I was late to the Minecraft game. Sure, I’ve heard about the “build anything you want” premise that the game has, but being more a MacBook person, I never got around to trying the title on PC.
That changed when the game came to the Xbox 360.
This version of the title is essentially “Minecraft Lite”, a smaller version of the PC world, with less mod options. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s basically a giant virtual Lego set. Even moreso than than the actual Lego games (although Lego has created an official Lego Minecraft set). It’s a world where you can create, break down, relocate, and is fueled by the power of your imagination. It almost sounds like a marketing tagline, doesn’t it? But at least it’s true.
Pretty much everything can be affected in the world. If not reused in its original form, the elements can be used to create something else. It’s a world of ice and oceans, caves and mountains, forests and beaches. And it’s populated by a number of unusual inhabitants. When you start the game, you are very much on your own. No tools, nothing to speak of, and in order to survive, you need to quickly learn how to alter your surroundings. For when night comes, the monsters come out. Everything from annoying Skeletons with bows and arrows, to relentlessly plodding zombies, to the green hued Creeper, which has the ability to explode everything in your area. Proud of that new little shack you built? Hopefully, a Creeper hasn’t decided to set up stalking outside your front door, or half your house can be blown away in an instant. After a while, the monsters don’t pose as much of a threat, but discovering a new cave, or that one off Creeper that managed to escape detection can seriously cause some pain.
The game is a huge sandbox that allows you to do what you want. Want to build a cool fortress? You can spend all your time on that. Want to explore the land? Go for it. Want to garden and craft and cook? That’s also an option. Want to hunt monsters and animals? You can take a more aggressive stance to your play style.
There is a genuine sense of pride in building a huge home base, or the first time you wander into an unexplored area to discover new materials. Those items can be used to create unique things that allow you to explore in new ways. Basically, the game doesn’t penalize you for choosing how you want to play, and it’s an effective testament to its addictive factor. You can switch tactics at a moment’s notice without really having to do or learn anything different. You just do it. Fortunately, both mining and crafting are easy experiences. The only real issue is the tendency to press “Back”, which can cause you to throw an item away. It’s not so bad, unless you happen to throw it into the lava.
Graphics are very simple and pixelated. It looks like something that would be right at home on an 8-bit console, or maybe even less. But it works for the world. Everything remains recognizable, and it’s endearingly iconic in its own way. And despite how simple things look, the sight of a frowny faced Creeper coming towards you generates a sense of genuine dread if you aren’t prepared for it.
Sound effects and music are generally good. The music is very low-key and inoffensive, which works for those long play sessions. Natural world sound effects are accurate, such as water flowing and animal sounds. The groans of the Zombies are appropriately spooky, and the Creeper hiss? If you haven’t figured it out by now, Creepers have caused me my fair share of grief in the game.
Fortunately, both mining and crafting are easy experiences. Controls are responsive, and the only real issue is the tendency to press “Back”, which can cause you to throw an item away. It’s not so bad, unless you happen to throw it into the lava. Another great feature is multiplayer. Crafting alone can be fun, but it can also be a somewhat lonely experience at times. Crafting with friends? It becomes a great social gathering, especially in meshing each other’s ideas together in creating and exploring.
For a world creating sandbox experience, Minecraft is incredibly fun, sometimes relaxing, and the thrill of discovery can be truly rewarding. Honestly, this has been one of the highlights this year for XBLA. It may hold a $20 (1600 points) price, but it’s worth every penny for the amount of time you’ll sink into the game.