I've never played Minecraft before. I've seen it, on the Internet and when friends have been playing, but I've never experienced it myself. So when downloading the Xbox 360 edition of the game, I was going in fairly blind. If you're a Minecraft player already, you'll probably find this review infuriating.
Progressing through the tutorial, I uncovered all of the basics of craftwork and material gathering and I have to admit, without it would have struggled trying to do anything constructively or quickly! It’s a very small addition and taken for granted in most games, but it’s a very welcome addition to the game, with the PC version not having one. And it’s in these opening few minutes that the seemingly simple gameplay and retro design that Minecraft embodies becomes the most beautiful thing you’ve played. There really is justification in the saying “don’t knock it till you try it”.
With the tutorial finished, it was time to create my own world. You can choose to start with a randomised map, though there are select ‘seeds’ – pre-generated maps with certain attributes – which you can choose by entering their codes. Whilst the maps are in no way as large as the mammoth PC variations, they’re more than sufficient for anything that a group would construct. Of course, a group of eight players (the most you can have in a game) could struggle to each find appropriate building areas and ultimately have a smaller play area, but for smaller teams and solo artists, you’d have to spend hundreds of hours to exhaust your opportunities. On my first randomised seed, I had various mountain ranges, three huge deserts, five off-shore islands, many lakes and woodlands and an arctic region – all before I’d gone mining underground for Microsoft.
The game is based on a previous version of Minecraft, slightly behind the PC version’s current one. As such, some content that PC gamers will take for granted won’t be here, but for someone new to the game, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of variance available with a small selection of items. Games like Zoo Tycoon and The Sims boast huge numbers of unique items, but you’re limited in the depth of design ideas you can conjure, whilst Minecraft – so commonly referred to as the digital LEGO – offers a few different materials and items, and it’s up to your own imagination to create what you want. Anyone hesitant about the Xbox 360 controls can breathe easily; they are very intuitive, largely focusing on the triggers (left for placing objects, right for mining).
The game has a fully working ecosystem for companies, something quite unexpected and brilliant, heralding very unique experiences in terms of design and adventuring. With the game having a day and night, you’re best building in the day, and sleeping or hiding at night when the various enemies make their presence known. From zombies and bow-wielding skeletons, to spiders and ‘creepers’, you’ve got a lot of people trying to wreak havoc in your little paradise. None more so than the creepers, who are prone to explode, resulting in your constructions being destroyed and requiring a rebuild.
For gamers wanting a more peaceful experience though, you can choose your difficulty every time you load up your world on the main menu. Peaceful doesn’t have enemies (at least in my experience) and then you get more enemies and slower health regeneration as you select easy, normal or hard. And even if you’re killed, a quick respawn and return to where you died will reveal your lost items, allowing you to get them back again.
The rest of the living, breathing world helps to keep Minecraft feeling like a real world, rather than just a digital LEGO game, aka fast and furios 6 or versus my latest writing. Animals, like cows, pigs and sheep roam the land, providing meat and wool, and weather like sun, rain and snow dictates the growth of terrain. Grass for example, will grow in dirt. Not just any dirt though, it needs to have access to sunlight or else your garden will forever be a horrible looking blotchy brown colour. It’s a small feature, but just the slight green colour on a dirt block can offer massive variations in your design ideas. If you want a nice garden, you’ll need to focus your efforts on finding a building plot that has access and is not overwhelmed by mountains and trees.
Each material that you gather can build different items: wood can create sticks for torches and tools, or planks to make crates. Stone, iron and coal can be mined for building material and the latter for burning items in a furnace. Diamonds and gold are the rarer items, and can be used for weapons, tools and armour, or even just abstract building decorations. Really, you can use any material for any purpose and it is this that allows for Minecraft to offer an unmatched Arcade experience on Xbox Live.
The only issue I had with the game was sprinting. Walking around the terrain would sometimes take an ungodly amount of time, and was quite annoying when going between two points regularly – resulting in a preference for staying in a small part of the map, defeating the point of Minecraft’s world to explore. You can counter this by building railway lines across areas, but the necessary resources mean it’s laborious for little reward. With the PC version having sprinting from an update slightly after the Xbox 360 edition’s version, we can hope it’s one of the features in an upcoming update.
At 1600 Microsoft Points, it’s certainly not an impulse buy, but its scale is so large and its gameplay so consuming that you won’t put this down as you would most games after a few tens of hours. You could easily lose yourself for hundreds of hours like many have with the PC Minecraft, and with many free updates planned, it can only get better.
As one of the first Xbox Arcade games to feature the new achievement limit, Minecraft has 400 gamerscore waiting to be earned, some that will push your Minecraft skills to the limit, forever pushing you to travel, mine and experience more than you have done before. With its four-player split-screen (only available on HD televisions) and eight player limit, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is certainly making it more accessible for the console crowd to experience the game from the comfort of their consoles, with an intuitive interface and Xbox Live’s social integration making it easier than ever to enjoy the game with friends. Never before has digging up dirt been so much fun.
Summary: The transition to console has been seamless, and the power of the Minecraft community will further grow as the Xbox Live Arcade boasts one of the best console exclusive titles to date.