Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition Review
If you know anything about modern video games, then at one point or another you have probably heard about Minecraft. This game started development for PC single-handedly by Swedish game designed Markus Persson (aka “Notch”), and since then it has garnered millions of users worldwide and led to Notch starting his own development team called Mojang. Now that a ported version of Minecraft is available on the Xbox Live Arcade, is the indie sensation ready for its console debut? Minecraft is an open world game in which your creativity can shine in a three-dimensional, blocky (albeit beautiful) world. In that sense, Minecraft could be considered a first-person simulation game. However, there are three main gameplay elements that define the whole Minecraft experience that is so much more than just making worlds. First of all, mining for materials is very essential, and it makes Minecraft almost feel like an RPG. What I mean by this is that all materials you mine in the game are stored in an inventory like most role-playing games would require you to take advantage of items. At first, you just start out with your fist and a map, but as soon as you collect more materials you gain the ability to create new items, upgrade mining tools, build structures, etc. You are also able to mine as much of the randomly-generated world as you want, adding a more sandbox feel to the game. This of course leads into the next key part of the gameplay of Minecraft, which is crafting.
Crafting (in other cases, building) is the aspect of the game that requires players to take full advantage of all the materials you mine/collect in the game world. However, this also gives you the most creative freedom in the game. Using a crafting table that can be built with four wooden planks, you can construct tools, building materials, and other accessories necessary for mining, survival and decorating your world. Crafting can also be done with a furnace, in which certain minerals and ores can be smelted into more valuable materials that can be upgraded into even better supplies. This mechanic also factors into common building in the game; for instance, if you are digging out an elaborate tunnel system underground that leads to different areas of your in-game world, you will need to mine coal and create sticks in order to make torches that will light your way and keep you safe (building signs could also be helpful in navigating your tunnels). Mining iron, gold, and even diamonds can lead to much more durable tools when smelted in a furnace. You can even use your materials to build a house that provides safety out in the open, complete with a kitchen, bedroom, mining tunnel, roof with possibly a garden, the possibilities are endless. In fact, the possibilities are endless in anything you decide to build or mine in this game, for Minecraft gives you the tools to build, you just need to figure out how your structures will help you survive in the game, keep your world in a balanced ecosystem (well… not really, but if you’ve played the game you’ll most likely know what I mean by that) and keep you occupied with your time.
The last and most crucial element of Minecraft’s gameplay is survival, and the reason why I said crucial is because it is the part of Minecraft that makes it most like a game rather than a simulator. Throughout the game, you have 10 replenishable hearts (you can also use materials such as leather, iron, gold, etc to construct armor for yourself), and if you run out of health during the game you will lose all materials in your inventory. As you can well imagine, this can lead to some very interesting and difficult gameplay situations in Minecraft. When playing this game, the most important thing you may want to focus on is building a house (or any kind of shelter for that matter), because when it becomes nighttime in Minecraft’s real-time world, monsters will appear. These monsters range from typical zombies, skeletons armed with a bow and arrows, giant spiders, and possibly the most deadly of all, the Creepers (green monsters that will explode if you get to close). Some of these monsters can deal a great amount of damage, so it’s important to always have a safe, heavily-lit shelter you can easily access, a bedroom that is closed off and also well-lit (you can sleep in a bed to skip a nighttime period in the game), and you will also need to find/cook food in order to replenish hearts in the case that you lose some. Of course, prior to starting your game you can adjust the difficulty to any particular setting you want, but always remember that when the square sun sets, monsters will be waiting for you.
A game in which you mine materials, build things and such probably doesn’t sound exciting on paper. Believe me, at first I had my doubts. But once you get into a game, it’s nearly impossible to put down your controller. I can barely even describe how addictive Minecraft is, because it’s not fun in the way that games like Mario, Call of Duty and Skyrim are fun. This game is addictive in a totally different way, for Minecraft is very satisfying in the manner in which it allows you to explore your creative freedom and build a world of your own design. Open world RPGs always seem to be very engaging anyhow, and the same goes for Minecraft. It truly is surprising how engaged I became into my game, and I tip my hat to Notch for taking a seemingly boring concept and creating an innovative, fresh and strangely addictive video game. As if that wasn’t strange enough, Minecraft is even more fun with friends. The key thing that sets this version apart from the original PC and mobile versions is the implementation of split-screen multiplayer that can be played with up to four people on the same Xbox. This allows for more people to jump into your world and create something wonderful of your own design, and the game then feels even more satisfying knowing that your friends worked beside you when you built a world. Multiplayer’s cooperative aspect is another thing that makes it compelling, for Minecraft allows for freedom in which you can work together to survive, build and create. And guess what? It’s a lot of fun, especially when you get up to eight people in a game through Xbox Live (4J Studios and Mojang have announced that a future update will allow for cross-platform play betweem the PC and Xbox versions).
I suppose my main issue with this version of Minecraft is that it has more potential as a port. What I mean is that even though I haven’t had any experience with the PC version, it still feels scaled back for some inexplicable reasons. This may be so because game worlds on the Xbox version are limited in size compared to ones that can be created on the PC. Also, the fact that two of the selling features of this port aren’t even in the build of the game yet (cross-platform multiplayer and Kinect functionality) is a little bit off-putting. Minecraft is a great game to feast your eyes and ears upon. Yes, this game may appear to be just an 8-bit world stuck in the third dimension, and it is. Even so, the team at Mojang managed to make the visual design of Minecraft very unique, pleasant and colorful. Also, I don’t remember any point during my playtime for this review that I felt my game slowed down a frame rate or two: this game runs very well on Xbox 360. The audio sounds great as well, especially when talking about music. In some cases the soundtrack gets boring due to the fact that the game repeats the same musical pieces over and over again during a session, but even so, I never though that an extremely peaceful piano/synthesizer soundtrack such as the one in Minecraft could fit the mood so well in a video game. Trust me, the music in this game is awesome (just a different kind of awesome)!
Minecraft will always be a strange video game to me, because it’s one that I never thought that I would actually have found addicting. But yeah- I’m addicted now. This Xbox 360 port of the game isn’t as robust or fleshed out as the latest PC version, but even so, the transfer from PC to console was a very successful one. With addictive and innovative gameplay, surprisingly engrossing multiplayer, great visuals and peaceful music, Minecraft is an indie winner. So, get $20 and be prepared for the best Lego game (haha… kidding) of all-time.