its own annual convention. Now the box-like smash hit has made its way onto the Xbox Live Arcade. Does the game retain its charm and wonder, or did something get lost in translation?
This port of the game was developed by 4J Studios, who also brought the classic Banjo-Kazooie games to the Xbox 360, as well as Perfect Dark. All of those games saw extremely faithful ports, preserving the original gameplay and even receiving graphical upgrades. Unfortunately, it's not so easy bringing a current-generation PC game to a downloadable console format. While the Minecraft; Xbox 360 Edition experience is nice and smooth, some sacrifices had to be made along the way.
The first thing anyone notices about Minecraft is the blocky graphics, as if everything in the game was made out of boxes, which isn't far from the truth. This is an intentional aesthetic choice; not only is it rather amusing to look at, but the simplicity means a lot less work for the graphics engine. The game runs at a very smooth 60 frames per second with no slowdown that I could see, and the game world is filled with bright colors and varied environmental elements. My only real complaint is how hard it is to see at night, where there's almost no light to speak of.
The gameplay is rather open-ended. When you start a new game, you're dropped into the middle of an open world with absolutely nothing on hand. You need to start breaking apart the environment in order to create simple tools, then build a quick shelter before night comes. The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft currently features Survival mode, which works just as it sounds. As you work on your shelter and your tools, day slowly changes to night, at which point monsters come out and try to kill you. If you're not properly equipped in time, you'll likely end up killed and lose everything you're holding onto. The day/night transition is pretty unnerving as a result, and brings some much-needed tension to an otherwise very open-ended game.
The meat of the game is exploring the world you've found yourself in, mining the geography for minerals like iron, gold, or redstone. You can use these to make better tools, lay down minecart tracks, and even make some very basic circuitry. The game does have an end goal, which is to create a portal to The End and defeat the Enderdragon, but you're given no real direction throughout the game, and you're left to your own devices. As a result, it takes a certain kind of person to really enjoy Minecraft, one who likes to take the time to customize their world and living space, but also doesn't mind tediously searching for materials.
No direction is exactly that: no direction whatsoever. You're not told where best to build a shelter, or where to find specific rare minerals, or how to get back to your home at night, or even how you're supposed to beat the game. This game requires an exceptional amount of patience in order to continue progressing, to see it through to the end and get that coveted achievement. In reality, though, it's probably not necessary to defeat the Enderdragon; building a cool shelter, exploring the overworld and laying down mine tracks can be rewarding in themselves, for the right kind of player. This definitely isn't a game for everyone, though; my sister, who enjoys building houses and people in The Sims 3, said that Minecraft was the most boring game she'd ever seen.
Minecraft itself has already been covered many times, though; the question is, how does the Xbox 360 version measure up? The interface is nice and smooth, overall. The game generally controls like a standard first-person shooter, with one control stick moving the character, and the other moving the camera. Controls for jumping, mining, placing items and more are intuitive and easy to use; the game always has a control guide on-screen, so you'll never forget how to do anything important. Crafting new items, whether you're on your own or at a crafting table, is easy to understand and perform; the on-screen menu always tells you what you need in order to craft. There's a bit less information about smelting things in your furnace, but that's mostly straightforward; smelt ore, get ingot. The game even indicates visually what item you're about to interact with.
The online options are also very intuitive and easy to work with. Whenever you start up your game, you can decide if you want the game to be online, in which case other players can enter your game if they want; you can also indicate that your game should only allow invited players into it. When you're at the main menu, you'll also see which of the people on your Friend List are playing, and you can jump right into their world if you want to. Overall, the game has a very smooth interface, and it's very easy to do most anything you'd like.
Right now, however, the content is lacking a bit compared to the PC version. The original game costs about $7 more, and right off the bat it comes with an additional Creative mode. This mode doesn't challenge the player to survive or collect materials or anything of the sort; the player has infinite resources, and is free to spend all of their time creating anything they want. The game world is also significantly larger; while the world is 1024 x 1024 blocks on the Xbox 360, the world of the PC version is roughly eight times the surface area of the planet Earth. The developers have said that they intend to make the two versions equivalent eventually, which is fine, but as of right now the original version has more to offer.
Overall, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition does a great job of replicating the feel of the original game. While there's no Creative mode to play around in, the game is still the open-ended sandbox it always was, the interface is very easy to use, and the online options are integrated particularly well. The PC version might be a better value for now, but if you'd rather get it on a console for slightly less, you won't be missing out on much. It's not a game for everyone by any means, but those who enjoy it will probably enjoy it a lot. It just requires some patience and creativity, and maybe looking up some guides online.
Final Game Guys grade: B+
- by Jim Avery for enws10.net's Game Guys
(Microsoft provided a copy of this game for review.)